Chu Fang felt all the colour drain from his face. Potential candidates… Shit. He’s going to yell at me. Sweat prickled on his forehead and he felt a sudden chill in the air. He looked sheepishly at Fang Hao, who sat behind his desk calm as ever. Maybe he doesn’t know. Just a coincidence. A shiver ran up and down his spine as he desperately tried not to show fear in his eyes. I’ve done nothing wrong. I could’ve told him about Lin Feng, sure, but I didn’t have to. I didn’t do anything wrong!
Fang Hao ignored the sweat on Chu Fang’s forehead and the worry in his subordinate’s eyes. “So,” he started. “What do you think about inviting high schoolers to participate in the Winter Collegiate Cup?”
Chu Fang forced himself to take deep, long, calming breaths. He finally looked up at Fang Hao and smiled. “I think it’s a good idea. It’ll be a good chance for them to experience some higher level competition.” He paused for a moment, hesitating, then added, “Besides, the Shanghai 16 School Tournament just finished, and I’ve watched the final rounds myself. I know how strong all the high school teams are and which players can participate at the university level.”
“Right, the Shanghai 16 School Tournament…” Fang Hao dragged the words, smiling slightly. “Who won again this year? High School 13, was it?”
Chu Fang felt his heart knocking against his ribs in an increasingly violent rhythm. He knows. He knows! Does he? It took all his self control to give Fang Hao a calm answer. “Yes. They were the underdogs for a long time, but they suddenly looked very strong in the semifinals when they beat Shanghai International. Then they won 3-1 in the Finals against Shanghai High School. They have a few especially outstanding players.” He recalled a certain promise he made. I’m trying my best to keep it a secret, Lin Feng. But he’s going to find out. One more question from him and he knows, if he doesn’t already. He probably already knows. I sent him the information. I sent him the…
Fang Hao nodded repeatedly and said, “Yes, yes, so I’ve heard. Very outstanding. Oh, what was the name of their team captain again?”
Chu Fang gulped. “Ahem. Well, uh… You know, it’s… Did you read my repo—”
Fang Hao slammed his fist down on his desk with such force that Chu Fang jumped up in fright. Then he shouted, “YOU LITTLE SHIT! How long did you plan on keeping this from me!? Huh! I thought I could trust you!”
Chu Fang pushed himself back in his chair, as far away from Fang Hao as he could without offending his boss. He knows. Yep. He knows. I’m done for. He’s going to eat me alive. I’m going to be demoted and he’ll have me sweeping the floors. He knew this was coming the moment that Fang Hao had called him and asked for the information on High School 13. But somewhere deep down he’d hoped his boss would glance over the information and miss it. He said, “I can explain. Really! There’s a good reaso—”
Fang Hao didn’t care about an explanation. He cut Chu Fang off with a stare, then leaned forward and asked, “Tell me. Is it really him?”
Chu Fang froze for a moment. Then he slowly nodded and said, “Yeah. It is him.”
“Maple,” Fang Hao mumbled. “Maple…” He fell back in his chair and stared past Chu Fang at nothing. It’s him. He said he’d be back. But it’s been four years, and he was just a little kid back then. He did come back! Maple is back! His eyes started beaming and his mouth moved of its own volition. “He’s back. Maple. Maple…”
“He is,” Chu Fang said. Lin Feng will understand why I had to tell Fang Hao. And I haven’t really broken my promise. But I really don’t want to end up sweeping the floors… He took a deep breath and then explained, “I only found out myself during the semifinals. We spoke for a bit and he told me that he doesn’t want everyone to know that he’s back yet. So he asked me to keep his return a secret for a while longer…”
Fang Hao waved his hand and said, “It’s fine. It’s fine.” He then grinned and looked at his subordinate. It’s been four long years. We haven’t had any luck since he left… This… It feels unreal. But Chu Fang looks serious enough… “T-this isn’t some elaborate joke, is it? It’s really him? I swear I’m firing you if this is all some stupid joke! Tell me. Is he really back? Is this Lin Feng really the Lin Feng? Maple?”
Chu Fang nodded and confirmed once more, “Yes.”
Fang Hao was finally convinced. He looked at his subordinate and started laughing. Louder. Louder! “HE’S BACK! BACK! THIS IS GREAT!” He got up from his desk. He had the urge to throw up his hands and jump in the air. But he managed to stop himself. He lightly coughed and let himself fall back in his chair. Grinning from ear to ear, he looked at Chu Fang and said, “That little punk! It’s about time he showed himself again!”
Chu Fang smiled. He understood exactly how Fang Hao was feeling, because that was also how he’d felt when he found out. They’d both been part of the League of Legends scene since Season 1. They were there when the LPL still competed for the world title. More importantly, they’d both witnessed the raw talent and potential of Maple. He was far better than all the other talents they’d scouted over the years combined. And now he was back.
A train came rolling into the station. Lin Feng and Tian Tian were watching it come to a stop. Then Lin Feng turned to his friend and said, “Fatty, you have to practice hard! And let me know when you’re free again! I’ll come hang out and I’ll bring BunBun and Tang Tang too!”
Tian Tian nodded and said, “I will! I’m going to train really hard! Uhm, you should also do your best!” Then he suddenly thought of something and asked, “The Winter Collegiate Cup is happening soon. Are you going to participate?”
“Huh?” Lin Feng blurted out. Then he grinned and shook his head. “I won’t. That’s a university tournament, right? I’m still in high school!”
“Oh… Right,” Tian Tian mumbled. He scratched his head in embarrassment and apologized, “I forgot you were still in high school…” He shook his head. W-why do I keep forgetting this? He’s a few years younger than me… 15 plus 4 is 19…
Tian Tian’s daytime job was being a professional League of Legends player as the Top Laner for KG. But he also attended university. There was a special arrangement in place for students playing professional sports. He was allowed to skip his classes and work on assignments on his own time. Then he had to report to his professor every couple of weeks. They’d discuss where he was at and what he should do next. The last time he’d spoken with his professor was just a couple of days ago. Tian Tian thought back to that meeting and mumbled, “I talked with my professor. He said I should join my university esports team… I was thinking it might be fun to do if you were also playing…”
Lin Feng chuckled and replied, “How could they let you play? You’re a professional player! And you’re the best in China too! The other teams might as well give up if you join!” Lin Feng took a deep breath and then added, “Though it would’ve been fun!”
The train conductor blew her whistle, interrupting the conversation between Lin Feng and Tian Tina. Lin Feng looked behind him and saw the doors closing. He hopped on the train and shouted through the closing gap, “Let’s meet up again soon, Fatty. See you!” Then the doors closed. He waved at Tian Tian as the train started moving, his friend waving back at him. He smiled until the train left the station. And not a second longer. He stumbled to the nearest seat and fell down in it, every last speck of joy disappearing from his face.
Back in the restaurant, Lin Feng had asked Tian Tian about his old teammates. Tian Tian had hesitated at first, but Lin Feng had pushed for an answer. That was how he learned about how their other three old teammates were doing.
Eleven was the only one still playing League of Legends competitively. But circumstances had forced him to join a second-rate LSPL team, where his talent was going to waste.
Lin Feng bit on his lips. Playing in the LSPL is as good as quitting… But at least he’s still playing… Autumn and Silent were the names of the Support and ad-carry of his old team. Both of them had quit the competitive scene shortly after him. I abandoned them, and then they left. They left because of me.
Autumn had returned to his hometown where he’d opened a small cybercafe. He hadn’t cut off contact, but he wasn’t trying to keep the friendships going either. Tian Tian had dropped by the cybercafe multiple times, and he’d chatted with Autumn over the phone. But he was always the one instigating, and friendship was a two way street. He eventually gave up and contact between them slowly withered off.
Lin Feng banged his head against the side of the train in a slow but steady rhythm. I tore our friendships apart by leaving. They all stopped talking with each other after I stopped talking to them. After I left them… I didn’t even tell them that I was leaving. I was a terrible friend. The worst friend.
Tian Tian hadn’t had much to say about Silent, whose name fit him incredibly well. Silent never spoke much, even when the team was still together. But after Lin Feng left, Silent had mostly become a mute until he left through the backdoor just like Lin Feng had. Tian Tian had no clue what happened to Silent after that, except from little tidbits he heard from Autumn. Silent had apparently moved back in with his parents to help them with their family business.
I guess they all landed on their feet, in their own ways… I didn’t ruin their lives. Lin Feng didn’t believe it. He’d abandoned them and broken up their friendship. And from what he could see, none of them were really friends with each other either anymore. They’d come together with a shared dream. To become the best and win the world title! That dream was gone. There was nothing left of it. They’d given up, just like he had. All their long nights talking about becoming the best and every long session, it was all a thing of the past. They’d moved on, because he left them behind to fend for themselves. He was the glue that had kept everything together. And when he left, he tore the team apart. This group of brothers was now nothing more than strangers.