“L-LIN FENG!” Tian Tian blew his nose on his already wet and sticky sleeve. Then he tried to wipe his eyes dry too. “W-what happened to you?” His heart was racing and his stomach flew around like he was on a roller coaster. He hated roller coasters. But hearing Lin Feng’s voice again was worth more than anything else in the world. ‘“W-why did you leave without telling us… What did we do wrong? Is it because we lost Worlds? Did I do something wrong? We could’ve just tried again next year…”
Tian Tian stopped mumbling, and he stopped crying. “You know, the others all left after you. We were a team. And suddenly, we weren’t. Everyone lost their motivation. They stuck around for a little while longer, but it just wasn’t the same. Until I was all alone.” Alone. It was how he felt all the time these days.” I’ve been hopping from team to team for four years now, but I never really felt like I belonged—not like when the five of us were together.”
The more Tian Tian spoke, the more he began to reminisce. His throat became dry again and he had to fight hard to keep the tears back. “I-i tried to keep in touch, with the others. But everyone had their own lives. I-it became really hard to keep in touch. A-and you even changed your phone number and QQ! I tried to reach out to you, but no one knew where you went. I tried so many times…”
The only sound coming from the other side of the line was someone breathing, more loudly and irregular the more Tian Tian spoke. Then Lin Feng finally spoke out, “Fatty, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”
Tian Tian shook his head, frantic. He’d forgotten for a moment he was talking over the phone with someone on the other side of the world. The voice sounded so clear and the emotions so pronounced. It was easy to forget. But then he caught himself mid head-shake. His gaze fell back down on the floor. He missed his friend. “N-no. Why are you apologizing? There’s nothing you have to say sorry for. I-its just…” Lin Feng wasn’t here. He was still all alone. Tears started flowing down his face again. “I-i just really miss you. A-all of you! It’s b-been so lonely without you.”
Tian Tian loved League of Legends. He loved watching it, he loved talking about it, but most of all he loved playing it. Though his demeanor right now would suggest otherwise, he also loved being a professional player. He loved walking up on stage to a cheering crowd. He loved competing against the best. The only thing holding him back was his personality. He couldn’t deal with stress. It all quickly became too much for him. Lin Feng and his other teammates shielded him from this stress back in Season 1. They gave him the strength to compete at the highest stage against the very best. He wasn’t scared of anyone!
However, right now, Tian Tian was on a team of individuals. These players only cared about their own branding and were quick to throw anyone else, even their teammates, under the bus if that meant generating more traction for themselves. And after last week, they’d made full use of this. Any hatred directed towards Tian Tian was a little peace of mind for them. All of them had screwed up, but the fans had it out for Tian Tian and that was good for them. They’d left him all alone to deal with the abuse flung at him. Even the strongest of minds would struggle to deal with this, let alone Fatty who was especially sensitive to these kinds of things.
Tian Tian waited for Lin Feng to say something. Anything! He could hear Lin Feng breathe, so the call was still connected. But his friend didn’t say a word. Finally, he broke the silence himself. “W-when are you coming back?”
There was a slight pause, just enough time to really think about the question. Then Lin Feng promised, “Soon. I’ll be back soon. Trust me Fatty, just a little bit longer. And when I come back, I’ll have you join my team!”
“Okay! I’ll wait for you! Just hit me up when you come back! I’ll join your team!” Tian Tian just about shouted through the phone. It sounded like a promise between two children. His overwhelming feeling of despair was replaced with excitement. Only for a moment. Then he remembered where he was. He was at Worlds as the Toplaner for KG. Every fan in China hated his guts right now. One more loss and he was out of Worlds. It would only get worse for him if that happened. There wasn’t anything to be happy about. Dark thoughts flooded his mind again as he whispered, shivering, “B-but please h-hurry! I-i can’t hold on, i-it’s all too much. I-i worry that I’ll break.”
“Don’t cry!” Lin Feng shouted.
Tian Tian yelped, almost dropping his phone on the ground. He was caught red handed. Lin Feng knew him too well. He quickly wiped a tear from his face, then bit hard on his teeth. I won’t cry! I won’t! Lin Feng said I can’t cry, so I can’t! He clenched his fist, digging his nails into his palm. The physical pain numbed his urge to cry. I’m not crying! Lin Feng is here!
“You’re playing next right? Couple more minutes or so?”
The sudden distraction was enough to keep him from crying. Tian Tian replied, “Yeah. Should be any minute now.”
“Ok. Hear me out. You’re going to win every game. Those next three games? Win them all. Carry your team and win. If you win all three, you can still make it out of group stage.”
“W-what? All of them? Did you really say all?”
“Yes. Win all of them. If you don’t, you’re out of Worlds. We can’t have that.”
Tian Tian’s eyes went round. He looked beside him at the bathroom stall. But Lin Feng was on the phone, so there was no point in hiding in there. The only thing he could do was argue. “No no no! Impossible! I can’t do that! Did you see Legend and Flash? They’re too strong right now. I can’t beat them. It’s impossible!”
“Yes you can.”
Tian Tian rubbed his nose, sniffling loudly. Then he placed his hand over his mouth. No! Lin Feng said I couldn’t cry. I can’t cry! I won’t! He bit his lip and said, “I-i know you think I’m good, but… B-but they’re really really good. T-they’re way better than me. I-i really can’t beat them…”
“Do you trust me?”
“With my life!”
“So when I say you can win. What do you say?”
“Uhh.” Tian Tian stared at his hand, searching for an answer. He didn’t know how to explain to Lin Feng just how good these teams were. They weren’t some pushovers. These were two of the best teams at Worlds! Just because he wanted to win, it didn’t mean he could. It’d take more than a strong conviction! So he argued, “But…”
“No buts. I don’t want to hear a single but from you ever again. Listen to me, Fatty. If I say you can win, I say that because I have full confidence that you can actually win. I’m not trying to hype you up here. I really believe you can win. No. I know you’ll win. Now, promise me that you’ll win. Say that you’ll win all three games!”
Beating Legend and Flash, but Legend has Phoenix… When Tian Tian thought of Phoenix, he started trembling. Phoenix wasn’t just the best player on Legend, he was one of the best four players in the entire world! An Emperor! Tian Tian didn’t think he was bad, but an Emperor was still an Emperor. They were far better players than anyone else. No one can beat them! So he muttered, “But… Phoenix. Legend has Phoenix. They’re too strong. I can’t beat them. Phoenix is an Emperor.”
“I know Legend is a strong team. I know Phoenix is a very good player. But I also know you, Fatty. I know how good you are. I wouldn’t ask you to get out of the group stage if I didn’t think you could. In fact, you know what? If you can’t make it out of the group stage, then don’t even think about joining my team. I don’t need players who can’t even get out of the group stage. You’re only welcome in my team if you make it far at Worlds this year!”
Tian Tian felt like his heart stopped working for a moment. All his joy and happiness from hearing Lin Feng’s voice disappeared. He started trembling and couldn’t hold back the tears. Through the sobs, he asked, “Y-you don’t mean that. Do you? T-tell me you don’t…”
“I do mean it. So, promise me you’ll win?” Lin Feng’s voice sounded firm, but there was a slight disruption in it that revealed how much pain it caused him to say these words.
Tian Tian missed this. All he heard were the first two words, the rest was a blur. I do. I do. I do. They played in his mind, over and over again, as he let the phone drop to the side. If you don’t win, you’re not welcome in my team. Not welcome in my team. Not welcome in my team. He started fighting with himself. Lin Feng’s words played on repeat, but only those he didn’t want to hear. The ones that were most painful. I know you’ll win. It was one sentence. A single thought now in his mind. But it quickly boomed louder until it was all he could hear. I KNOW YOU’LL WIN! He breathed out deeply. Lin Feng believes I’ll win. That’s the only reason he said those other things! He placed the phone back to his ear. His eyes flashed with determination. “O-okay. I promise you. I will win! W-we’ll be teammates again! I’ll beat Phoenix!”
On the other side of the bathroom, Tian Tian’s mentor leaned against the wall. He’d acted like he didn’t care when he gave his phone to Tian Tian. But he did care. He cared a lot. That was the only reason he was here. Not because a friend had asked him a favour, but because he still cared deeply for Tian Tian. When he saw his mentee fired up, he couldn’t help but smile. It was a reaction he’d been trying to get out of Tian Tian for the past three years, but had always failed to do. He’d even given up. But here he was again. And there was that expression on his mentee’s face again. He bit his lip as his heart swelled with pride.
When he first discovered Tian Tian on the ranked ladder, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d never seen anyone that talented before. Tian Tian might be timid and easily scared, but he was so talented that none of that mattered. Well, it didn’t matter to compete professionally, at least. But it did stop him at the final hurdle. It stopped him from becoming one of the truly great. When he didn’t let his emotions hold him back, he easily had the raw talent to become an Emperor! The only one holding him back was himself. In fact, Tian Tian’s mentor had only ever seen one player who was more talented than Tian Tian since then. But that person was just something else entirely. Like a freak of nature. Out of this world. Lin Feng. The talent he possessed was one in all of existence. There was, quite literally, no one who could compare.
Lin Feng hung up the phone and put it back in his pocket, when cheers rang out from inside the NetCow Cafe in central Shanghai. He pulled the door open and walked in, then started smiling. At the gaming station of High School 13, his teammates were jumping up and down and celebrating. It looked a lot like they’d just won the game against High School 3. He rubbed his face and took a deep breath, then hurried over to them. “Did we win?”
“WE WON!” Ren Rou shouted as she hugged Lin Feng, still jumping up and down in joy.
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses and smiled, “One down, one to go! We just have to beat Shanghai High 7 or Tonji Aff. High. Just one win and we’re through to the next round!”
Chen Ze’s expression crumpled when he heard Yang Fan mention their next two opponents. “Right. One more win. But we have to play those two schools. They’re way better than High School 3.”
“He’s right,” Liu Yue mumbled. The others felt the same. Their good mood disappeared and was replaced with worry. They didn’t want to admit it, they really didn’t, but the other two opponents scared them. After Lin Feng’s speech a few days ago, they wouldn’t give up. But they hadn’t suddenly changed their point of view. Shanghai High 7 and Tonji Aff. High were two of the best schools in the entire tournament. It would take more than a little speech to beat them.
“Oh, it’s fine. You guys don’t need to worry about that,” Lin Feng said, calm as ever. He laughed, “Just leave the rest to me guys, I got this.”