Su Mucheng has spent three years sitting in the audience seats before she ever steps out onto the stage. She’s been there when the crowds cheered around her, the noise reverberating almost painfully in her chest. She’s been there on the edge of her seat when the clock counted down the seconds to a victory on a knife’s edge. And she’s been there in shocked silences, both at incredible displays of skill and unexpected losses.
Somehow, none of this prepares her for being on the other side as a competitor.
A door stands between her and the stage, but the flashing lights are visible even here, streaking bright colours from the gap beneath the door. The muffled cheering from the crowd envelopes her, but it feels distant when she’s not amongst it.
Xia Ming had been by her side until a few seconds earlier, when she was called away to check some details. She’d left after a quick hug, and Mucheng now stands alone, her teammates chattering around her.
She slips her account card out of her pocket, flipping it over and over and over and over, trying to keep her fingers busy.
The faint smell of cigarette smoke arrives moments before she feels Ye Xiu’s hand land on her head.
“You doing alright?” he asks, voice soft.
Heart thumping in her chest, she nods and takes a deep breath. Ye Xiu removes his hand, adjusts his mask and slips away to greet their opponents in private.
Xia-jie chooses that moment to return, flashing a quick grin at Mucheng as she calls Excellent Era to order. The team straightens up around her, falling into line, ready for the announcer to call their team’s name and for the Alliance personnel to open the door. Mucheng shuffles to the end of the line, dwarfed by her teammates in stature and reputation.
“Team Excellent Era!” The announcer’s voice reverberates throughout the stadium. Su Mucheng’s lips twitch up involuntarily, and then widen into a full blown smile. She slips her account card back into her pocket and stands up straighter, ready to take to the stage.
Su Mucheng takes her headphones off and tugs her account card from the reader in a daze. She tucks her hands into her pockets with her account card, trying to hide the slight tremor that’s just starting as the full force of the adrenaline rush crashes through her.
When she turns to look at her captain, he’s already out of his seat. He meets her eyes for a second and she can see the wide smile tugging at his eyes. He quietly leaves through the side door of the player booth as she stands and readies herself to face the audience once more.
Su Mucheng takes a deep breath, then stands and follows her teammates out onto the stage to shake hands.
Spring Heaven (Xia Ming) has added Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng) and Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu) to Glory~ 🌸
Spring Heaven (Xia Ming): Welcome to the exclusive club of female pros!
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): Thank you!!
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): Thanks :)
Spring Heaven (Xia Ming): This is super informal, but if you ever need anything we’ve got to have each other’s backs
Afternoon practice gets cancelled one October day when half the team falls ill with a cold. Xia-jie drags Mucheng down to the guild room, where she grabs one of the guild workers.
“You’ve probably already met, but I’d like to formally introduce you to Su Mucheng, our newest pro team member,” Xia-jie says to the other woman. “Mucheng, this is Yang Jiayi, guild leader for the 4th server.”
“Nice to meet you, Senior Yang!” Mucheng says, bowing.
“Ah, you’re so cute, so formal! You can just call me sister,” Yang-jie grins, “You’re the launcher that Captain Ye brought with him last year, right?”
Yang Jiayi smiles even wider. “I’ve been watching your matches. You and Captain Ye play very well together. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you two achieve. What are you doing down here, anyway? What about afternoon practice?”
“Some of the boys came down with a cold, so we’re free for you to put us to work if you’d like,” Xia-jie answers.
The rest of the afternoon passes quickly. Yang-jie tells her to start levelling on a borrowed Launcher account, but before long, a wild boss spawns and Mucheng and Xia-jie are called in to help. Mucheng spends ten tense minutes trying to thwart a small group trying to flank them, a rather persistent cleric keeping the enemy force alive. The system announcement declares their victory before too long, though, and the high of the boss battle carries Mucheng through the rest of the afternoon.
She spends the next few hours running dungeons, each time with a different commander issuing orders. It’s a nice change from always being directed by Ye Xiu, and she learns more about adapting to different command styles in that afternoon than weeks of studying tapes.
In the blink of an eye, two months pass. The days blur together into training sessions followed by matches onstage. Sleep sometimes feels like an afterthought in between bursts of time at the keyboard or the white board.
It feels like taking a breath, then, when the team meets up with Wu Xuefeng for dinner for his birthday, marking the first time most of them have seen him since he retired. Their small crowd pours into a hotpot restaurant, where they’re ushered into a private room. It’s loud and relaxed, the steam chasing away the chill that’s just starting to settle in the city. By the time they all head back to the Excellent Era building, it’s already past midnight, and Ye Xiu easily agrees to cancel morning practice when Xuefeng-gege shakes his head at Ye Xiu’s weak objections.
Their group’s loud chatter draws the ire of other pedestrians rushing to get out of the late autumn night, but Mucheng can’t bring herself to care. As they walk, a leaf flutters delicately down and catches in Mucheng’s hair. Xia-jie skips over to her and plucks it out, marvelling at the beautiful shade of Excellent Era red.
Season 5 starts the same as Season 4 in a lot of ways. The chants of the audience are still there on the other side of the door, loud but indistinct; the nervousness still coils tightly in her gut.
But in a lot of important ways, it’s different. She’s a decorated player now, having played on the championship stage and with a best partners award under her belt. She has the weight of sponsors behind her. She’s no longer the newest member of her team.
When she takes that first step out for the season, the stadium erupts into applause. She misses a half step in surprise, looking up into the audience seats and smiling before continuing up the steps. She’d forgotten this, somehow, in their few months off, the intensity of hundreds of eyes pointed in your direction and an audience chanting your name.
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): How long are you staying in Hangzhou after your match next week?
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): We’re arriving the night before but we fly back right after the match
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): Lunch before the match?
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): Sounds good to me ~
When she heads to the cafeteria to try to find something to eat after a brutal match, she expects to find the lights dimmed with only the whirring of the vending machine fridge to keep her company. Instead, she finds the lights turned up and hears voices in the dining area, so she follows the sounds to find laughing and shouting. The building support staff and even some of the administrators are crowded around two of the smaller tables, pointing over other people’s shoulders at the laptops set up on the tables. Ye Xiu is one of the seated people, she realises. The match ends while she stands awkwardly as the players shuffle around her, which is when Ye Xiu notices her.
“Hey, Mucheng, what’s up?”
“Oh, just getting a snack. What’s happening here?”
“Staff league. Want to join?”
Before she can ask if that would be ok, one of the aunties presses an account card into her hands, and lightly pulls her towards the team without Ye Xiu in it. “Please join our team, we need all the help we can get!”
Mucheng laughs helplessly, and sits down at the laptop that’s been vacated for her. The account card loads in as a sharpshooter who is quickly invited into the group arena. She starts by seriously trying to win, but when she realises that Ye Xiu is playing with a lazy sort of glee, she lets go and starts having fun. Shotcalling is something that she’s never really done before, but after a few false starts, she gets into the groove.
When the Glory logo flashes across her screen a few minutes later, she’s breathless with laughter. The match had ended when she stood up and told Ye Xiu that Han Wenqing had sent her a message telling him to check his QQ messages, buying her team enough time to knock his character into an abyss. Ye Xiu had stalked over to lightly shove at her while she tried to take out the rest of his team. Without his support and against Mucheng's firepower, it wasn't long before it was all over.
“What kind of tactic was that?” he asked, fighting to keep a grin from breaking through the disapproving frown on his face.
“I learnt from the best,” she replies sunnily.
This sets both of them off into giggles again, the rest of the staff joining in as well. Ye Xiu introduces her to them, one by one, over the next few months. They ply her with sweets and gossip. In return, she passes on tips for increasing accuracy in game and tricks for how to get Ye Xiu to eat more.
It’s this rhythm of training, formal matches, informal duels, and sponsorship shoots that carries Mucheng through the next few weeks. She doesn’t even realise it’s nearly the end of the year until she notices a Christmas tree being put up in the lobby on her way to the convenience store. Ye Xiu laughs at her when she tells him about it later, soft and warm, a stark contrast to the stiff, crisp breeze that had been outside.
Season 6’s opening game comes and goes. It’s the first match she’s competed in where Xia Ming hasn’t been there with her.
When she checks her phone after picking up her game day bag, she finds (99+) on her QQ icon. There’s a message from Xia-jie buried within all the well wishes, a simple “good luck!!!” and then another “well done! knew you could do it :)” from just seconds ago.
She holds the phone to her chest like a talisman, feeling the warmth of knowing that her senior was still thinking about her and supporting her from afar.
When they arrive back at Excellent Era, her phone pings with a new text message.
Xia Ming: When you’re back let me know, let’s get a coffee. I want to know about the match!
Su Mucheng: yes!!! i can be downstairs in 30 minutes
Xia Ming: Done. See you then!
Mucheng makes her way down to the training camp for her teaching match commitment. A few of the testing supervisors have changed, but most of the coaches are still familiar to her, and she calls out in greeting to the ones who aren't currently in class. The classroom is empty when she gets there, but Supervisor Hong pushes the door open only a minute later.
“Supervisor Hong,” she greets, bowing. The other woman inclines her head with a smile on her face.
“Have you grown taller?” the supervisor asks.
They laugh as Supervisor Hong opens the door to let the students in and Mucheng settles in at one of the computers at the head of the room.
The first student to go against her is a boy playing Qi Master. He’s got a good grasp of the fundamentals, but lacks the awareness to use the skills to create a good attack rhythm. She purposefully leaves him a few openings but doesn’t prolong the match any longer than that. The rest of the matches proceed in much the same way. After she’s finished the 40 minutes or so of teaching matches, she doesn’t want to touch a keyboard for at least a few hours.
Luckily, her wish is granted - but she then has to go through each of the matches with Supervisor Hong and the students, pointing out errors and places for improvement. She ends up nearly falling asleep at dinner, saved from a face full of rice only by Ye Xiu catching her. He huffs a laugh as she startles awake, so she shakes her head at him and smiles.
Mucheng finds a large box beside her door when she returns after morning training. The box is slightly damp - it had started raining just before midnight and hadn’t yet let up. It has her name on it as well as the logo of the company she’d just finished a photoshoot with.
She drags it inside, eagerly opening it up. She was pretty lucky with this sponsorship, a nice female-owned online boutique that had a reputation for quality. The photoshoot had been easy, too, a competent and professional crew making all the difference.
There’s more clothes in here than she needs, and winter is on their doorstep, so she picks out a few cute jackets for Yang-jie and sets aside a classy blouse for when she next sees Yunxiu.
Excellent Era has a home game for their first match of the seventh season. Mucheng is more prepared than ever for the wall of sound, but it still hits hard after a summer away.
Mucheng had braced for a season of tough fights against her own team, if the summer arguments were anything to go by. But for some reason, the malevolence is subtle tonight, a few missed shots but nothing she and Ye Xiu can’t pick up the slack for. She watches Ye Xiu slip from the player booth and into the darkness, looking as wrung out as she feels.
She has few allies in the booth with her, but there are plenty waiting back at Excellent Era. In short, sharp movements, she packs her equipment into her bag and stands at the door, waiting for her teammates to get ready to leave.
Auntie Qing pulls Mucheng aside before evening practice. Her face is drawn, so Mucheng sends a quick message along to Ye Xiu to tell him she might be late and follows her to an empty meeting room, where Uncle Wang is waiting as well.
“xiao-Mu, we heard something and we tried to tell Master Ye but he said not to worry. We’re still scared, so we wanted to tell you, too.”
“What is it?”
Uncle Wang pulls out his phone and hands it to her with a video loaded up. She hits the play button.
“Who else do you think we can get on board, Liu Hao?” Cui Li’s voice says from the tinny phone speaker. Indeed, Liu Hao is one of the three figures sitting in the room, with Cui Li and Chen Yehui rounding out the trio.
“He Ming is already on board, Wang Ze’s just about there. We’ve got a couple of the training camp kids too, for when you want to promote them.”
“Make sure you’re careful. Don’t let this get out. And be careful with your match performances, too.”
“Don’t worry so much, we’ve got this.”
“Just remember, we want Ye Qiu gone, not our reputations in the trash.”
The grainy figure of Liu Hao raises his hands in a crude mockery of surrender. “Yes, yes, I’ll make sure I don’t throw away our chances of making the playoffs.”
Mucheng hands the phone back when the clip finishes, teeth clenched. She knew it was happening, Liu Hao had been playing worse recently, worse than when he’d even been in the training camp at times. But confirmation of how high up it went...
“You don’t need to trouble Ye Qiu with this any more. But if you find anything else, you can come to me.”
They nod and fuss over her for a moment longer, before her own phone beeps with a reminder to head over to practice.
When practice ends, Ye Xiu calls out to her as everyone files out of the practice room.
“Can you stay back for a second, Mucheng?”
When the room has emptied, Ye Xiu leads her to his room, throwing open the window as he lights a cigarette. He stands there, silent, the ever-present traffic noises far away, smoke curling around him. It's a long moment before he starts speaking.
“You said you spoke to Auntie Qing, right? Did she show you the tape?”
“Yeah. Uncle Wang was there too.”
Ye Xiu sighs and puts out his cigarette. He turns to look her straight in the eye.
“I don’t know how much longer I can stay at Excellent Era,” Ye Xiu says finally. He hadn’t turned on a light when they’d entered the room, but enough dim moonlight filters through the clouds above that they can just see their surroundings. He appears paler than usual, leaning by the window, face half in shadow. The crisp autumn breeze plays at his hair and collar, making them momentarily seem weightless. For a heartbeat, she thinks he looks like a ghost, merely haunting a place that doesn’t want him any more.
“What can I do to help?” she asks, shaking the thought from her mind.
“I know you might want to do something, but you can’t.” He looks at her almost desperately, fiercer than she’s seen in weeks. “Please don’t do anything, ok?”
She takes a deep breath, a little shaky, and says, “Ok. Ok. I won’t. But please let me help?”
He places a light hand on her head. “You’re already doing enough.”
She messages Xia Ming that night.
Su Mucheng: hey, can i give you a call? or if you’re not busy can we meet up?
Xia Ming: Is tomorrow after work ok? Let’s say, 6 pm? My treat :)
Mucheng hardly sees Xia Ming during the season, so she looks forward to seeing one of her old friends.
They settle into the noodle shop, the steaming soup fogging up Xia-jie’s glasses. She laughs and takes them off, slipping them into her purse.
After their bowls have emptied, Xia-jie slides her glasses back onto her nose and looks straight at Mucheng.
“Ok. You never ask to meet during the season. What’s wrong?”
“I think Excellent Era is trying to get rid of Ye Qiu.”
Xia-jie’s eyes widen. “I knew something was wrong," she says. "It’s been wrong for a while. I thought... I knew that Manager Cui wanted more from Captain Ye, I knew he was angry when we didn’t get the season 4 championship, and when he forced Captain Ye to accept Liu Hao to the team despite really needing another season in the training camp -”
She cuts herself off, shaking her head.
“What are you going to do?” Xia-jie asks.
“I don’t know. I won’t leave unless Ye Qiu does, and he would choose to stay as long as he could. What can I do?”
“If you want to support him, then you should support him. As much as I owe Excellent Era for giving me five years of Glory, I would burn it to the ground if it hurt me.
“But that’s not my choice to make, Mucheng. And I suspect Excellent Era means more to Captain Ye than it ever did to me.”
Mucheng nods. It’s true. Like Xia-jie, Mucheng would have absolutely decked Liu Hao and his cronies in the mouth by now if she could get away with it, but she won’t. For Ye Xiu’s dream. For her brother’s.
“I’ll still always be here if you need to talk, though. This might be a long road forward, but don’t forget that you still have friends inside and outside of Excellent Era.”
“Captain Ye does too, if he remembers to ask," she adds, almost as an afterthought.
Xia-jie walks her back to Excellent Era. Mucheng’s face is hidden behind her scarf, protecting her identity as much as it is protecting against the wind carrying the promise of a cold winter.
Season 7 had ended early for Excellent Era, but Mucheng hadn’t taken time off. After a summer of training, raiding and analysing matches, she thought she could help Ye Xiu squeeze out a few more victories and have at least one more glorious season.
Unfortunately, it all falls to pieces before they even finish the first match day.
The team battle had been going well, right up until Liu Hao rushes forward by himself and falls into an obvious trap.
Su Mucheng’s lips are pressed into a thin line when she viciously rips her account card from the reader. She’d got used to winning in her earlier seasons, and had been used to cheering Ye Xiu on to victories for even longer than that. But lately, the losses have frustrated her in a way her earlier ones hadn’t.
When she makes it back to the Excellent Era building, she sprints upstairs. She tries to let the burn of the exercise blank out her mind, but it’s a futile effort. At the very least, when she arrives at her room she no longer has the urge to break anything.
The frustration still simmers in her veins. Over the next few weeks, it flares every time she steps into a room with her teammates, slowly turning into anger. When she looks at Ye Xiu and the growing circles under his eyes, it turns to helpless guilt. She does what she can, raiding alongside Ye Xiu for the guild, taking sponsorships to keep Cui Li and Tao Xuan happy, going down to the training camp.
Before he heads off to America, Qiu Fei introduces her to Wan Tierong, a Launcher who’d just joined the training camp that season. Tierong is young but already tactically minded and technically proficient, quiet but mischievous and quick witted. Mucheng quickly takes this brilliant girl under her wing.
Her brother and Ye Xiu had spent plenty of time arguing about how best to play gunner classes, and even though she hadn’t had to use that information until later, she’d picked up a lot just by being in the room. She thinks back to those long nights and passes on the ideas that she remembers.
A thought stops her in her tracks when she heads back to her room after a late night going over training camp evaluation videos with Tierong. That trick with Satellite Beam - that was her own advice. That skill hadn’t even been an option when her brother had still been playing.
The wave of old grief washes through her, settling into a familiar ache. She changes course, turning and walking to Ye Xiu’s room instead of heading to her own. She thinks she hears a grunt over the faint sound of a mechanical keyboard clacking in response to her knock and opens the door a crack.
Ye Xiu meets her eyes and gives her a small nod when she tilts her head questioningly, so she lets herself in and leans up against a wall by his desk. The lights are off but the monitor's harsh light sluggishly illuminates Ye Xiu's immediate surroundings, the scenes on the screen playing out as mottled shadows shifting around on his face. He finishes up the program he’s currently playing through and then turns to face her.
“Hey Mucheng,” he greets.
“Do you remember the match we had against Blue Rain, the second one against them in season six?”
“It was the one where we used the crossfire tactic for the first time.”
Mucheng flicks her eyes over to the photo frame on the corner of his desk. His eyes follow hers, and even in the half-dark she can see him take a long blink. He takes a deep breath and smiles at her. It almost reaches his eyes.
She gives him a small, sad smile and straightens up, slipping out of the room as quietly as she'd entered it.
Her feet take her down to the guild after evening practice. Yang-jie is still awake, supervising a dungeon run. Mucheng stands to the side, watching the team struggle slightly with the final phase of the boss. When they finally defeat it, the system announcement goes unheard over the cheers of the guild members. Mucheng makes her way over to Yang-jie, only for the other woman to rush over with a smile when she spots Mucheng.
“Haven't you played enough Glory yet today? Want to help with a strategy I’m testing for Boneyard?”
Mucheng nods and finds an account card pressed into her hand.
“Let’s go to one of the smaller rooms, we’re just going to test it against a training program.”
They run the program five minutes at a time, Yang-jie telling her to aim at a different place each time. When she’s finally satisfied, she nods and then turns to Mucheng.
“Is there anything wrong? You’re quieter than usual.”
“There... there might be something coming to Excellent Era soon. I’m afraid of what comes next.”
“Can you tell me more about it?”
Mucheng’s lips press together, but she doesn’t say anything.
Yang-jie nods after a moment of silence. “Ok. If it happens, you know you can come to me, right? We’ll make it through whatever comes.”
Mucheng nods as Yang-jie’s arm comes to rest over her shoulders, tugging her close.
(The first snow of winter is falling when Ye Xiu leaves Excellent Era. Su Mucheng watches on helplessly.)
Mucheng spends most of the summer with the training camp. Just as the summer-only students are leaving, Tierong approaches Mucheng.
“Senior Su, can I ask you for some advice?”
“Could we discuss this somewhere else?”
Mucheng leads her out of the Excellent Era building to a small cafe with a private corner.
Tierong spends a few minutes staring at her teacup before lifting her gaze to meet Mucheng’s.
“I got an offer to transfer to Misty Rain’s training camp,” Tierong says.
“That’s awesome!” Mucheng says, clapping her hands together. “Do you want to go?”
“You… you don’t mind if I leave Excellent Era?”
“No, if the only thing that’s holding you back is what I think, then you should definitely go. You should do what’s best for your future. Even if that means leaving Excellent Era, you should see what else is out in the world. You can always come back if you want it, it’s only a training camp after all.”
They stare at each other for a moment more.
“And I’ll always be a message away if you need any advice. We might be opponents one day, but we’ll always be sisters who started at the same place.”
Tierong nods, a smile breaking out slowly on her face. Mucheng feels herself smiling back.
“Alright,” Mucheng says after a moment, propping her chin up on her hands and grinning slyly. “What’s the new gossip from the training camp?”
The morning after Tierong leaves, Mucheng seeks out Qiu Fei at breakfast.
Apart from a quiet greeting, they eat together in silence.
“What’s the program at the training camp today?” she asks, as they take their trays back to the counter.
“Morning is self-practice, then 3v3s in the afternoon. Drills in the evening.”
Mucheng nods, remembering the long nights of drills in the training camp in the summer before her debut.
“Auntie Yan, thanks for the food,” she says as they reach the counter, “And Uncle Tang, you too!” The staff in the kitchen smile at her and fuss that she’s getting skinny. She laughs with them for a moment more before letting Qiu Fei make his own greetings. When they both manage to leave, she turns to him.
“Would you like to train with me this morning? We could run the terrain training map.”
Qiu Fei looks at her, hopeful. “Really?”
“I’ll meet you in training room 4.”
Mucheng is heading back to her room after the first staff game night of the season when she notices that one of the training rooms still has light spilling out from beneath the door. Shaking her head at someone’s carelessness, she goes to turn it off.
When she opens the door, she finds Xiao Shiqin there, eyebrows furrowed. She knocks on the now open door to get his attention.
Xiao Shiqin’s head snaps up towards the sound.
“Mucheng! How long have you been standing there?”
“I just got here. Still studying even after the match? Aren’t you usually asleep by now?”
He huffs. “I could say the same to you.”
“What are you doing?” she asks instead of defending herself.
He sighs. “I’m working on updating the strategy guides. Someone found another stack of them last week.”
Now that she's looking, she recognises the pile of notes open on the desk as Ye Xiu’s old playbooks, but they now bear annotations in multiple colours.
She nods. “Why are you here instead of in your room? It’s nearly midnight already.”
Xiao Shiqin’s eyes widen, then flicker to the clock on his screen. He presses his lips together and shakes his head. “I didn’t realise it had got so late.”
Mucheng waits by the door as he stacks the notes and puts his pens away. “What were you doing, anyway?” he asks as they head back over to the dorm area.
“The staff here have a tournament-style thing after every match day. I usually join them if it’s a home game.”
“May I join next time?”
“Of course! Ye Qiu used to lead one of the teams, it’ll be good to have another pro in the mix again.”
They reach Mucheng’s room first, so she lets herself in. They exchange goodnights, and she closes her door, listening to the footsteps fade before she starts to prepare for bed.
Xiao Shiqin’s door is open when she goes to get him for the staff match.
“One sec, let me get my account card -”
“Ah, don’t worry about it, we’ll find one when we get down there.”
Xiao Shiqin slots in like he’s been here forever. He takes the battle mage account handed to him with grace, and laughs along with everyone else when he mashes all of the keys trying to find the combination for Sky Strike but ends up doing a Falling Flower Palm instead.
He manages to wrangle a Mechanic account for their next game, and guides his team to victory so gently that Mucheng doesn’t notice the trap until it’s already been well and truly sprung.
They finish up the last of the matches and Xiao Shiqin gets himself a standing invitation to play with them whenever he wants.
The two pros part ways at the cafeteria entrance. Mucheng doesn’t think she can sleep yet, so she bids Xiao Shiqin good night and goes for a walk. The trees rustle and stray leaves flutter down from the branches. It’s been unusually mild this year, she thinks, as she gazes up at the darkened sky, moonlight trickling through the clouds. The Happy Internet Cafe logo shines brightly from across the street, a reminder of what might be, come spring.
Mucheng reaches up to touch the new badge on her jacket. For the first time in more than a year, Ye Xiu stands with her backstage, the two of them once again on the same team. There are plenty of differences, though - Ye Xiu's face is uncovered and he's taking his place at the head of the line. The atmosphere is different, too, more relaxed than she had ever known it to be at Excellent Era.
She takes a deep breath from her position behind Fang Rui as they walk into the stadium, into the flashing lights and the cheering crowd, and it almost feels like coming home.
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng) has added Soft Mist (Tang Rou) to Glory~ 🌸
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): Welcome to the chat, Rourou!
For her first stream as a Team Happy player, she gets Ye Xiu and Wei Chen to moderate her comments for her. The two of them press gang their friends into service as well when it becomes obvious that the two of them aren’t enough.
Most of the comments will be tame enough, she knows, and many of them will be sweet. But there are some that toe the line of what’s appropriate and some that go way too far. Her team of moderators gets steadily more bold with the timeouts and the ban hammer as the night goes on. When she finally signs off, three hours later, Ye Xiu and Wei Chen stand up from their workstations, stretching, but the movement does nothing for their drawn eyebrows and pressed lips.
“How bad was it?” she says airily, trying to keep it light.
Wei Chen just hurrumphs. Ye Xiu looks like he wants to break some equipment.
She shrugs. “I think it might be worse at the moment since I just moved teams, but overall, it isn’t usually too bad. We’ll need to hire some real moderators if I keep doing this, though.”
“This wasn’t bad?” Ye Xiu asks, voice low.
“Some of it was, but that’s the price to play. If it’s not someone doubting your skill, it’s someone commenting on your body,” Mucheng says, shrugging.
“Let’s get some ice cream to celebrate my perfect arena score today!” she says instead, dragging them away from their computers before they can start a campaign to defend her right now. Not that she wouldn't appreciate it, but it could wait until they calmed down.
“It’s 7 degrees outside, are you crazy?” Wei Chen shouts at her, but willingly lets himself be tugged along.
Mucheng manages to secure a spot with Tang Rou for her yearly shoot with the fashion boutique. The two of them spend the morning changing outfits, standing in the studio and following the director’s instructions. She wants to make sure that Tang Rou’s first sponsorship experience is a good one, with a reputable brand and professional staff.
Tang Rou falls asleep on their ride back to Happy. Mucheng laughs softly, but only shakes her awake when Happy comes into sight.
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): Is anyone watching Love O2O?
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): no, should i?
Firebird Messenger (Dai Yanqi): I am!
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): They play games in it
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): ooooh is it good or just terrible
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): and that actor who looks kind of like Captain Ye is the male lead
Dancing Rain (Su Mucheng): haha
Firebird Messenger (Dai Yanqi): It looks a lot like one of the early top-down MMORPGs
Firebird Messenger (Dai Yanqi): The game, I mean
Red Leaves (Liu Fei): Oh! Is this the one that’s an indirect sequel to the one with the boss and the blood donor?
Lower Your Head (Shu Keyi): Boss & I?
None Dare Attack (Shu Kexin): yep, love o2o is a spinoff from boss+i
Red Leaves (Liu Fei): yeah! That’s the one.
Windy Rain (Chu Yunxiu): we should watch it together when we’re running dungeons
“Mucheng, there’s someone here to see you. Someone called Yang Jiayi?”
“Oh, Yang-jie! I’ll be there in a second!”
A wide smile breaks out on Mucheng’s face when she sees Yang-jie again.
“Yang-jie, what are you doing here?”
“I promoted - do you remember the Summoner, Eagle Takes Flight? Anyway, I promoted her to take my place in New Excellent Era, so I thought I’d come see my favourite Launcher in her new digs.”
“Oh, Jiayi, you made it, welcome,” Ye Xiu says as he comes down the stairs.
“Captain Ye, good to see you again.”
“Thanks for taking care of Mucheng after I left.”
“It’s what we big sisters do.”
Yang-jie ends up having dinner with them, an extra seat pulled up to the communal table. When she leaves, Mucheng walks her out. It’s chilly enough that Mucheng wishes she’d worn a scarf, but not cold enough for her to do something about it. They stand, arms linked as they both look towards the sky, the faint light from the moon struggling to outshine the bright street lamps.
“You’re happy here, right?”
“Yep, that’s the team’s name,” Mucheng says, not regretting the bad joke in the slightest. “But yes, I am happy. Much happier than those last few years at Excellent Era.”
"What are you going to do now?"
"I got a job at the Alliance. Community engagement. I'm heading to Beijing on Tuesday."
Yang-jie's ride arrives a few minutes later, so Mucheng bids her goodbye, watching as the car turns a corner and out of sight.
Su Mucheng looks around at her team as they gather at the door to the arena stage. The door is still shut, but she can see the bright lights of the stage peeping their way under the door, moving bands of coloured light shifting over the linoleum floor.
Fang Rui leans against a wall, arms lightly crossed as he argues a point with Baozi. An Wenyi looks on, eyebrows steadily rising along with the volume of the conversation. Yifan’s eyes are on his hands, where he stretches a thin, red rubber band. Mo Fan and Luo Ji stand on the other side of their small group, flipping through their notes. Their new rookie, Su Jixin, is staring at the door as though it’s going to eat him, fingers absently turning his account card over and over and over. Mucheng moves into his line of sight and gives him a reassuring smile, which he shakily returns.
Chen Guo and Tang Rou stand beside her, surveying their now championship winning team.
An Alliance worker walks over, informing her and Chen Guo that their team will be called up shortly. She nods her understanding, and calls out to her team.
In moments, they’ve huddled up. Her arms are spread over her teammates’ backs, theirs holding her in place in their tight circle.
“This is a new season. We’ll have to fight just as hard as we did last season, maybe more. But the most important thing to remember is that we face this stage together. Let’s enjoy ourselves out there!”
She pulls one of her arms loose and places it into the circle. Her teammates do the same, and with a shout of “Happy!” they disperse, forming into a line just as the door to the stage opens.
For the first time in her life, Su Mucheng is leading her team into the stadium. She steps out into the light, the crowd chanting her team’s name, and she smiles, wide and genuine, as she walks out onto the stage.