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“I hired you to do a job,” Tao Xuan says, and Xiao Shiqin can do nothing but nod.

It’s true. He’s here to turn Excellent Era around, to be the brains behind Sun Xiang’s arrogance. He’s the silent cog working invisibly behind the scenes, running around and making sure all the parts click seamlessly together. Here’s here to do a job but he never promised he’d do it in any way but his own.

Xiao Shiqin nods, and proceeds to ignore Tao Xuan entirely.

The team is in shambles and Xiao Shiqin is their only hope of staying afloat. Sun Xiang is a brilliant player, but he doesn’t know what it means to be a captain and he’s steering them on a collision course with disaster. Tao Xuan sees it but seems to have no interest in correcting course. On the contrary, he’s the one holding Sun Xiang’s hands to the wheel, encouraging him to go faster.

If Tao Xuan thinks he can manipulate Xiao Shiqin in the same way, he’s wasting his breath. He should know better than to try and toy with someone as well-versed in manipulation as Xiao Shiqin. It’s a crude description, but Xiao Shiqin has a knack for getting people to do what he wants. He can’t deny it and he doesn’t try, but he likes to think he uses his power for good, nudging his teammates in a direction that helps them grow.

He puts on his glasses and gets to work.

“Don’t challenge Sun Xiang’s authority,” Tao Xuan warns him.

Xiao Shiqin does the opposite. The trick to successfully challenging Sun Xiang is to not do it openly, to gently nudge him behind closed doors, but no one has ever bothered to figure that out.

“Don’t play in the Team Competition with him,” Tao Xuan tells him.

Xiao Shiqin does the opposite. Integrating with Sun Xiang’s play style is as simple as setting him a task he wants to do, and watching him gleefully throw himself head-first into doing it. Except no one ever bothered to see beyond his prickly surface and find out.

Tao Xuan manipulates the people around him in an effort to keep their eyes closed. Xiao Shiqin manipulates them because he wants to see them open. The more he learns about Excellent Era, the more he sees the cracks that go all the way down to the bedrock.

This is a team that has long since rotted from the inside.

It culminates in a high-rise office in one of the towers owned by the Glory Pro Alliance. Chairman Feng announces that Ye Qiu—or rather, Ye Xiu—will be fully reinstated under his new, legal name. Xiao Shiqin stands tall beside his fellow pro players, satisfaction scrawled across his face at the verdict that will allow the game of Glory to continue growing into something more. Something better.

On the opposite side of the room, dressed in his finely tailored suit, Tao Xuan rages as politely as courtesy allows. Xiao Shiqin locks eyes with the man who hired him and hardens his expression, victorious. Everything crystalizes into perfect clarity.

Tao Xuan is trying to make Glory a smaller place. Xiao Shiqin will never let that happen.

What’s Tao Xuan going to do, fire him? Maybe, if Ye Xiu’s mysterious retirement is anything to go by. Fine, let him be fired. He’s beginning to understand how such a powerhouse team fell so far so fast, and it’s not because of Ye Xiu or Sun Xiang.

Xiao Shiqin looks at Tao Xuan and sees his opposite number. Two leaders of Excellent Era, one old and one new, both adept at influencing people behind the scenes, both seemingly working for the same goal.

The lines have been drawn and Excellent Era hangs in the balance.