THE FLESH OF A SWAN

Chapter 1

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A man was escorted into the interrogation room and made to sit.

He wore a look of contempt and kept his mouth tightly shut, as though everything and everyone around him was beneath him and worthy only of his disdain.

But the prosecutor who sat before him also looked rather indifferent to their surroundings. The prosecutor didn't even seem to notice the man's entrance. He simply minded his own business and lit a cigarette.

The golden rays of the afternoon sun spilled in through the slits of the interrogation room's half-drawn shutters. That light spilled across the light brown eyes of the young prosecutor. His pale skin was almost translucent beneath that light; there was hardly any color in his cheeks. White cigarette smoke drifted through the air like a sheer veil.

The young prosecutor lifted his head. His expression was so cold that it almost appeared as though his lashes were laden with never-melting droplets of icy dew.

The detained suspect detected the scent of tobacco in the air, along with a colder, sweeter aroma.

The beautiful young prosecutor said, "Go ahead. Start talking."

The suspect felt as though he'd fallen under a spell.

When that exquisite ice sculpture of a man questioned him, he spilled all the secrets he'd withheld from the police for the past two days.

By the time the suspect came back to his senses…

He had already confessed to everything.

At that moment, the suspect felt the symptoms of a fever coming over him. He looked around, then swore, "Fuck. There's an omega in heat in this room? Who is it?"

He looked at the petite, female clerk who was currently recording their session from the seat beside the prosecutor.

The young prosecutor breezily admitted, "It isn't her, it's me. I'm an omega, and I'm currently in heat."

He spoke in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone.

Then he asked, "Do you have a problem with that?"

After the suspect was escorted back out of the interrogation room, the prosecutor crisply ordered, "Bring in the next one."

He cut through these cases like a wickedly sharp vegetable chopper.

While recording each session, the clerk thought to herself, Shen-xiansheng is truly an alpha killer. Alphas really do lose all their willfulness in front of omegas. These interrogations are going even more smoothly than usual.

This young prosecutor was named Shen Wenjun; he was twenty-nine years old. He was the second-in-command at the prosecutor's office where he worked, and his track record was outstanding.

Rumor had it, he'd graduated at the top of his class from H Law School. But due to the fact that he had been born an omega, he'd only managed to secure employment at a small law office after graduation. Over the years, because he handled cases expertly and produced excellent results, he experienced a meteoric rise in his field.

Shen Wenjun was the one and only omega prosecutor at his workplace, and back in the day he had also been the one and only omega in his year at law school. But he had never tried to hide his status as an omega.

And all his colleagues were alphas.

Although the A/B/O Equality Act was in place, discrimination against omegas was still prevalent in modern society. Many people believed omegas were stupid, frail, and sickly—an under-evolved, inferior species of human.

During his heat, Shen Wenjun would take suppressants but otherwise go to work as usual. Even with suppressants, a small amount of his pheromones would emanate from him.

After work, the clerk Little He worriedly asked, "Shen-xiansheng, are you really okay? I feel your complexion doesn't look so good today."

He really wasn't feeling so good that day.

Although his heats were relatively mild, Shen Wenjun still felt the typical symptoms—discomfort, nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain, and so on. All those born as omegas had to endure these pains.

Shen Wenjun pressed a hand to the side of his forehead. "It's not too bad. I'll manage."

He didn't actually enjoy interrogating suspects during his heat. Once, there had almost been an incident. But it was undeniable that he was at least twice as efficient at interrogating suspects during this time, especially suspects who were alphas.

Everything had its pros and cons. Being an omega wasn't the worst fate in the world.

After a full day of work, Shen Wenjun put on a black overcoat with a half-length capelet. Then he donned a pair of rice-colored gloves and made sure he was meticulously presentable—not a hair or stitch out of place—before leaving for home.

It was likely that no one judging solely by his appearance would have guessed he was an omega. He was 182 centimeters tall. His features were exceptionally handsome. His figure was decidedly masculine, with broad shoulders and long legs.

A few of his alpha colleagues stepped into the elevator with him, descending to the parking lot.

They could all smell Shen Wenjun's pheromones. His scent was reminiscent of his personality—cold and clean, and not sweet, but still sensual in its own way.

For any alpha, standing in an enclosed space with an omega in heat was a bit of a challenge.

Shen Wenjun stood in front of the doors, with his back to the alphas in the elevator. He'd recently cut his hair, and his long, pale neck was exposed. Due to the effects of his suppressants, his pheromone secretion glands weren't noticeably swollen. But there were still faint traces of reddening at the nape of his neck.

It was like pale, pink petals were stuck to his skin. Or like a swath of scarlet ink had been spilled across an exquisite piece of paper.

All these alphas had tried to court Shen Wenjun in the past, but Shen Wenjun had rejected them all with the excuse that he didn't wish to date at the workplace.

One brave soul had, supposedly, pursued him with unwavering determination. Ultimately, Shen Wenjun had flatly told him the truth.

"Your work performance is terrible. I have no interest in falling for an alpha who's inferior to me."

That sort of rejection was far too terrifying.

After getting home, Shen Wenjun took a shower and laid down since the discomfort from his heat was getting too awful to bear.

Just as he started to fall asleep, he received a call from his good friend Xie Han.

Shen Wenjun had been in an irritable mood for a few days already. His voice was somewhat unpleasant when he answered, "Yes? What is it?"

"Little Jun," Xie Han greeted. "Remember to leave Friday night free."

"Why do I need to be free?" Shen Wenjun asked curiously.

"Because your thirtieth birthday is on Friday."

Shen Wenjun turned and checked a calendar, only then remembering Xie Han was correct. "Oh."

"I'll come out and spend your birthday with you."

Shen Wenjun snidely retorted, "There's no need to make a fuss about it, is there? It's just a birthday, and I'm not a child. I'm not going to cry and scream for a party where all my friends sing me a song. That's so juvenile."

"It's your thirtieth, the big 3-0," Xie Han said. "Even if you don't want a party or a fancy banquet dinner, you at least have to have a birthday cake, right?"

Shen Wenjun nodded at that. "Well, alright. See you then…"

He was tired enough that he fell asleep while listening to the sound of his friend's voice.

Xie Han was still saying, "I've already applied to transfer over to your area… I think it'll probably be approved. Later this year, I should be able to start working where you are…"

He trailed off and waited for a long while, but didn't receive any response from Shen Wenjun.

There was only the sound of slow, even breathing.

Xie Han sighed and murmured, "Good night, Little Jun."

The next day.

Shen Wenjun didn't go to the prosecutor's office.

He was an honorary professor at H Law. Every week, he had to head out there to give a lecture.

When he woke that morning, the symptoms of his heat were still quite severe. He dry-heaved several times while brushing his teeth and didn't start to feel better until he injected himself with a stronger suppressant.

He dressed in a back three-piece suit and his black overcoat that day. When he looked in the mirror, he felt he was as pale as a vampire.

Shen Wenjun thought to himself, Hopefully those law school brats won't be too idiotic today.

He didn't need anything to make his mood worse.

……

H Law.

Freshman dorms.

Teng Rui was sprawled out in bed, snoring as he slept soundly.

One of his roommates woke him up. "Rui-zi, get up. Time for class. There's a special professor coming in today."

Teng Rui lifted one arm and weakly flapped a hand as he blearily mumbled, "You guys go… I'll come along in a bit. Save me a seat."

After ten minutes, his roommates all left. Teng Rui realized he really was running short on time. He staggered out of bed, haphazardly brushed his teeth, and used a towel to give his face a fierce scrub. Then he put on a pair of socks that hadn't been washed in two days, a hoodie that hadn't been washed in four or five days, and a pair of jeans that hadn't been washed in god only knows how long.

He headed out just like that, in that sloppy state of dress.

Halfway to the lecture hall, he realized he'd forgotten to change his shoes. He was still wearing slippers.

Ah, whatever. He would just go in slippers.

Teng Rui was nineteen years old. A college freshman. Primary sex male, secondary sex alpha.

But he did still know a little something about shame. He couldn't help but think that his social life would be over if a girl saw him in this state.

Naturally, what he feared was exactly what came to pass.

He ran into some girls from the music department. A while back, Teng Rui and his friends had played a murder mystery game with them.

The girls saw him and disdainfully crossed the street to walk on the other side of the road.

Teng Rui's heart sank.

He had been fat in middle school, and had successfully lost weight in high school. For the sake of getting a girlfriend in the future, he'd buried himself in his studies for three years and managed to get into H Law.

He was an excellent student. He was tall. He was pretty good-looking. And he was an alpha.

Shouldn't it have been easy for him to find a girlfriend?

However, no girls approached him, so he'd had to take the initiative to approach them. But he had yet to succeed in hooking a single one.

Why?

He just wanted a girlfriend. Why was it so hard?

As he walked, Teng Rui heard a few girls from other departments chatting about something.

"I've always wanted to go and meet him."

"I heard Shen-laoshi is super good-looking."

"Shen-laoshi is my idol. He's so amazing, even as an omega. He's better than a lot of alphas."

"I brought Shen-laoshi's book with me. I want to get his autograph."

Teng Rui thought with a sour heart, Aren't all male omegas total sissies? Better than alphas? As if. These women have no taste.

Finally, Teng Rui reached the lecture hall.

The lecture hall was situated in a European-style building. Two flights of stairs curled around the left and right of the main lobby. Huge swaths of sunlight spilled in through the towering floor-to-ceiling windows.

As soon as Teng Rui set foot on one flight of stairs…

He suddenly felt something out of the ordinary.

Something smelled.

Something smelled good.

A rich, aromatic scent filled the air. It was like someone had spilled a whole bottle of perfume, but the scent wasn't overly sweet or cloying. It was a refreshing and only faintly sweet scent, and it seemed to be calling him.

He liked it right away.

His heart beat faster. His breathing grew uneven. He lifted his head and gazed at another person standing on the stairs.

That person was a man, dressed in all black.

Like a vampire wrapped up in a pair of bat wings.

The man also seemed to have realized something was out of the ordinary. He turned back and looked askance at Teng Rui.

Shen Wenjun had detected an incredibly strong scent of alpha pheromones.

This sort of situation wasn't common at all. He immediately realized that he may have run into his fated mate.

In his thirty years of life, he had often imagined what it might be like to meet his fated mate. But he'd never imagined it would be at a time or place like this.

He could hardly believe that he was seeing a boy who looked to be around twenty, one who looked childish, unkempt, and witless. That boy was staring blankly, intently back at him.

And the source of the pheromones Shen Wenjun smelled was none other than this slovenly brat.

How could his fated mate be a simple-minded brat like that?!

Shen Wenjun was so irate that he bit clean through the cigarette between his teeth.

"Fuck," he muttered under his breath.

 

Author's Notes:

I never studied law. Setting is generic.

Translator's Notes (September 22nd, 2021):

This is a very short story, 12 chapters total, so there won't be a set release schedule for this translation. I'll release the rest of the chapters in a batch when they're ready, which will most likely be within a week or so. („• ֊ •„)

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 101

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The onstage declaration Shen Qiao made at the world championship finals would be widely circulated by popular accounts in the esports industry. Discussions of his speech would also flood the team's official Weibo, as well as their supertopic chats. Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao would both see their own Weibo pages cluttered with a single type of comment that drowned out the cheers of congratulations for their win—

[Is it true?]

[Are you and Le Zhe really for real?]

[Do you like Lu Zhe?]

[Are you guys together?]

However, the entire team went out for a big dinner at the hotel after accepting their trophy. While Manager Zhou busily arranged their return flights, they decided to take advantage of the gap between now and the all-star event to take a trip. All the players were wrapped up in that discussion.

Post-game interviews, online discussions, talks of the championship skin… none of the players paid any attention to that.

DG's official Weibo did upload a lot of content in the wake of the finals, but those were all pre-prepared videos and graphics. Hungry fans could only lick at the crumbs they got from the interview that the players had given after the game that day.

And so, the question of whether or not Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were really together quickly became the greatest mystery in the esports community.

……

But DG's players didn't show their curious fans any mercy.

After they got home, they immediately scheduled a half-month trip for themselves, planning on traveling from the north to the south to take in some beautiful, snowy sights before spending the coldest days of winter in the warmest part of the country.

It was a beautiful plan—

However, there were some problems with setting the details.

Er-Hua typed away at his computer and asked, "What kind of hotel do you guys want to stay at? Do we need a place with a gaming room?"

Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue glanced at the others.

Shen Qiao carelessly answered, "Whatever's fine."

He was fine with playing or not playing during their trip.

Old Wo thought about all the livestreaming hours he still owed that month. After thinking it over for a while, he said, "We do need one, right?"

Qian Bao scrubbed her hands over her face. "No, no, no, I can't stay up all night gaming anymore! Can't I stay away from LoL for once, on our hard-earned break?"

Er-Hua stopped in the middle of typing out their itinerary. "We have two choices here. One is a gaming hotel, and one is a six-star hotel. You guys check them out, then take a vote."

"Oh, and once we pick a hotel, everyone think about what sights they want to see," Qian Bao added. "Tell me and I'll make the plans!"

Old Wo blinked. "Aren't we just going somewhere for a change of scenery? Do we really have to go sightseeing?"

Qian Bao stared back at him in shock. "What's the point of going to these places if we don't see the sights?"

Old Wo righteously answered, "If we check out all the sights, half a month won't be anywhere near long enough for our trip! Isn't 'traveling' for modern people just going somewhere and staying there for a bit? Doesn't that count?"

Qian Bao took a deep breath. "Alright, get online. Let's play three rounds right now. First to two wins gets to make this decision."

Old Wo set down his thermos. "Come at me!"

Everyone else remained silent.

Shen Qiao stopped what his own hands were doing, and Lu Zhe immediately exclaimed, "Serve the food, the food! I don't have enough on my side!"

The screen showed that these two were once again playing Breakup Kitchen 2, which they'd tried once before. Although they had made a lot of progress in terms of cooperation, they still had some trouble with the more challenging levels.

Shen Qiao returned his attention to the game, hesitating for a second before he asked, "Shouldn't we help?"

Lu Zhe calmly said, "Let them argue for a while longer."

Shen Qiao suspected Lu Zhe simply wanted to pass this level before thinking about anything else.

As expected—

After they managed to clear that diabolical level with three stars, Lu Zhe took off his headset and heard Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo being asked a string of baffling questions by Er-Hua—like what kind of room they wanted, what they wanted to eat, and so on.

Qian Bao and Old Wo were busy warring it out in a series of 1v1 matches; they were temporarily too busy to speak.

Lu Zhe paced a circle behind them and silently took stock of who was actually contributing the most to the planning of this trip. Then he decided, "How about this? We'll listen to whoever makes the plans. No problems there, right?"

Qian Bao's hands paused for a moment. Old Wo took that opportunity to knock her back with an A attack, then said to Lu Zhe, "Okay, Captain. Sure thing, Captain. Then we'll listen to Er-Hua. Wherever he wants to stay is where we'll stay. If he wants to see the sights, we'll see the sights. But I know—he won't want to go anywhere early in the mornings either, right?"

Qian Bao anxiously looked over at Er-Hua.

Er-Hua remained silent.

He tried to suggest a compromise. "Okay, how about this? We'll plan to see some sights in the afternoons or evenings, but we'll spend the mornings sleeping in. That way, we'll be able to stick to our usual sleep schedules."

Qian Bao nodded, and Old Wo also agreed a bit dispiritedly. After losing his fighting spirit, he lost his will to fight, and his champion was sent straight to the grave.

Lu Zhe considered all this for a moment more, then added, "I can stay anywhere with Shen Qiao, but we'll take just one room."

"Ew," Old Wo said.

"Ew," the others echoed.

Shen Qiao had just taken off his headset, but he put it back on very quickly, as though to hide the color of his ears.

Only Lu Zhe seemed completely unperturbed by the reactions of the crowd. "What? If the two of us stayed in different rooms, wouldn't you think something was wrong?"

Er-Hua glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. "How juvenile are we right now?"

Old Wo held up his hands in a 'stop' motion, then pressed a finger to his lips. "Alright, that's enough. People will get bored if you flaunt this lovey-dovey stuff too much."

Qian Bao nodded with a deep sense of agreement, as if she'd forgotten that she'd just been 1v1ing Old Wo a minute ago.

Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo couldn't resist laughing out loud in unison. The two of them were sharing a pair of headphones to listen to music; they seemed to be getting along very well.

After Lu Zhe issued his orders, the planning of the trip went much more smoothly. Er-Hua picked a few places they wanted to visit, then went to run their plans by Manager Zhou—

Only to have Manager Zhou refuse all involvement right away.

They finally, finally had a small break. Manager Zhou definitely wasn't going to spend his time off with a rowdy bunch of bachelors. He wanted to go home for a blind date!

The coaches had all already booked flights home as well. Apparently, they'd all been waiting for this chance to take a break.

Ultimately, only the seven first-string players would head out on this trip together.

……

In that half a month—

Qian Bao's Weibo became a foodie blog. Er-Hua's innate talent as a photographer was discovered. And Old Wo would upload a little video whenever they arrived at a new place, spending some time interacting with fans. They didn't completely drop off the grid during their break.

However, when they were asked about Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao, their answers were all a little vague and thought-provoking.

Qian Bao typically answered—

Hm? If you guys think it's true, then it's true. (:

Old Wo—

Why are you all asking me about those two on my Weibo? Am I not handsome enough or am I not alpha enough? Tell me, tell me and I'll change right away!

Er-Hua simply said—

Guess.

The two kids on the team were still underage, so their Weibo accounts had yet to be made into official accounts. Fans couldn't find the two of them, so they had no choice but to continue bombarding Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao with questions on their respective Weibo accounts.

But Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were way worse than the others. They didn't even put up a single picture of themselves during their trip!

If they weren't occasionally spotted in group photos with their other teammates, fans would have started to suspect they hadn't gone on the trip at all!

But this couldn't be blamed on Shen Qiao.

Lu Zhe had entered his rut near the end of the world championship. He hadn't had much of a chance to find relief, but he'd suppressed it and acted more or less like a decent human being in front of his teammates. Even Shen Qiao had started to assume that Lu Zhe had simply gotten past it by ignoring it.

But in the end…

Starting from the second day after they set out on their trip, Shen Qiao wasn't able to leave his room for three or four days.

Every day, while his teammates happily went outside to enjoy the sights and local cuisine, he was still laid up in bed. And every night, when his teammates returned to the hotel to play card games, Shen Qiao was still in his room.

If it weren't for the fact that they had to switch locations after a few days, Shen Qiao had a feeling Lu Zhe would have kept going.

……

With the voting period for the all-star event right around the corner, fans were starting to get more and more anxious. Without official confirmation, shippers couldn't help but feel that the sugar they'd gotten wasn't sweet enough. The day the voting link went live, a post popped up in DG's official supertopic—

[@DG-Wolfy, @DG-ZHE Are you two there? If you don't come out and make an official announcement, I'm going to vote for you both, you know? I'm going to make sure DG's top laner and jungler are torn apart! I won't let you enjoy your break, I'll make you work overtime! Sisters, come on! Let's all vote them in!]

That post was met by a sea of laughter.

[Good idea, sisters! Since neither of these men will become mine in this lifetime, breaking them up sounds pretty good. Charge! Who's with me?]

[I'm in! When I think about Lu Zhe not being able to sleep with my Wolf Cub because he's too busy preparing for the all-stars event, I feel so much more relieved.]

[Our little Wolfy is so fierce on the outside, but you just know he's the type that likes to be spoiled on the inside! Usually, he's very attentive to his bullet comments too. Hmph, I want to snatch him away from Captain Lu! Everyone, vote! Drag them to all-stars!]

……

The situation grew more dire.

Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao were good-looking to begin with, and they were excellent players as well. In the eyes of other alphas, they were the ultimate existence. And in the eyes of betas and omegas, they were even more dreamy.

As soon as voting began, the two of them left every other top laner and jungler in the dust. Plus, as the new two-time champions, DG had reeled in a lot of new fans. It was natural that all their fans would want to see them at the top of the all-stars vote.

That night, Shen Qiao—with shaking hands—plugged his phone in to charge. Then he unlocked it and saw a certain message that made him promptly kick Lu Zhe out of bed.

After that, he opened up Weibo and put up a new post.

One vote from you, one vote from me, and Wolf Cub will return tomorrow for all to see. [link]

What kind of vacation was this? He couldn't take it anymore. He wanted to go back to work! Right now!

He wanted to compete. When was the spring tournament starting this year?

Could the league move it up? If he had to take another half a month of this, he would be found dead in bed one day!

Shen Qiao's fans were all stunned by his post.

They all hastily clicked on the link he put up and saw that it led them to vote for Shen Qiao for the all-stars event. They all started to voice their praise for him—

[Little Wolfy is so career-oriented. He's so strong! Mama is a bit too shy to say what she's really thinking now. Embarrassed.jpg]

[How cute! He's adorable when he calls himself Wolf Cub! I'm in love all over again!]

But some people did sense something strange about this message from Shen Qiao. They couldn't help but voice some doubt—

[Why do I feel like Wolf Cub is really happy about us trying to send him to all-stars? Is he having some sort of crisis with Dog Lu? Do I have a chance with him again?]

Lu Zhe sat on the floor by the bed and laughed. After he got up from the carpet, he climbed back onto the bed and wrapped his arms around Shen Qiao's waist to sneak a peek at what he'd posted. Then he pressed his forehead to Shen Qiao's shoulder and remorsefully said, "I think I saw we both had quite a lot of votes today. We'll probably get into all-stars for sure."

Shen Qiao slapped his hands away and calmly retorted, "Mm. We'll be living up to our fans' expectations. As we should."

Lu Zhe shifted his hands lower, bit by bit. His tone was still calm and proper as he said, "In that case… how about we take this final chance to indulge a bit more?"

By the time he finished speaking, his voice was already full of intensity.

Shen Qiao sensed Lu Zhe's pheromones wafting towards him again. He felt like he was being closely watched by an oversized predator. He immediately tensed up and tried to push Lu Zhe away, but Lu Zhe had already sealed their lips together.

The next day.

Some new content popped up on Lu Zhe's Weibo as well. He'd shared Shen Qiao's post, and also added a comment of his own—

Gege, don't forget to take me with you~! ^v^

Shen Qiao, who'd called out 'gege' all night without succeeding in making Lu Zhe stop, saw this Weibo comment and immediately responded—

Blocked.

And upon seeing that exchange, all the fans who'd originally thought they were together were thoroughly baffled.

What exactly was the situation here?

……

After half a month—

Lu Zhe's rut passed, and the team's vacation ended. Old Wo, who'd gotten a bit of a tan while they passed the winter in the south, made a beeline for his computer as soon as they got back to the HQ, in order to make up his streaming hours for the month.

But when he got to the training room, he discovered the layout had been changed slightly. He didn't bother going all the way to his own station on the other side of the room. Instead, he just waved a greeting to Zhao Yue, then borrowed the computer next to Shen Qiao.

His eager fans were already waiting in his streaming room.

Old Wo greeted them one by one.

Other fans quickly rushed in. Some of them asked about Qian Bao, and some asked if he could turn the camera to Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao for just a second. In order to log enough hours, Old Wo was pretty much willing to do anything to pass the time. He spun the camera around, letting the viewers get a look at Shen Qiao, who was putting on his headset and getting ready for a game.

Shen Qiao glanced over at the camera, but didn't say a word.

The bullet comments instantly asked—

[Did you guys have fun on your trip?]

Shen Qiao didn't see those comments, but Old Wo did. Old Wo thought of something or the other and answered on Shen Qiao's behalf—

"Ai, it wasn't all that fun. The sights were just okay, the hotel was just okay, and we're a bit strapped for cash, you know. We had to trouble the captain and Wolf Cub to share a room. Tragic, right?"

The bullet comments—

[????????]

[!!!!!!!]

Two alphas in one room!

What could happen there?

The fans and anti-fans in the comments all had the same question—

[Did they get into a fight?]

Only, the fans and anti-fans were thinking of different types of 'fights'.

Old Wo chuckled mysteriously and refused to answer. Shen Qiao was a bit bothered when he heard that laugh. He couldn't help but look over. Upon seeing that question, he inexplicably lifted a hand to the nape of his own neck. In the heat of the moment, Lu Zhe had wanted to bite him there, hard. And yet he'd held back, not wanting to leave too deep of a mark.

After a moment, Shen Qiao casually responded, "We did."

The comments—

[DETAILS! WE'RE LISTENING!]

Lu Zhe saw Shen Qiao's movements and heard his voice from afar. He'd just finished brewing a cup of tea. He brought it over and took a look at the question that was being addressed.

"Of course we 'fought'," he answered. "We even broke the bed, right?"

Shen Qiao fell silent.

The bullet comments went wild—

[Ohhhhhhhhhhhh!!!]

Old Wo gave them a round of applause. "Thank you for making my stream livelier than ever! Now today's votes are going to go to me, right? And what are you newcomers doing? Hurry up and give me a follow! Ah, I'm kidding, kidding. But don't you dare unfollow once you're here! Where else can you go to listen to our team's beautiful love story?"

Lu Zhe huffed a laugh and lifted a hand to massage Shen Qiao's nape. He casually added, "If you want to hear about a beautiful love story, shouldn't you be asking me?"

The bullet comments—

[Then open your stream! If you want us to ask, start streaming right now!!!]

……

A few minutes later.

DG's mythical streamer Lu Zhe opened up his streaming room and patiently waited a few minutes for viewers to flood in. Once his viewer count hit five million, he unhurriedly began to speak.

"Hello, everyone.

"I just have one thing to say in today's stream.

"Shen Qiao and I are together. When do you guys think we should get our marriage license?"

The viewers were speechless.

 

Author's Notes:

Fans: Although we guessed this already, hearing you flaunt it still makes us want to say one thing… SHUT UP!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 103

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The year after Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao got their marriage licenses, DG went on to win a triple crown—they took the spring tournament, the summer tournament, and the world championship once more, cementing themselves as one of the most glorious teams in the history of the LPL.

At the same time, BLX's Mo Mo and Lele also retired that year.

That year became lauded as the most memorable year in the LPL. New gods ascended to the throne while old gods fell. DG's fan base grew and grew, and inevitably some would get too full of themselves and flaunt their victories in front of others. BLX's fans had already been down in the dumps at that time. When they saw fans from another team mocking them, they instantly fought back. Neither side backed down, and their feud became legendary. It would last for many years to come.

In the third year, Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue began to flourish on a new team. They took down DG in the spring tournament that year, only to have DG take their revenge in the summer tournament. Both teams made it to the finals of the world championship, with DG coming out on top in the end.

Some fans groaned about the fact that all of the LPL's world championship trophies had been won by Team DG, but DG's fans were happier than anyone.

Until it was time for DG's glory to fade.

First, Old Wo retired.

Then it was Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao.

Qian Bao was the player who stayed with DG the longest, becoming the pillar of their team. Er-Hua and Fish, who'd returned from abroad, both became coaches at DG.

Old Wo was pressured into going to a marriage meeting by his family, and he soon used the money he'd earned from esports to start a prosperous business. He quickly became the wealthiest member of their group, and had a happy family with two kids in three years.

……

[Wow! Wolf Cub, how long has it been since you last visited us? Tell me! Tell me right now! Who's more important to you? Me or Dog Lu?]

[Forget all that, you have to let us see you start that new game today! I want to see you play Resident Evil 10! Hurry, hurry!]

[Didn't he only take one day off yesterday? It hasn't been that long?]

[Qiaoqiao, Qiaoqiao, look at me, look at me!]

[Can someone get all the squawking chickens up there to shut up? Thanks!]

[Don't pick up bad habits from Dog Lu, okay? I'm getting goosebumps, seriously. Why are you guys calling him Qiaoqiao? Call him laogong!]

May of 2025.

Shen Qiao was streaming from home. As soon as he entered the livestreaming room, tons of gifts and bullet comments came through. He politely thanked the big tippers as per usual, then opened up LoL as he pleased.

Strictly speaking, his retired life wasn't all that different from his professional life. He'd signed a contract with a streaming platform, and he worked from ten in the morning to six in the evening, still streaming League of Legends. If he ever got bored, he would maybe open up a game of fight the landlord.

His time as a professional gamer had influenced him greatly. Shen Qiao still relied on LoL to earn a living. The game had become part of his life; he was completely inseparable from it now. Researching new champions, changes, skills, and so on had become a natural part of his life, like eating and drinking water.

So streamer, commentator, and coach were the most natural choices of a profession for him after he retired.

After entering the gaming industry, it wasn't very easy to do anything else after retiring from competitive play.

Shen Qiao queued up on the Korean server. There was no movement in five minutes, so he figured he may as well open up a game of fight the landlord on his desktop. He chose no-shuffle mode, and when he got his first hand of cards, he was dealt two bombs—four 2s and two jokers.

Shen Qiao raised his brows. "I can't really imagine a way to lose with these cards."

He boldly took the opportunity to be the landlord. After another player took a turn, Shen Qiao immediately threw out the four 2s. That left him with a queen, a king, and a pair of jokers.

After he tossed out those four 2s, none of the other players could do anything but pass. So Shen Qiao threw down the two jokers as well.

The bullet comments—

[???????]

[What kind of strategy is this? You still have two cards left, you know? Gege, please wake up!]

[Who's going to explain to me what happened during his day off yesterday? Why has my favorite top laner come back stupid?]

[To tell you the truth, I couldn't imagine how anyone could lose with this hand either. But Wolf Cub is giving me a very, very vivid image of how that'll be possible.]

Although Shen Qiao hadn't counted cards, he calmly explained, "Don't worry. They're all scared stiff by my cards. I can win—"

As he said that, he threw down a king.

One of the peasants played an ace.

Shen Qiao blinked. "…huh?"

He kept his expression calm and indifferent as he stated, "I have such a good hand. If I lose this one, it must be the CPU's problem. Not my problem."

The bullet comments—

[?????]

[This is the meanest I've ever seen someone be to their peasants.]

Then, the opponents got rid of the cards in their hands, one pair at a time, swiftly getting rid of every last one. Shen Qiao watched as his bet was withdrawn from his account. The system seemed to automatically take pity on him, sending him some currency to bail him out.

A laugh came from behind Shen Qiao.

A pleasant voice spilled into his mic. "Is that you? You're being a philanthropist today?"

The bullet comments—

[!!!!!!]

[Ahhhhh, Captain Lu isn't at work today? I'm here, I'm here, I'm here! Captain Lu, look at me, look at me!]

[Let me take a look at your laogong, Wolf Cub. Just one look, I promise!]

[I feel like I just got transported a few years into the past, then I remembered—oh, our Captain Lu has already changed his persona. We should call him President Lu now. President Lu, look at me! Are you still in need of a secretary?]

[President Lu, we met at the hotel yesterday! Do you remember me?]

Shen Qiao was silent.

"Moderators, please start doing your job," he stated coldly. "Before I go live tomorrow, be sure to prepare some extra chicken cages."

Lu Zhe smiled. He didn't disturb Shen Qiao's work. After retiring, he'd started up his own venture capital firm in order to invest his funds and grow them into more. He worked pretty hard those days.

A few days ago, he'd gone on a business trip. He'd only gotten back early in the morning yesterday.

As soon as he got back, he'd wound himself around Shen Qiao and clung to him for a long while. That was precisely why Shen Qiao had taken a day off yesterday.

But the audience in Shen Qiao's livestream was destined to never find out about that.

Lu Zhe did briefly mute Shen Qiao's mic and lift away his headset, lowering his head to whisper, "What do you want to eat? I'll cook."

Shen Qiao looked over at him and answered, "Anything is fine. If you make it, I'll eat it."

Lu Zhe teased, "If I don't want to cook, will you eat me?"

Shen Qiao fell silent for a moment.

"…get out."

Lu Zhe laughed, then tousled his hair. He turned Shen Qiao's mic back on before leaving the room, closing the door for him along the way.

……

Half an hour later.

The thump of a chair hitting something sounded out from Shen Qiao's streaming room.

Lu Zhe came in, holding a spatula and sounding a bit worried as he asked, "What happened?"

Shen Qiao, still wearing headphones, was standing in front of the large desk where he streamed. He turned back to look at Lu Zhe, then took a breath to steady himself. Calmly, he answered, "It's nothing."

Lu Zhe blinked.

He gave Shen Qiao a suspicious look.

But Lu Zhe was a bit too far away, so he couldn't see the bullet comments scrolling across Shen Qiao's screen. All of which said—

[HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA]

He could only look Shen Qiao up and down with uncertainty in his eyes. "Are you sure?"

Shen Qiao nodded. "Mm. I just accidentally bumped the desk when I got up earlier."

Lu Zhe, still half-doubting that, simply warned him to be careful before heading out again. Shen Qiao released a breath of relief, then pulled his chair back over and sat back down to face that screenful of ridicule.

[I'm laughing my ass off, hahahahahaha! I didn't expect Wolf Cub to look like such a tough guy, but to get scared enough to jump out of his seat when he gets jumpscared a ghostly face!]

[Didn't someone say he wouldn't be scared at all?]

[Didn't you say horror games weren't scary at all? Hm? Hmmm? Who was it who said that?]

[Wolf Cub, the poor cub who was scared away.]

Shen Qiao calmly straightened out the cord of his headphones and said to the viewers, "That was a mistake, just an accident. You guys just wait until I find a weapon. Then I'll deal with that ghost."

Another ten minutes passed.

Lu Zhe distinctly heard a scream from inside Shen Qiao's streaming room.

He was so shocked that he nearly poured a plate of fried rice back into the pan.

With a plate in each hand, he returned to the room and nudged open the door again. This time, he clearly saw Shen Qiao's screen—it wasn't his usual League of Legends on the screen at all, but a horror game. And from the looks of it, it was psychological horror.

After suffering a few jumpscares in a row, Shen Qiao jolted and looked around with wide eyes when he saw Lu Zhe return.

It took him a while to calm down.

Then he immediately quit out of the game and self-righteously said to his viewers, "I'm going to eat lunch now."

The bullet comments—

[Coward.]

[Noob.]

[You're no good. Let your man have a turn.]

[I want to see you and Captain Lu play horror games together. That way I can watch you play, and I can watch you hide in fear in Captain Lu's arms at the same time.]

[Who's Captain Lu! All of you, call him President Lu!]

Shen Qiao acted like he hadn't seen any of those comments. He lowered his head and focused on eating his fried rice. But Lu Zhe, who wasn't visible in the camera, did glance at the comments before he asked, "Playing a horror game?"

Shen Qiao hummed and said, "Garbage game. I'll turn it off later."

Lu Zhe laughed.

Then he offered, "Want me to help you find a walkthrough?"

Shen Qiao perked up just a bit.

……

"Turn left. You have to lead the ghost around in circles here."

"Cir… circles? Why am I running so slow? Is she chasing me? Lu Zhe, help me look!"

"She's probably chasing you. I have the same perspective as you, baobei. Oh, right over there—in the grass, there's a well. You have to jump down."

"Jump down the well? But the well looks so dark. Is it okay to not jump?"

It was two in the afternoon.

The viewers were all extremely discontent now—

[Shut your mouth! What are you saying 'baobei' for! Gross! That's illegal!]

[Ahhhhh, lady ghost, please come out and take these two people away! I don't want to see their PDA!]

But Shen Qiao had no time to pay attention to any of these comments. The atmosphere in the game was becoming bleaker and bleaker. Coupled with the strange background music, he felt a little scared even listening to Lu Zhe talking behind him.

Shen Qiao cleared his throat and looked back at Lu Zhe to ask, "Can you not sit behind me?"

Lu Zhe blinked.

"Then where should I sit? In your lap?"

Shen Qiao froze.

The bullet comments—

[!!!!!!!!]

Shen Qiao held in his reaction for a few seconds, then spotted a save spot in the game. He quickly saved and said to his viewers, "We'll stop the horror game here for today. I'll be going back to League of Legends next. That game is still more suitable for me."

After saying that, he coolly turned back to Lu Zhe to say, "President Lu, it's time for you to go back to work, sir."

Lu Zhe flashed him a mild smile.

He didn't protest, but seeing as someone had been scared quite badly by a horror game today, Lu Zhe didn't go out to work. He simply pulled up a chair and brought his laptop in to work next to Shen Qiao.

……

As Lu Zhe expected…

That night, Shen Qiao insisted on not turning off the lights when they went to bed.

Lu Zhe glanced over at him. "Sure, that works. I can see more clearly if we don't turn off the lights."

They were so close that their breathing was practically entangled already.

Shen Qiao pushed at Lu Zhe's head, shooing Lu Zhe back to his own side of the bed. He struggled with the decision for a moment before he said, "Then… let's turn off the lights after all."

See more clearly?

As if he would let Lu Zhe see anything.

Lu Zhe breathed a laugh and laid a hand on the top of Shen Qiao's head. In a deep voice, he whispered, "Push me again and I'll go sleep in the study. You can sleep by yourself."

Shen Qiao was silent.

Many horrible images from earlier that day flashed through his mind.

He forced himself to stop pushing, only turning his head away. He grumbled, "Cut that out. I won't be threatened by you."

Lu Zhe lowered his head and pressed a kiss to Shen Qiao's cheek. His voice was soft and warm as he said, "Mm. It's just that I want to sleep with you. I really, really want to sleep with you."

Shen Qiao turned back to face him squarely. "Then why can't you behave and just sleep?"

Lu Zhe blinked with an earnest expression on his face. "Because I need a sleeping aid, to help me sleep faster and deeper."

This man's features had matured somewhat, making him look even more alluring.

He was every bit like a cunning fox spirit, turned into an especially captivating human.

Shen Qiao held back for a while, but didn't resist temptation for long, even though his waist was still a little sore from last time. He still silently tipped his head up, giving in to Lu Zhe's desires.

……

They both fell asleep very quickly.

Shen Qiao had worried that he would dream about those awful images from the horror game after he fell asleep, but he didn't.

He dreamt of his first year of high school.

In that dream, it seemed his mother wasn't Shen Jinyi. He lived with another family, one not as wealthy as the Shen family, but he still led a very nice life. He once again entered the same high school he'd attended in real life, but this time, when he first laid eyes on Lu Zhe, he was the first to approach.

"Hey."

In Shen Qiao's dream, a tall, slender boy in their school's uniform looked back at him.

Their gazes met. Shen Qiao froze for a few seconds, then suddenly approached the other and said, "You… are very good-looking. Do you want to be my boyfriend?"

Lu Zhe raised his eyebrows, looking him up and down for a moment. He smiled then, and easily answered, "Sure."

……

Slap.

It was the sound of Shen Qiao shifting restlessly in his sleep. His hand had flailed out, smacking Lu Zhe's arm.

Lu Zhe furrowed his brow and woke to see that it was already light out. He turned to see Shen Qiao still sleeping. The corners of his lips quirked up, and his brows relaxed as well. A natural smile took over his face.

He wrapped Shen Qiao up in his arms and hugged him to his chest, trapping the other's restless arms.

Shen Qiao seemed to be woken by Lu Zhe's movements. He blearily called out, "Lu Zhe."

"Mm," Lu Zhe answered.

"I had a dream," Shen Qiao mumbled.

"What was it?" Lu Zhe prompted obligingly.

Shen Qiao lifted a hand to scratch at his ear, then closed his eyes and said, "I dreamt I slept with you in our first year of high school, and this time I topped."

Lu Zhe fell silent.

He rolled onto his front and planted one hand by Shen Qiao's ear. With a soft smile in his gentle voice, he asked, "Really? Exactly how did that happen? Go ahead and tell me the details."

The half-awake Shen Qiao had yet to sense the danger he was in.

As a result, he was three hours late to his livestream that day.

……

As sweat dripped down their bodies, a hoarse voice called out—

"Lu Zhe."

"Hm?"

"Dreams aren't real…"

"I know."

"You know, but you're still—ngh! Gentler!"

After a long while.

Two scorchingly hot bodies intertwined under the covers. A voice rasped, "I just wanted to say… this is perfect too."

"I know."

You're by my side.

Everything is perfect.

We once stood in glory, and our story has become a legend. Now we've stepped behind the curtains, and our suffering will fade along with that glory. We'll eventually forget it all.

But none of that matters.

I don't need glory, I don't need to make history—

I just want you.

I want us to be together for the rest of our lives. Forever.

-End-

 

Author's Notes:

Wow! Extras are complete!

Thank you for your company! Thank you for your support!

And I'm sorry the last part dragged on for so long.

Actually, the gaming parts of this work aren't written very well. My understanding of the game wasn't complete enough, and I wrote a little hastily. The narrative of their story has a lot of shortcomings as well. But, on the bright side, I still stumbled across the finish line.

See you next time!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 102

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The relationship between Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao would practically become the biggest esports story of the year. For a while, it would be even more talked about than DG's second consecutive world championship win. Gaming media sites became like dogs who'd just seen a particularly tasty bone; they dug up all the information on Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao that they could find.

Their shippers, regardless of whether they supported WolfDog or LuShen or otherwise, all rejoiced together on various forums after Lu Zhe's announcement. A pinned thread that once warned shippers to celebrate privately, without shoving their ship in the actual players' faces, had now been amended with a new note—

It's real! Our ship is real! Sisters, you won't regret investing your feels here!

Of course, these were the positive reactions. When the news came out, there were some dissatisfied voices as well. Fans who only followed the team for their gameplay couldn't resist chiding the players on the team's official Weibo, saying that the HQ was supposed to be a workplace and that players needed to take themselves seriously. They weren't supposed to transform their place of work into some sort of party house or den of lust.

But, naturally, while there were single-minded fans who believed two people being together automatically meant these two people were having wild sex at the HQ every day… there were plenty of more level-headed fans willing to step up and shut them down.

In general, most people gave their blessings.

But to Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao, these things weren't all that important.

After all the hurt and suffering they'd endured in the Lu family, words from these outsiders were painless attacks against them. It was only because they were currently in the off-season that fans had so much time to worry about their personal lives, anyway. Once the regular season started up again, fans would return to focusing on the game.

As long as they continued to win, the team would be able to shut everyone up.

For trolls, even if DG won, they would have to jinx their futures and nitpick at every little mistake that the players made during the tournament games.

For fans, as long as the team could win, even if they ran a five-DPS team, even if they ran a perfectly boring lineup, they wouldn't care—they would still see their favorite players as gods.

Of course, there were also some people who were genuinely unbiased.

Shen Qiao understood all this, so when Lu Zhe talked about getting a marriage license in his livestream, he just smiled from off to the side. He didn't bother to check the reaction in the bullet comments. He only cared about Lu Zhe. If Lu Zhe was happy announcing it this way, then Shen Qiao was happy to let him be happy.

But he never could have imagined that Lu Zhe would read a few comments, clap his hands once, and say—

"Alright, no time like the present. We'll do it today.

"I'll end this stream here and get my license now. Goodbye, everyone."

Shen Qiao blinked.

He turned to look at Lu Zhe, thinking Lu Zhe must have been joking. But he watched as Lu Zhe turned off his streaming equipment.

Then Lu Zhe looked up just in time to see Manager Zhou passing through the training room. He called out, "Manager Zhou, Qiaoqiao and I are taking some time off."

Manager Zhou looked at him. "For a date?"

Shen Qiao was about to say something, but Lu Zhe spoke first.

"No. To get our marriage license."

Manager Zhou was speechless.

Old Wo and the viewers in his still-ongoing livestream all jumped.

Gender didn't matter much in a world with alphas, betas, and omegas, and there was no law prohibiting two alphas from getting married. But this sudden declaration still came as a surprise.

Shen Qiao stared at Lu Zhe for a moment longer, then tried to do some damage control. "He's joking, Manager Zhou. I have an appointment with my doctor this afternoon, so I'll need to step out for a while."

Manager Zhou calmed down a little. He touched a hand to his chest, feeling his racing heart, and said, "Ah… alright, approved. Go ahead. There's nothing planned today, and the game update isn't until tomorrow anyway."

As he watched Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao get up to leave, Old Wo turned back to his own stream and conspiratorially whispered to his fans—

"Let's make a bet. Let's bet on whether or not Captain Lu will really get his marriage license today."

The bullet comments filled up with exclamation marks.

[Reported! Professional player caught encouraging gambling! But I'll bet all my savings on this! I'll bet on yes!]

[Captain Lu loves messing with people, and you seriously believe him? I'll bet on no way. How could getting a marriage license be such a casual thing?]

Zheng Zhizhuo happened to be watching Old Wo's livestream. After seeing that comment, he had to shake his head.

"They're in love. What's casual about that?"

……

Outside the HQ, it was a brilliant day.

It was clearly the middle of winter, but the day's sunlight was particularly bright on the evergreen pines nearby. Shen Qiao could detect the scent of those trees all around him, growing slightly denser with time.

And the scent got closer and closer. Shen Qiao stuck one hand in his pocket and turned to see Lu Zhe approaching, with a black cap pulled down low over his eyes. The shadow that fell across his beautiful face almost hid it entirely, shrouding him in mystery.

The curve of his eyes, and the emotion hidden in his gaze, seemed all the more intense.

If any passersby caught sight of his eyes, they surely would have done a double take, captivated by that gaze that could pierce straight through to one's heart.

Shen Qiao looked Lu Zhe up and down, taking in his outfit and raising his brows. "Captain Lu, are you dressed like this because you want to set a fire in some little meimei's heart?"

Lu Zhe lifted a hand to take Shen Qiao's wrist, leading him towards the HQ's parking garage. "What little meimei? I only have eyes for a little didi."

Shen Qiao was led into the garage, where he saw two of Lu Zhe's cars. One was a relatively plain Audi, and the other was a sports car that Shen Qiao had only seen in esports tabloids once or twice. If he remembered correctly, Lu Zhe had bought it last year.

"Call me gege," Shen Qiao corrected.

They'd already stepped into the darker underground parking lot, but Lu Zhe's eyes didn't dim. In fact, they only seemed to shine more brightly. He grinned and said to Shen Qiao—

"Gege, will you marry me today?"

Shen Qiao could hear past that teasing lilt in his voice and see beyond the impish smile in his eyes. He could hear the earnestness in that question. After he gazed at Lu Zhe for a few seconds, he answered—

"Sure."

……

But Lu Zhe did actually take Shen Qiao to the hospital first, because it was time for Shen Qiao to have his glands checked again.

Lu Zhe had originally wanted to accompany him to his appointment, but Shen Qiao said no.

Because Shen Qiao had already been facing this alone for more than ten years. He already knew what the best and worst case scenarios were. If today's appointment resulted in the worst case scenario, why did he have to make Lu Zhe face it too?

That would only snuff out Lu Zhe's hope.

Shen Qiao calmly went in for his appointment. He was prepared for any outcome.

Lu Zhe waited for him outside.

While Lu Zhe waited, Lu Qianshuang gave him a video call. Lu Zhe took a look at his phone, and accepted it as a voice call. He made his way out of the hospital before he greeted her.

"What is it?"

Lu Qianshuang's voice was a little wobbly as she spoke. "Ge, you know how I was sending you a package a few days ago? Well, Mom… saw it and said… she wants to talk to you about something. But you've blocked her, so she wanted me to do her a favor and asked me to ask you if she could talk to you for a bit."

Lu Zhe didn't give his sister a hard time. He was quiet for a few seconds, but ultimately said, "Sure. Give her the phone."

A sound like rustling fabric came over the line.

After that, there was the more noticeable sound of the phone changing hands.

Su Qiongpei's voice rang out from the other end, with an obvious note of caution. "Hello? Little Zhe, it's me."

Lu Zhe curtly hummed his acknowledgement. He let the silence linger for a while before he said, "Mom, what do you want?"

He knew Su Qiongpei had ulterior motives here, so he cut straight to the point. There was no patience or warmth in his tone of voice.

Su Qiongpei was quiet for a moment before she let out a soft laugh. Her voice was as gentle and warm as ever. "It's nothing much. I just heard from your sister that you seem to have won another very impressive tournament. I wanted to congratulate you."

"Thank you," Lu Zhe answered politely.

Su Qiongpei seemed to know that there was no warmth left between her and this son of hers. After another pause, she continued, "I… don't worry, I'm not calling to ask you for anything. I just wanted to tell you and Qianshuang that the head of the Sheng family from the neighboring province has asked to marry me. I agreed, and the wedding is being planned—"

Lu Zhe squeezed the phone tighter. His brows subconsciously furrowed.

But Su Qiongpei didn't give him a chance to interrupt. She quickly continued, "I'll have a new family, and the situation with the Sheng family is complicated. You know it would be inconvenient for me to take your sister with me, so it's a good thing you're all grown up and very capable now, and Qianshuang is heading off to college too. I'll regularly send her living expenses and pay her tuition, of course. Sheng… well, he isn't that stingy…"

Lu Zhe couldn't resist. He had to interject, "I'll take care of Qianshuang. You just worry about integrating into your new husband's family. I heard that the heir of the Sheng family is already seventeen years old. As the stepmother, you'll have to work hard to earn this family's approval."

Su Qiongpei seemed to be hurt by his words. She was quiet for such a long time that Lu Zhe began to think she'd ended the call. It was only after a long while that she said very, very quietly, "Isn't this better for all of us?

"You don't want to be my son, and I don't want to face your resentment anymore. And I don't want to fear this conflict between us as I get older… you know I can't live without an alpha, and I also know you'll never leave that boy. So we should stop torturing each other."

Lu Zhe took several deep breaths when he heard those words from her—'torturing each other'. His face contorted into a cold sneer, but because his mood was fluctuating wildly, he ultimately decided not to say anything about that.

"You're right," he said. "Mom, in my whole life, this is the most sensible thing I've ever heard you say."

……

After hanging up, Lu Zhe stayed in the shadow of the large hospital building for a long while, until the familiar scent of mint approached from behind him. Shen Qiao stuck his head closer and took a peek at Lu Zhe's face, making a surprised sound before Lu Zhe could adjust his expression.

"What's wrong?" Shen Qiao asked.

Lu Zhe scrubbed his hands over his face and answered that it was nothing. He reached for the report Shen Qiao had gotten from his doctor, intending to take a look, but Shen Qiao swiftly lifted the papers high above his head, holding them out of Lu Zhe's reach. When Lu Zhe got up on his tiptoes to try to grab them, Shen Qiao suddenly lifted his other hand to the back of Lu Zhe's head and pulled him closer—embracing him.

Lu Zhe settled down for a moment. His hands fell to his sides, and he ultimately wrapped his arms around Shen Qiao's waist. In that place where no one passed, the two of them hugged for a while before Shen Qiao heard Lu Zhe's smile-laden voice ring out in his ear.

"What, it's only been a little while since we last saw each other, and you already miss me?"

Shen Qiao ignored his teasing and simply sighed, frankly answering, "Yes."

Lu Zhe tilted his head, brushing his lips over Shen Qiao's throat. He did his best to push that call he'd just taken to the back of his mind, then asked in a low murmur, "How are your test results?"

"Everything's fine now," Shen Qiao answered calmly.

Lu Zhe didn't react for a moment. "Huh?"

Shen Qiao released him, pulling out of the hug. He pushed the stack of test results into Lu Zhe's chest, taking a few steps back and saying, "See for yourself."

Lu Zhe focused his attention on the papers in his hands, but he couldn't make heads or tails of them. After a while, he looked up and saw that Shen Qiao had backed up a few steps. He quickly followed along and said, "I don't understand. Explain it to me."

Shen Qiao breathed a laugh. Under the radiant sunlight, his relaxed brows made him look relaxed all over.

"The explanation is… I'm all better now."

He still spoke in the same lazy drawl as always, but the smile in his eyes couldn't be suppressed.

Lu Zhe remained frozen for a moment. Shen Qiao saw that he wasn't moving any closer, so he stepped up to Lu Zhe again and bared his throat. "Don't believe me? Why don't you take a bite and see for yourself?"

Suddenly, Lu Zhe fiercely embraced him again.

This time, the two of them weren't standing in the shadows anymore. Shen Qiao couldn't help but look around and blush a little. He cleared his throat, wanting to say something, but he suddenly felt that Lu Zhe's head, buried against his shoulder, was trembling faintly.

Shen Qiao smothered out the idea of pushing Lu Zhe away. He lowered his voice and asked, "What's wrong? This is a good thing, but it's not a big enough deal to cry over, right? Didn't you say we were going to get our marriage licenses? You're not going to cry at the Civil Affairs Bureau too, are you?"

When Lu Zhe heard him bring up the marriage licenses, he took a deep breath and lifted his head.

"What did you say?"

Shen Qiao gazed into his smiling eyes and repeated, "Marriage. Licenses. What? The promise you made in front of millions of netizens is suddenly no good anymore?"

Lu Zhe squeezed his eyes shut for a second, blinking away the fine mist that had started to gather there. Then he lifted a hand to his coat pocket, and—

The next instant.

Like magic, Lu Zhe produced two household registration booklets from his pocket. One was the registration Shen Qiao had gotten when he was adopted by Shen Jinyi, and one was the one Lu Zhe had from Su Qiongpei.

A smile returned to Lu Zhe's lips as he said, "Look at these booklets and tell me one more time—are you really ready to get our licenses today? Because I am."

Shen Qiao had originally been teasing him, and he was a bit surprised to see that Lu Zhe had actually prepared everything. He couldn't help but think back to all the trips they had taken recently, wondering when Lu Zhe had managed to go home to get their booklets.

He must have had Lu Qianshuang mail them over, right?

Their pasts with the Lu family flashed through his mind. All the hatred and pain from back then seemed to be shrouded in a veil, as though they were all things that had happened a long time ago. Shen Qiao returned to his senses. He wore the same smile as Lu Zhe as he straightened up and reached out to take the booklets, thumbing through them.

"Yes," he said to Lu Zhe. "I'm ready. The Civil Affairs Bureau isn't closed yet. Let's go, today."

Lu Zhe heard the seriousness in that carefree tone of his. He added, "If you get this marriage license with me, in this life and the next and the next, you'll be mine."

Shen Qiao almost wanted to laugh when he heard that, wondering how one license could bind them for three lifetimes.

But then he thought back to the gloomy expression Lu Zhe had been wearing when Shen Qiao emerged from the hospital.

Shen Qiao could understand.

Once, they had both walked through some unpleasant times. Lu Zhe promised to make him happy every day from now on, and on the day they got back together, their happiness had smothered out the past.

And now, today.

Lu Zhe had been a little unhappy, so Shen Qiao didn't mind using a happy occasion to overwhelm all the bad things that may have been lingering on his mind.

He wanted to give those same feelings of joy back to Lu Zhe.

He smiled and shoved the booklets back into Lu Zhe's hands. "Okay. It's all yours, and I'm yours too."

Those booklets only contained a few cold, emotionless pages of content.

No one could know what was in store for those booklets in the future, but they had already gone through so many twists and turns in life.

And now, two marriage licenses symbolizing happiness and joy would take over the role of recording the future—and the stories of the future would all be happy and bright.

 

Author's Notes:

One more!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 100

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During the halftime break.

Shen Qiao was in somewhat low spirits. Just now, he'd gotten his best champion Renekton in that last game. But he'd failed to win an advantage for the rest of his team. He felt he was responsible for seeing that game through to the end.

In other words, in Shen Qiao's mind, he was the one who was most at fault for that loss.

If his counter-ganking sense had been a bit stronger, maybe he wouldn't have been ganked by WTG so much early on. Maybe he wouldn't have allowed WTG to build up so much momentum. And maybe now it would be DG who was at match point, and WTG who was feeling more pressure.

But he hadn't played well.

Renekton hadn't flourished.

Shen Qiao sat in silence in the lounge. Lu Zhe looked at him, then looked over at Old Wo who was sipping at his thermos with his head bowed. Er-Hua was looking at his phone, watching something or the other. Qian Bao was able to self-regulate her mood and chat with Coach Fang about how she'd played Azir in that last round.

She felt she hadn't been good enough with Azir either.

But Qian Bao had practiced two types of middle lane champions that year. One was the high-burst, high-damage type like LeBlanc, capable of putting pressure on her opponent or winning an advantage with a solo kill so that she could squeeze in some time to support the top and bottom lanes.

The other type consisted of champions like Nautilus and Galio. These weren't champions who could pursue a solo kill, but would instead weather the damage from the enemy mid-laner. With this type of champion, Qian Bao would be expected to always keep her eye on the other lanes and the situation in the jungle, so that she could rush over to assist wherever she was needed, arriving sooner than the other team's backup.

Through that style of play, she could win an advantage for DG on the other lanes and allow the jungler to collect as many resources as possible. After taking a tower and freeing up all the other champions, Qian Bao herself would have room to grow as well.

The champion Azir was very strong in the middle lane, with a wide range of skills. His sand soldiers were good for extending his range, and his ult was a good way to initiate a fight or to dissuade the enemy from pursuing while he tried to retreat. His passive could also make use of his team's turrets, making him a well-rounded champion.

But Qian Bao felt she hadn't been able to build up the momentum that she should have.

In the first round, Qian Bao had done a lot of damage with Syndra. After that, WTG had been careful to send Syndra to the ban list. Now three games had passed, and the fourth was looming. Since they were already on the ropes, she felt she may as well play it safe in the middle lane again.

She'd gotten practice with that type of champion over the past year, after all. Although she hadn't actually pulled out that trick in many official games before, it was clear that WTG was dead set on ganking DG's top laner in that match. If that was their plan, then why not compete with them to see whose support could arrive faster?

Qian Bao still remembered the practice match in which DG had used this tactic to suppress WTG.

And that was the only time WTG had lost.

Could they have practiced relentlessly to counter this specific tactic after losing that game?

Qian Bao didn't think so.

And…

Even if they'd made some adjustments since that practice game, would WTG dare switch up their current strategy after smoothly winning two games in a row? Would they do that during such a critical match?

Qian Bao didn't think they would.

In any case, DG had Plan A and Plan B when it came to their middle lane. Qian Bao would just have to personally adjust her rhythm to suit their needs. Whichever plan they went with, the others wouldn't have to make many changes to their strategies.

Coach Fang heard her out, then planned on calling Lu Zhe over to discuss the matter. But—

Lu Zhe spoke up in the lounge first.

"These last three games… let's leave the past in the past and forget about it all. Don't replay it in your minds. If you're not satisfied with your achievements in these games, in the coming year, your fans will remind you of your mistakes a hundred thousand times in your streams—so don't worry, you'll have plenty of time to review those moments."

Hearing Lu Zhe's words, Old Wo nearly spat out a mouthful of water.

Immediately after that, he had to admit that Lu Zhe was right.

In esports, only the champion received glory.

It didn't matter if you came in second, third, fourth, or eighth. In the eyes of your fans, you would be a disgrace, deserving of their harsh criticism. The team that lost in the finals would have their games nitpicked from the picks and bans stage to the end. Every single one of their mistakes would be plucked out and magnified, and forever engraved on the pillar of their life's most shameful moments.

DG didn't have to reflect upon their games yet.

If they lost, countless voices would rise up to remind them of all their mistakes, poor plays, and failures.

Coach Fang clapped his hands twice, agreeing with Lu Zhe's words.

"That's how it is—now, let's talk about our strategy for the fourth game."

……

The picks and bans of the fourth game began.

Fans of both teams were on the edges of their seats, with their hearts in their throats. Kassadin was banned by DG, along with Corki. They were clearly trying to limit WTG's options for growth in the middle lane.

WTG wasn't willing to back down either. They banned Qian Bao's LeBlanc yet again, along with Thresh and Lu Zhe's Elise.

Renekton was spared yet again.

Obviously, WTG thought they knew what DG would do when they saw that Renekton was left unbanned. But DG actually used their first pick on Graves.

When that champion was locked in, everyone at the stadium was a bit surprised to say the least.

This champion seemed like an AD, but compared to other long-range champions, he had some truly miserable shortcomings. But Graves had in fact been made to be an AD, so he wasn't an impossible pick to fill that role. In addition, he could also be played in the jungle, the top lane, or the middle lane—all of DG's players had an extremely deep pool of champions, after all.

With Graves locked in, and capable of being played in four different positions, spectators were nearly left dumbstruck.

In the domestic stream, the commentators were trying to analyze what the most suitable role for Graves would be. They talked about the champions's skills and status in that season of the game, as well as each player's personal preferences.

"This… well, everyone knows Graves isn't too powerful in the top lane, but if we look at Wolf Cub's ranked games on the Korean server, we can see that his style in the top lane is very… unique. I remember a day when he played Kalista in the top lane. His results were all a bit tragic, pretty much all negative, but the next day he switched his top lane champion to Soraka."

"That's right. Based on what we know, Shen Qiao has been playing ranked games on the Korean server with champions that you should normally never, ever choose for the top lane—like Vayne, Kai'Sa, and even Ashe. If we take all that into consideration, could he have been training to surprise us with Graves in the top lane?"

"It couldn't be, right? This is their match point game against WTG. Has he played this champion with his teammates before? This season's top lane champions are all tanks and assassins. If you want to throw an assassin onto the middle lane, sure. But what the heck is Graves supposed to be? Wolf Cub also wants to walk down the corrupt path of a top lane AD?"

"No, that can't be right. Wolf Cub has been playing very stable games. Coach Fang usually wouldn't agree to a lineup like that. Think back on DG's lineups over the course of this past year. They've been playing it by the book, for the most part. They don't usually go against the—oh? They've just locked in Galio and Leona?"

"I would guess that Galio's meant for their middle lane, Leona for their support… you know, I just remembered. Lu Zhe has played Graves in the jungle before, hasn't he? We should be seeing Graves in the jungle, Galio in the middle lane, and Leona as the support in this game."

"That makes sense. WTG isn't changing their lineup much. Wow, they've taken Syndra for their middle lane! It looks like they're ready to tank DG's lineup. And here we see them taking Kai'Sa for the bottom lane and Jayce for the top lane now…"

"They really aren't making many changes."

……

The two teams were slowly finalized—

DG had Ornn in the top lane, Graves in the jungle, Galio in the middle lane, and Miss Fortune and Leona in the bottom lane.

It would be on Ornn to engage.

Since Ornn had been chosen first, WTG had one pick left to counter him. They chose Braum, in order to block the brunt of the damage from Ornn's ult. WTG's finalized lineup was Jayce, Lee Sin, Syndra, Kai'Sa, and Braum.

Qian Bao had switched from a damage-oriented champion to a more defensive one. It was clear that DG intended to turn their style of play on its head.

When DG's lineup was finalized, WTG's voice chat filled up with the sounds of discussion—

"Wow, look at their lineup. Looks pretty familiar."

"We had that practice match after the spring tournament. This is how they played, right? But then they went on to play practice matches against other teams, so who knows how long they've been practicing this."

"Ah, who cares? Just charge at 'em and get it done, brothers."

……

That was what WTG thought.

And that was what DG's players were thinking as well.

Both sides started out steady. No one initiated a Level 1 fight. DG didn't go for it because they didn't want to give their opponent a chance to set the pace of the game. WTG held back because they didn't dare underestimate Lu Zhe, and they wanted to tackle the game calmly.

They maintained the status quo until WTG's jungler farmed enough to reach Level 4, then drifted up towards the top lane—

Since Old Wo and Er-Hua were slightly more powerful than WTG's bottom laners, Lu Zhe also headed up to the top lane, obviously wanting to see which of their top/jungle duos were stronger.

Ornn wasn't that easy to gank. Even though Jayce's damage output was high that season, Ornn was tanky enough that he couldn't be killed in a single blow or two.

When Graves arrived, Jayce and Lee Sin had already forced Ornn back to DG's tower for cover. Lu Zhe immediately used his Q, firing an explosive straight at the enemy, striking Lee Sin dead on.

With his lumbering body, Ornn did his best to stay close to the tower as he circled around. He managed to predict where Jayce and Lee Sin would strike, deftly avoiding their attacks. When Jayce's first attack hit air, he had no choice but to get closer to continue his assault.

Ornn spewed a mouthful of fire at Jayce. While Jayce used his A against him, he took a hit from DG's defending tower. Jayce had no choice but to retreat after that, but Lu Zhe went after him. Meanwhile, Lee Sin tried to finish Ornn off. Ornn only had a bit of HP remaining, after all; he was a tempting target.

At that moment, a red flash of teleportation appeared at the center of the tower—

It was Qian Bao, coming in.

Qian Bao, at Level 5, teamed up with Ornn to take Lee Sin down. Lu Zhe took a hit from Jayce, dropping his HP to a dangerously low level. He flashed towards the tower to retreat. Jayce saw that Lee Sin had gone down, but he refused to back off; he rushed up to get a kill in exchange.

But after killing Lee Sin, Qian Bao had hit Level 6. She unleashed Galio's ult, knocking Jayce into the air.

Lu Zhe, Shen Qiao, and Qian Bao focused all their firepower on him.

By the time WTG's Syndra teleported in, Jayce was already dead. Lu Zhe retreated to the tower, and Shen Qiao farmed a few more minions. When Syndra rushed in, Shen Qiao had just hit Level 6 with his two assists and minions farmed. He immediately used his ult and sent Syndra flying.

Syndra happened to be in range of DG's tower, so she took two hits from the tower as well.

Qian Bao's HP was in a pretty healthy state. Galio fanned out his wings and bore down on Syndra, hacking away more of her HP. Shen Qiao also took advantage of the situation to hit Synda with a few A attacks, his hands moving even faster than his brain.

At that time, WTG's top lane minions had yet to arrive.

Syndra didn't get a chance to do much damage. She took a crazy amount of damage from DG's tower. Even tanky champions wouldn't have been able to survive, and Syndra was just a fragile little champion. Tragically, before she could use her skills, she was felled by the concentrated attacks of the tower, Qian Bao, and Shen Qiao.

In that wave, DG took three kills and gave up no heads of their own.

WTG was starting to fall apart.

No one had expected DG to come back in such a big way after adjusting their strategies. WTG seemed to be confused by the three deaths that they'd just suffered, and upon closer inspection, they noticed that those three deaths had all been inflicted by DG's carries—Shen Qiao and Qian Bao.

Lu Zhe had also taken an assist. With DG's flourishing top and middle laners, he went on to take the Rift Herald like it was easy.

WTG's jungler didn't lose hope. After respawning, he immediately rushed towards the bottom lane to get a dragon, wanting to get back on equal footing with DG. While Lu Zhe paid a visit to DG's base, Qian Bao had already started to head down to the bottom lane. Shen Qiao's Ornn had toughened up too. After pushing back Jayce's minions, he also used his teleport to head down to the bottom lane.

It seemed WTG hadn't anticipated having to fight over a dragon. By the time Lee Sin arrived at the bottom lane, four people had already assembled on DG's side. Er-Hua's Leona jumped in and initiated the fight, locking down two of WTG's champions right away. Ornn's ult was ready again; he summoned his elemental and immediately knocked Braum into the air, preventing Braum from using his skill.

As Braum flew through the air—

Miss Fortune opened fire.

Just as WTG's champions freed themselves, Galio came crashing down onto them!

WTG seemed to have no way of coping with this quick flurry of blows from DG. Lee Sin managed to use his Q to get out of the fray. Braum barely managed to get his shield up before Galio squished him to death, leaving only Kai'Sa left to face off against them all.

Kai'Sa wasn't yet well-equipped. She was still weak, and she had no ability to fight back.

Another fight, another three kills for DG. No deaths.

After emerging from their base, Lu Zhe headed straight down to the bottom lane and helped Er-Hua push WTG's outer turret.

The illusion of a slow and steady game shattered. DG pushed ahead, launching a fierce and unrelenting assault.

"What the hell! Do they all have hearts of steel or something? Can you believe DG is playing like this at match point? How do they get this sort of momentum when they're behind? Ah, I can't believe it!"

"Ornn, Ornn, Ornn's elemental—! Braum used his ult to block it, but Wolf Cub's ult is fucking outrageous!"

"What's going on with this Miss Fortune? Using her ult as soon as it's up? I'm getting a headache just from hearing that voice line."

"Baron Nashor is coming out. They'll want eyes on the top half of the jungle. They're heading up there now… these DG players just love fighting outside the pit and stealing Baron Nashor. Everyone, keep your eyes open."

……

Unfortunately, just keeping their eyes open didn't do WTG much good.

WTG couldn't get a carry going, and they couldn't hold their own against DG's skills. Braum had just blocked Ornn's elemental when Leona rushed in. And there was also that tanky and hard-hitting Galio in the mix—

During a fight around a dragon, WTG played cautiously and tried to pull out at the right time, but they still lost Lee Sin.

Without their jungler, they didn't dare try to go after the dragon.

DG's champions were mostly at low health, so they scattered. WTG assumed they would be going back to their base, so they also split up and returned to their own base. However… DG sneakily turned around and regrouped. They stayed out of the line of sight of WTG's wards, careful to remain undetected as they crept towards Baron Nashor.

From WTG's perspective, Baron Nashor was completely undisturbed.

When in reality…

"Baron Nashor is down to seven thousand HP! WTG hasn't noticed yet?! They're heading towards a dragon. Have they not noticed that things aren't right on this map? Oh! Wolf Cub's messing around by their ward to mislead them."

"But Wolf Cub is very close to Baron Nashor's pit! WTG, come on! Ah, they've finally noticed it, but the Baron is down to four thousand HP now! Three thousand! Two thousand!"

"WTG's middle laner has teleported over, but it seems to be too late—"

"Congratulations to DG for stealing Baron Nashor! This is going to hurt WTG a lot! Are they still going to go for a team fight? No? Okay, so DG is going to take another dragon on their side, then split up and push on three lanes. They're relentless on the middle and bottom lanes. Will WTG be able to withstand this push?"

Of course, WTG managed to defend.

But that bout still allowed DG to open up a gap of seven thousand and five hundred gold between them.

As long as DG didn't make any big mistakes or give up too many opportunities to WTG, they could safely take the game.

Lu Zhe was of course no stranger to pressure and intense plays. He calmly commanded his players, leading them to use their dragon buff and gold advantage to change into their best gear before going after Baron Nashor again—where they took down four of WTG's champions in exchange for just one of their own.

This time, when they pushed to WTG's base—

WTG was defenseless.

The score was now tied.

2-2.

It would all come down to a final game.

……

[This is way too exciting! So this is the world championship? I thought DG was finished, but after watching this game, suddenly I'm not so sure? How could they be so bold with their picks and bans! Too cool!]

[I have goosebumps all over! Is this the true strength of the top division in the league?]

[Ahhhhhh, I won't stand for WTG not winning the championship!]

[DG, charge! Two-time champion! Build your own dynasty!]

[Hello? I'll support whichever one of you can get me the championship skin I want! Yes, that's how unprincipled I am! Hmph!]

[Last game!]

The viewers of the domestic livestream were just as excited as the spectators at the stadium. Everyone was looking forward to this final game. Regardless of who won, it would be the last round. Between DG and WTG, it would now depend entirely on who could play better in this final game.

For the last game, no one bothered to overthink things. They knew all that mattered was playing their very best.

WTG didn't hold back. Perhaps they felt like their loss just now hadn't been caused by their lineup, so they remained stubborn and didn't change much in the picks and bans phase. But they did add Galio to the ban list.

However, that left Elise unchecked.

DG immediately snapped up Renekton and Elise, obviously looking to rely on their top laner and jungler to make a big impact in this game.

Both sides kept going through the picks and bans, until—

The final lineups were revealed.

WTG would run Aatrox, Lee Sin, LeBlanc, Kai'Sa, and Thresh.

DG had taken Renekton, Elise, Nautilus, Miss Fortune, and Leona.

……

Truth be told, Er-Hua was the DG player who was most proficient with champions like Nautilus. Qian Bao hadn't imagined that she, an old hat at using damage-oriented champions in the middle lane, would one day be playing sustain-focused champions at the finals of the world championship.

Then again, when she thought about it, she remembered their top laner had played similar champions countless times to keep the enemy at bay. And their bottom laner also often pulled out Tahm Kench to do the same. There was nothing wrong with her, as the middle laner, taking a turn at playing more defensively.

As the game began, DG didn't run into any major problems—

However, after hitting Level 4, WTG's Lee Sin started to lurk around the top lane with LeBlanc.

Both sides were fixated on the idea of duking it out in a 3v3 on the top lane.

But this time wasn't like the last time. WTG's support was quick to arrive. Lee Sin and LeBlanc both dealt a big wave of damage, and their Aatrox was tanky. They charged in against the underleveled Renekton right away.

Shen Qiao knew they were coming. He quickly retreated to DG's tower and adjusted his position so that the enemy wouldn't be able to take him down so easily. He deliberately held back until—

Lu Zhe came up from behind Aatrox.

While farming a wave of minions in the middle lane, Qian Bao kept an eye on the top lane to choose the best moment to leap in.

Lee Sin didn't hesitate. He used his Q to leap to the tower, sticking to Renekton. LeBlanc flashed in and started her assault. Shen Qiao could tell that they were dead set on taking his life. There wasn't much he could do, but he still firmly refused to use up his own flash. Before his death, he used up all his skills to clear away some minions.

LeBlanc started to pull back, but Elise was already on her. And Qian Bao was slowly making her way to the top lane, on the hunt for Lee Sin.

But because Nautilus couldn't do enough damage and because Lee Sin was fast, Lee Sin was able to escape.

Shen Qiao's death went to the enemy LeBlanc, but Elise was still sticking to LeBlanc, refusing to let her live. Eventually, this exchange resulted in a win for DG's jungler as well—

One kill for one death.

DG didn't take much of a loss.

Although LeBlanc's flash had drawn out Lu Zhe's flash as well, at least she didn't manage to escape with her life.

The only thing was… this bout seemed to get DG nice and riled up.

Afterwards.

Old Wo and Er-Hua pushed hard against WTG's minions. Miss Fortune went up to attack their tower while Lee Sin ran down towards the bottom lane. Nautilus used up a teleport to join his teammates, helping them tank damage from the tower while giving Miss Fortune a chance to kill Thresh.

Kai'Sa wanted to flee, but Nautilus hooked her back over, as though predicting where she would try to flash to. Afterwards, Nautilus moved out of the tower's range, and Leona came in to tank the damage instead. Miss Fortune was left free to take Kai'Sa down.

Aatrox tried to teleport over from the top lane, but he was interrupted by Shen Qiao.

Qian Bao did an incredible job of providing support in the bottom lane, which allowed Old Wo to get ahead by quite a significant margin. Lu Zhe took advantage of that time to take a dragon, then brought Er-Hua and Qian Bao up to the top lane to take the Rift Herald.

Shen Qiao heard Lu Zhe's instructions through the voice chat and got ready to join them. He moved Renekton towards the river, catching a newly spawned scuttle crab along the way.

The first big team fight of the game took place right near the Rift Herald—

Renekton rushed into WTG's back line, singling Kai'Sa out. Thresh managed to save Kai'Sa in time, but Lu Zhe dropped into their back line just in time to take Kai'Sa down. Just as WTG's Aatrox and LeBlanc spun around to take their revenge on Lu Zhe, Lu Zhe used a stopwatch to go into stasis!

The stopwatch absorbed all the damage flung at Lu Zhe. At the same time, Nautilus marched into the fray, sending WTG's champions flying. Old Wo chose the perfect position before opening fire with Miss Fortune. WTG's players were trapped in a narrow passage between two rock structures. It almost seemed like they were stuck in a bottle, while Old Wo fired at them from the neck. The ones closest to the front had no choice but to use their flash to get away.

Lu Zhe's stasis had been perfectly timed. After Miss Fortune finished her attack, Er-Hua pinned down one of WTG's badly bloodied champions, and—

WTG's positioning simply wasn't good enough in that bout. They gave three kills to DG without managing to take any of their own.

LeBlanc seemed pissed; she was determined to kill Lu Zhe dead. Shen Qiao used his ult and marched right up to Lu Zhe, battling it out with LeBlanc. Ultimately, Shen Qiao managed to take down LeBlanc, whose HP had been in just slightly worse shape than his.

Then DG took the Rift Herald.

WTG's outer tower on the middle lane fell.

But after that—

WTG wasn't discouraged in the slightest. They seized an opportunity to kill Miss Fortune, then managed to take Qian Bao's Nautilus down once. They managed to catch up a bit in their headcount, and they took every chance they had to claim resources in the jungle as well.

The two teams were locked in a fierce back and forth. The gap in gold between them never exceeded two thousand. The difference wasn't substantial at all.

The team fight around Baron Nashor would be critically important.

By then, the game had already entered its twenty-third minute.

DG had yet to gain any sort of definitive advantage.

Both sides scrambled to get into position around Baron Nashor while tearing down each other's wards and waging psychological warfare on the enemy team. Shen Qiao brought his minions up to WTG's inner tower, but in DG's voice chat, he was saying to Lu Zhe and the others—

"You guys go fight. I'll see how many of them will come to me."

Renekton was an important source of damage, so naturally WTG wouldn't let him roam free. LeBlanc, Aatrox, and Kai'Sa all went over to him. He suspected only Thresh was still wandering around, while Lee Sin went back to WTG's base to change his gear.

After hearing Shen Qiao report how many of WTG's champions were headed his way, Lu Zhe said, "Let's go."

And then they launched an assault on Baron Nashor!

Shen Qiao dodged Aatrox's Q, refusing to use his flash. In the next second, he was wrapped up by LeBlanc, leaving him with no choice but to beat a hasty retreat. When LeBlanc tried to burst him down, he finally had to use his flash to get away, which allowed him to avoid Kai'Sa as well.

At the same time, Shen Qiao flung out one of his own skills to stun LeBlanc, then turned and used his ult—

Aatrox also used his ult at that moment, teaming up with LeBlanc to wail on Shen Qiao. Kai'Sa followed up with her own ult. Everyone piled their damage onto Renekton.

Shen Qiao bore the brunt of that damage, managing to reposition himself to dodge Aatrox's attack. LeBlanc got him down to low health, then split into two. Shen Qiao was at his limit. He could only fight one of them, and his brain picked nearly at random—and he caught one!

Before he died in this 1v3 fight, he took LeBlanc down with him.

During that bout, Shen Qiao used up all his skills. He'd squeezed in every bit of damage he could. Then, WTG's Thresh found Lu Zhe launching an attack on Baron Nashor. He rushed in to try to stop Lu Zhe, but Leona was there to stop him in turn. With a Q from Old Wo, Thresh was eliminated.

Qian Bao wandered through the underbrush, trying to run into Lee Sin, who would surely try to steal Baron Nashor out from under them.

As expected—

She sent a hook flying and managed to trick Lee Sin into giving up his flash.

When Baron Nashor was low on health, Old Wo pulled out a creative stunt and strayed farther away. In perfect time to Lu Zhe's moves, Old Wo opened fire on the pit. Er-Hua calmly patrolled nearby, spotting Lee Sin lurking in the underbrush. He took the initiative to flash over to Lee Sin, immediately using up his ult to get Lee Sin under his control.

WTG could only watch as DG took down Baron Nashor.

But very soon after that, DG started to push towards WTG's base with Baron Nashor, intending to tear straight through WTG's defenses. Of course, WTG wouldn't let them have their way. They all regrouped and fought back. With their towers providing cover, WTG managed to pull off a miracle—they took three kills, giving up only one.

Then WTG went and took a dragon.

And after that, they split their forces and launched an attack on DG's towers.

Like something out of a dream, the situation was turned on its head.

Even though WTG's middle lane towers and inhibitor were gone, it was DG who looked like they were at a disadvantage. Because if DG made a single mistake during the next Baron Nashor fight, it was WTG who would be able to push all the way to their base.

And this time, WTG moved in on Baron Nashor first.

Shen Qiao and Old Wo lurked nearby, rushing in when Baron Nashor was down to five thousand HP. Renekton used his ult, followed by Leona—

WTG continued to fight back, unwilling to give up Baron Nashor. Lee Sin continued to focus his attacks on the Baron, while the other WTG champions turned back to confront DG. Lu Zhe cut Kai'Sa down once more, while Leona went up against LeBlanc. Renekton and Miss Fortune went wild, starting to collect heads!

Aatrox used his ult then, swooping over to do some damage to Miss Fortune. But Nautilus immediately hooked him and yanked him away, protecting DG's DPS!

Thresh threw Kai'Sa a lantern, pulling her away before she could be hacked to death.

Lee Sin, while focusing solely on Baron Nashor, was felled by Miss Fortune's ult.

Renekton teamed up with Elise to forcibly take Kai'Sa down, then went after LeBlanc. Miss Fortune was finally taken down by Aatrox, while Qian Bao dragged Thresh over…

Neither side would give an inch!

In the end, WTG's Kai'Sa, LeBlanc, and Lee Sin were extinguished, leaving only a bloodied Aatrox and Thresh behind. On DG's side, Miss Fortune was taken out, leaving Leona, Nautilus, Elise, and Renekton.

DG smoothly took over the fight against Baron Nashor, but Aatrox suddenly lashed out as well. Shen Qiao met his challenge and took him on, one-on-one, until they took each other out… giving DG enough time to take down Baron Nashor!

When DG next advanced towards WTG's base, Leona headed up the charge, rushing in for the kill as soon as she saw the enemy coming to greet them. Qian Bao followed close behind. Lu Zhe's equipment was also in great shape at that point, and Elise's damage potential was extremely high—

The game reached its thirty-ninth minute.

WTG lost their second Nexus turret.

LeBlanc charged out of the fountain after respawning, teaming up with Lee Sin against Miss Fortune before spinning around to take a shot at Elise.

Elise went into stasis, and Nautilus came through with a save. Leona stuck to Aatrox like glue, and the respawned Renekton teleported over to keep doling out damage to the Nexus. The Nexus's HP dropped and dropped…

"Fifty percent!"

"Thirty percent!"

"Can WTG still find a way to fight back?"

"This…"

"Congratulations to Team DG! Once again, they are this year's world champions! They've remained the LPL's one and only championship-winning team, taking two consecutive titles!"

……

Even after he pulled off his headset, Shen Qiao remained in his seat. Not moving, not standing.

The music at the arena was loud and uplifting. Shen Qiao looked to his side, at Lu Zhe. He was still trapped in that moment when the Nexus exploded, like time had frozen in those few seconds.

A few seconds later, a hand stretched out towards him. Lu Zhe was reaching out, to help him up—

Shen Qiao suddenly surged out of his chair and flung his arms around Lu Zhe!

Lu Zhe could feel that those arms around him were trembling.

He lifted his right hand and pressed it to Shen Qiao's nape. As the cheers and screams of the crowd rang out around them, he smiled at Shen Qiao and said—

"See? I told you I would give you a trophy if you came to me. Didn't I keep my promise?"

Hearing Lu Zhe's voice flowing into his ears at such a close range, Shen Qiao nodded slowly and agreed, "Mm."

But he didn't release Lu Zhe.

The two embraced for a long time. The spectators below the stage had taken notice. Old Wo was coughing aggressively to try to remind them of where they were. Qian Bao was just laughing, and Er-Hua seemed to be caught between wanting to also chide them and wanting to just watch.

Lu Zhe heard them and patted Shen Qiao's shoulder. "Don't wanna go grab the trophy?"

Shen Qiao finally released him. His eyes looked a little red from the emotions threatening to burst out of him. He stood still for a moment, then looked to the side and said, "Let's go. Why wouldn't we go?"

Lu Zhe's eyes were full of light. He continued to gaze at Shen Qiao, and then—

He took Shen Qiao's hand, leading him towards the massive trophy waiting for them and their teammates.

Gold rays of light sprinkled down from above, and colorful streamers drifted through the air. In that moment, that whole stage belonged to Team DG. When Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe hoisted the trophy, their rings glinted on their fingers in the dazzling light—one silver, one gold.

Their watches caught the light as well—one with a black band, one blue, both matching in style.

The screams from the crowd were so loud that they nearly shattered the walls of the venue.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"

"DG! DG! DG! DG!"

"I love you all!"

"Two-time champs! Two-time champs! Two-time champs!"

Amidst those raucous cheers, Old Wo and the others—who'd already won one world championship—managed to remain relatively calm. It was only Shen Qiao's mood that fluctuated wildly, because to him—this championship was extremely meaningful.

As soon as they set down their trophy, the screen flashed behind them and showed the FMVP of the match—

But Shen Qiao didn't even care enough to look.

In today's game, his Renekton had been good, and Lu Zhe had set a good rhythm with Elise early on. Old Wo's damage with Miss Fortune has also been considerable, and Er-Hua's control with Leona could only be described as beautiful. Qian Bao's performance was even more dazzling.

But then Lu Zhe suddenly nudged Shen Qiao with his arm.

Shen Qiao looked only at him, meeting his gaze.

The cameras at the venue captured their images clearly, and another wave of shrill shrieks rippled through the crowd.

The bullet comments in the domestic livestream were also blowing up.

[I was just about to say… they were hugging and holding hands earlier? Am I the only one who thinks this feels kinda off? Doesn't anyone remember they're both alphas?]

[The moment they lifted the trophy… who took a screenshot of those rings? Quick, hand it over!]

[Wolf Cub is the FMVP, but he doesn't even seem to know it! He's only looking at Lu Zhe… ah, man. Just take the trophy! Why do we need all this dog food right now!"

[Ever since the end of the game, Wolf Cub has looked totally out of it. It's like he hasn't even realized they've become the champions yet.]

[I don't care about any of that, I'm a Wolf Cub fan anyway! Wolfy, come to Mama!]

……

At the venue—

With Lu Zhe's nudge to remind him, Shen Qiao finally turned and looked up at the big screens. Upon seeing his own Renekton named the FMVP of the match, his eyes widened. The host and interpreter had already come over with microphones, preparing to interview him.

After congratulating all the players, the host first asked Lu Zhe, "How does it feel to lead your team to a world championship win for a second time?"

Lu Zhe smiled. "The first time felt fresh, and the second time feels more familiar. Feels pretty good. But I can't say I'm the only one who led the team here. Everyone was extremely strong this season. Winning this trophy isn't something I could have accomplished on my own. Qiaoqiao, Er-Hua, Old Wo, and Qian Bao all played extremely well. We worked together to become the champions, but it's my top laner's first time standing on this stage. I think he hasn't come to his senses yet."

The host looked a bit surprised, as though unsure of whether Lu Zhe had said 'my' or 'our' top laner.

But they still turned to Shen Qiao with the microphone next and asked, "May we ask our FMVP how he feels after today's game?"

Although Shen Qiao felt almost like he was having an out-of-body experience, he still dutifully answered the interviewer's question. "I feel like my teammates played very well today. They were in a good state, which pulled me into a good state too. In the third game, I actually didn't play very well with Renekton, but fortunately… I was able to play this champion properly in the fifth round."

The host also asked about what Lu Zhe had said earlier—that Shen Qiao had yet to react to his first championship win. Was that true?

Shen Qiao looked down at the microphone. He took a moment to think, then looked over at Lu Zhe and saw that the other party was smiling at him from the side.

For some reason, Shen Qiao smiled as well.

"It's true," he said. "I really haven't fully reacted to it yet. This is like… waiting for something for a really, really long time. Something, someone. Originally, you felt so far away. But you take one step forward at a time. One step, then another. You work hard, you keep trying, and one day—you reach your goal."

The interviewer seized upon the important part this time. "Someone? Is there 'someone' you'd like to thank? You can talk about that now, if you'd like."

The smile on Shen Qiao's lips grew a little wider.

"I want to thank my teammates first," he said. "Each and every one of them is very strong. Old Wo and Er-Hua never fall under pressure on the bottom lane. Old Wo's DPS has always been very stable, and Er-Hua's hooks never let you down. And Qian Bao, in the middle lane, is a master of many styles of play. She can carry, she can sustain. It doesn't matter what her role is, she'll play it well. I admire them…"

He very earnestly listed out his teammate's virtues and strengths.

Then he let out a deep breath.

Like he needed to pause.

Everyone had already realized that in Shen Qiao's words of praise, Lu Zhe had yet to be mentioned.

They also knew what the final moments of Shen Qiao's speech would focus on.

The fans below the stage were extremely nervous, not knowing what they would hear.

As everyone waited with bated breath, Shen Qiao's deep voice rang out again. He didn't dare look at Lu Zhe, who stood next to him. He kept his gaze on the microphone in his hands, and his attention finally settled on the golden band on his finger.

"Finally, I want to thank Lu Zhe—

"I want to thank him for appearing in my life and bringing me all the good, all the joy I could dream of. He said that I was the light in his life, that I was his sun, but actually… he's my salvation.

"I want to say that from the beginning to now, I've never felt a single moment of regret."

Never regretted falling in love with him.

Never regretted leaving home, and walking down the path of a professional esports player.

Never regretted coming to DG.

Lu Zhe heard those words, which were so like a confession, and he heard the shrieks coming from the crowd. He thought back to the moment he'd first met Shen Qiao. Back then, one of them had been standing in the shade of a building while the other stood in the sun.

It had felt like an insurmountable distance existed between them.

Now.

They finally stood side-by-side.

This radiant stage couldn't erase all the shadows of their past or smooth down the thorns of the difficult path they'd walked. But fortunately, the stage cast a golden glow of glory upon them.

All the suffering they'd overcome to bask in this golden rain had been worthwhile.

 

Author's Notes:

The main story ends here!

The rest of the content will be extras. I think there'll be two or three, mm!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 99

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[Congratulations to the LPL!!!!!!]

[No one will have a problem with it if I say this is the LPL's last chance to win worlds, right? Doge.jpg]

[DG took the title last year. Don't just listen to me, but be generous! Let WTG have it this year?]

[Yeah! Let WTG taste victory too!]

[DG, go!!! We have to wash away the shame of our spring and summer tournament losses at worlds!]

[Last year, DG was the runner-up at the spring tournament, the runner-up at the summer tournament, and the winners of the world championship tournament. This year, they went out in the semifinals in the spring, the semifinals in the summer, and now at worlds… you guys know what has to happen, right?]

[WTG players, listen to me! We lost the trophy this summer. Only the trophy from worlds will make up for it!]

[I don't even care, I'm just an LPL fan. I'm already thinking about what the championship skin will be.]

……

After WTG's victory, all esports fans were celebrating online. No one had expected the finals of the world championship to be a civil war between two teams from the LPL, after all. It would have been too high of a bar to expect something like that.

But this dream had actually come true.

This year's world championship was announcing to the whole world that the LPL was the top region in the industry!

Two of the outstanding LPL teams that had been sent to worlds had already cleared away all the tough, thorny obstacles in their path, and they were now heading towards the trophy that symbolized the ultimate honor in the game.

Compared to the two teams in the finals, all other teams were relatively relaxed. Even the special commentators invited to host the domestic stream were casually joking around. Whenever a champion they liked playing or simply liked came up, they would mention one of the teams in the finals and ask if they would choose that champion for the championship skin.

Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo were already preemptively celebrating. This was their first season with the LPL, after all, and they'd already been brought straight to the finals of the world championship. Regardless of whether DG won, and regardless of whether they stayed with DG in the future or not, their value in the industry would skyrocket.

After all, they could call themselves the jungling substitutes of the winner (or runner-up) of the world championship tournament.

They could call themselves substitutes of the FMVP of last year's world championship tournament.

Even thinking about it made them feel very dignified.

But the two kids were very well-behaved. They didn't celebrate in front of the other DG players, because they had also watched WTG's semifinals match. They knew that DG had recovered considerably since the incidents that befell them that season, but there were still no guarantees against an overwhelming team like WTG.

No one could predict the outcome.

After all, both teams had come this far. They only had one goal in mind.

The championship title.

People would only remember the champion.

There was no difference between the runner-up, the Top 4, or the Top 8.

Everyone knew this.

……

The day of the match.

Shen Qiao was sitting in the players' lounge. As usual, Lu Zhe and Coach Fang were reviewing their tactics for the day. After a while, Shen Qiao got up and started making his way out.

Lu Zhe glanced at him, thinking he was heading out to smoke. Shen Qiao had dramatically reduced the frequency of his smoking habit recently. Sometimes, Lu Zhe wouldn't see a cigarette butt in his trash bin for a few days in a row. And some days, Lu Zhe would spot two or three in there on the same day.

But since the team was getting better and better, Shen Qiao was smoking less and less.

Lu Zhe hadn't expected that he would still be so nervous at the finals.

After thinking about it for a moment, Lu Zhe got it. He could understand those nerves. This was Shen Qiao's first time at the finals of the world championship, after all.

Lu Zhe decided he had to go over and check on Shen Qiao.

After listening to Coach Fang finish what he was saying, Lu Zhe prepared to get up and head out. But it was just then that Shen Qiao suddenly returned. Lu Zhe froze for a moment, then looked up and asked, "You're back so soon?"

Shen Qiao blinked.

Lu Zhe realized after a second that his words had been a bit vague. He smiled and explained, "I just meant, I thought you were going out to smoke… hey, come here for a sec."

He interrupted himself and changed what he was saying halfway through, because he could tell that the faint scent of mint coming from Shen Qiao wasn't laced with the scent of cigarette smoke. He couldn't help but lift his brows as he beckoned Shen Qiao closer.

Shen Qiao knew what he wanted. He stuck one hand in his pocket and walked over to Lu Zhe, stopping directly in front of him and looking down to meet his gaze. The deep contours of Shen Qiao's face were backlit by the overhead lights.

He smiled faintly and said, "Didn't smoke."

The two of them had been together for a while now, and they'd already done very intimate things together. But now, seeing Shen Qiao like this, Lu Zhe felt like they were just starting to flirt all over again.

He kept gazing up at Shen Qiao as he asked, "Why didn't you smoke?"

Shen Qiao casually answered, "Quit."

Lu Zhe blinked.

He'd clearly seen a cigarette butt in Shen Qiao's room just a few days ago.

Shen Qiao seemed to know what he was thinking. He amended, "I'm quitting, starting from today. I'll never smoke again, for the rest of my life, in exchange for the championship title today."

Lu Zhe couldn't help but laugh out loud.

For once, their teammates didn't complain about them dishing out unwanted dog food. The other players were all engaged in their own pre-game rituals. Old Wo was trying to get the water in his thermos to be the perfect balance between hot and cold. Er-Hua was watching some videos from instructional streamers. Qian Bao was chatting with Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo, making plans with them to all have their hair done over New Year's, so that she could take advantage of a discount at her usual salon.

The two kids didn't say much about the tournament, but they were happy to chat with Qian Bao, and they were great at making conversation. They excitedly starting talking about what kind of colors they would consider for their hair.

"How about red? Red is happy, right?"

"I think gold is pretty good too."

"Wouldn't a slate blue be nice too?"

The corners of Coach Fang's lips twitched as he listened from one side, wondering where they got their eccentric aesthetics from. He interjected, "How about all of the above? Then when the feather duster at the HQ sheds all its feathers, your hair will be a great replacement."

Qian Bao, Zhao Yue, and Zheng Zhizhuo all fell silent.

Just then, Old Wo checked the time and screwed the cap of his thermos on. He turned to face the exit, just in time to hear a staff member call out to them—

"The game is about to start.

"Players, please get ready."

……

"Welcome one and all to the finals of the world championship in Berlin! You're about to witness a clash between the top two teams from the LPL. They are… DG! WTG!"

"On one side, we have last year's world champions. On the other side, we have a team who's appearing at worlds for the first time. Who will take home the grand prize this year?"

"Will the old kings defend their title? Or will a new king take the throne?"

"Let's wait and see!"

Shen Qiao, Lu Zhe, and the others took the stage with the commentators' rousing voices stirring up the crowd. They stood on the stage, opposite WTG's players, and listened as the crowd roared along with their introductions.

Shen Qiao had long since grown accustomed to being surrounded by spectators at both small and large events, so his expression didn't change much, and his mental state didn't fluctuate. Once the introductions were over, he made his way over to his computer and allowed the staff to check his equipment.

After everyone put on their headsets, Old Wo was the first to speak, just like when Shen Qiao first joined the team.

"Hey, hey. Captain. Wanna say a little something, as per tradition?"

Lu Zhe shook his head helplessly, but he didn't leave everyone waiting for long. He soon said, "I just have one simple thing to say to you all today. We're already here, so…"

He trailed off.

"Wow," Qian Bao and Er-Hua said in unison.

Shen Qiao picked up where Lu Zhe left off and continued, "So we may as well take a big trophy home with us?"

Lu Zhe smiled.

"Sure."

Old Wo grinned and said, "I like the sound of that."

Coach Fang checked the time and interrupted, "Alright. Wrap it up. Get ready for the picks and bans."

……

As usual, both teams were very careful with their bans. Shen Qiao's Renekton, Lu Zhe's Elise, and Qian Bao's LeBlanc were all sent to the ban list right away. As for DG, they banned Camille Ferros, Kai'Sa, and Aatrox, generally focusing more on WTG's bottom lane.

DG had the blue side for the first game.

And the first champion they chose was Syndra.

WTG took Thresh and Ezreal.

They clearly planned on duking it out in the bottom lane.

DG showed their hand as well—

They took Ezreal's typical partner, Yuumi, and paired her with Olaf.

Olaf and Yuumi were a somewhat unique duo, but Yuumi wasn't exactly weak in the bottom lane regardless of who she was paired with. After all, once Yuumi attached herself to the ADC, their enemy could only hit one of them while they could focus on two targets. Old Wo and Er-Hua had been trying this sort of combo in ranked matches lately, and they'd done pretty well with them. Well enough that Coach Fang had allowed the team to spend a few days practicing this duo.

As expected, those picks were enough to stun WTG. But they didn't panic. After banning a few ADs, they took Lee Sin as their jungler.

The two sides went back and forth, already battling in the picks and bans stage. Finally, the lineups were set—

DG had Ornn, Olaf, Syndra, Miss Fortune, and Yuumi.

WTG had Gangplank, Lee Sin, Lissandra, Ezreal, and Thresh.

Both sides had tanks, and both sides had champions who could engage. It would all depend on whose carries were stronger.

……

When the game began—

DG tried to counter-jungle, but they were quickly discovered. Four of WTG's champions came over, and the two sides duked it out while fighting over the blue buff in WTG's jungle. Ultimately, DG gave up on it and let WTG's jungler take it.

Both sides lost a bit of HP, but they held their own very well. No one carelessly gave away a kill.

After that, the champions clashed in their lanes. Ornn and Gangplank were both fairly tanky and not easy to gank. Rationally speaking, this game should have been focused more on the middle and bottom lanes. But WTG didn't play it by the book; they came up to gank Ornn at Level 4.

Shen Qiao's counter-gank skills had shown a lot of improvement throughout that season. This was the final match of the world championship, so naturally Shen Qiao kept plenty of wards around him for visibility. He took stock of his situation and estimated his chances of winning this fight, as well as how many minions and how much tower HP he would lose…

Then he retreated before Lee Sin could arrive.

Lee Sin tried to gank him once, but failed. He switched positions and waited for another chance. Shen Qiao had just emerged from under DG's tower when he saw Lee Sin leap over with a Q, sticking to one of his minions. Shen Qiao didn't want to face him yet, but he saw Lu Zhe taking on a dragon in the lower half of the jungle, so—

He may as well keep them busy.

Lee Sin and Gangplank were both thrilled to see him stick his neck out. They latched on to him right away, but in the end—Shen Qiao only casually threw out some skills, checked how long Lu Zhe would still need with the dragon, and decisively used his flash to get away.

He didn't want to stick around at all.

Lee Sin saw that Shen Qiao still had two-fifths of his HP left. Somehow, like his hand was moving faster than his brain, he used his flash as well.

Shen Qiao blinked. "Huh?"

Originally, Shen Qiao had felt he was taking a bit of a loss by using up his flash, but he'd managed to buy Lu Zhe some time to get more resources in the jungle, so it was fine. But now Lee Sin had used his flash as well. If Lee Sin didn't at least kill Shen Qiao, wouldn't he be the one taking a big loss now?

Shen Qiao reported the time of Lee Sin's flash in the chat channel, then said, "We can take the Rift Herald."

"Alright," Lu Zhe answered.

Then he made his way up to the top lane.

Qian Bao and her middle lane opponent were fighting tooth and nail. They looked like they would knock each other out at any second now. Both were looking for a way to break their opponent down while hiding behind their minions. They were clearly very hungry for that solo kill.

Lu Zhe passed by, squatting in the underbrush. He wanted to help Qian Bao take a kill, but the enemy Lissandra already knew that Lu Zhe had taken the first dragon. She'd preemptively guessed that Lu Zhe may come around to stalk her, and so she'd planted a ward—and did in fact spot Lu Zhe there.

Lu Zhe realized now that the other side was playing very cautiously. He stayed there for a short while, then decided to give up on that kill and head up to the top lane.

By then, Shen Qiao had hit Level 6.

When Lu Zhe was about to arrive, Shen Qiao and Gangplank were still exchanging blows. They were both down to half health. Since Shen Qiao could see that Lu Zhe was nearly there, he very casually used up his ult, summoning his elementals and sending them at Gangplank, who took every hit—

Lu Zhe's Olaf was capable of getting kills, fast. He immediately met up with Shen Qiao and turned on Gangplank, ready to take his head.

Although the top laner Gangplank had teleportation, he still used up his ult and flash before his death. By the end of that bout, he was basically running on empty.

Before his skills returned, he was basically a sitting duck that anyone could kill.

Qian Bao saw that there was a fight brewing in the top lane. She signaled to Shen Qiao and hurriedly brought her minions up to the top. WTG had lost a bit of their starting advantage. They knew DG's strengths, and they knew DG wouldn't let go of this chance to get the Rift Herald. The bottom laners were heading up as well, all eager to grab as many resources from the map as they could get.

Old Wo was left alone in the bottom lane with the minions. He called out to his teammates to tell them he wouldn't be joining them; rather, he'd stay right there to brazenly damage the enemy tower.

WTG's players were all standing around while Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao started to attack the Rift Herald. They tried to kill the enemy jungler first, while darting back and forth to keep their position. Yuumi came in at just that time, attaching herself to Lu Zhe.

When the Rift Herald was down to just over a thousand HP—

Lee Sin jumped in.

Yuumi and Olaf immediately took a shot at him. Yuumi used her ult, and Olaf threw out all his skills. Lissandra tried to freeze them, while Olaf used his ult to make himself immune. Instantly, he took Lee Sin down.

Olaf was at two kills now. No deaths.

Without Lee Sin, WTG immediately retreated without allowing DG to gain even more of an advantage. They waited for their two carries to get there before starting up another fight with DG.

They played cautiously, trying to make as few mistakes as possible, but Olaf and Yuumi simply worked too well together in this round. WTG ended up not being able to gank DG much at all. In a tournament game like this, if both teams were in good shape, the winner was really just the side that made fewer mistakes.

Had WTG been wrong to try to gank in the top lane?

No.

If they could have killed Shen Qiao once or twice, Lee Sin and Gangplank would have powered up immensely.

As for the Rift Herald, if WTG's Lee Sin hadn't died, it wouldn't have been easy to guess who the Herald would have gone to. The winners of each team fight were also determined on a case-by-case basis.

DG was just too strong with Olaf in that round. After grinding out all their resources in the jungle, they took the game following a second team fight around Baron Nashor.

For now, DG had a 1-0 lead.

The commentators at the venue rattled off some statistics. "In best-of-five matches, the team who takes the first round has a 70% win-rate for the whole match."

It was a matter of momentum.

By losing the first point, a team didn't just lose morale. They could be sent into a state of panic as well. If they didn't remain stable, they could easily give up another point and send the whole match to the match point game.

But how could WTG allow match point to arrive so easily?

In the second round, WTG boldly chose Kassadin for their middle lane. They tried to drag out the game, but DG severely limited Kassadin's development in the early stages of the game. In the first twenty minutes of the second round, DG didn't allow WTG to get a single kill, and Kassadin couldn't get his best gear either.

But.

Then came the team fight around Baron Nashor, the team fight around the Elder Dragon, and so on. The more times they clashed, the more chances DG gave to WTG to take their lives. When engaged in direct combat, it was inevitable that they would fall to Kassadin every now and then.

And it was just as they expected.

WTG held on tight in the early stages of the game. They refused to let DG get too far ahead. After twenty minutes, DG took three dragons and three towers, yet they only had a gold advantage of around four thousand. When the fight around Baron Nashor began, Qian Bao was killed by Kassadin. With four champions on DG's side facing off against WTG's five, Kassadin was able to collect two more heads after that.

WTG relied on Kassadin to save the day, dragging the game out to the thirty-minute mark. Once the second Baron Nashor spawned, WTG forced a group fight with DG again. Kassadin relied on his excellent positioning to take two more lives, then went straight home to change his gear.

Once he returned and engaged DG again, DG was unable to fend him off.

The match was now tied.

1-1.

The third round—

DG managed to get Shen Qiao's Renekton for the top lane, paired with Azir in the middle lane. They had Miss Fortune and Yuumi in the bottom lane, and Trundle in the jungle. WTG had taken Jayce, Gragas, Corki, Kai'Sa, and Braum.

They outright copied SLG's previous Kai'Sa and Braum combo.

Shen Qiao was immediately targeted. WTG had their top laner, mid-laner, and jungler gang up against him, giving him special attention. Renekton was very easily ganked before Level 6. If Shen Qiao only retreated and ran, he wouldn't be able to kill a single minion, and the enemy Jayce would leave him in the dust.

But Lu Zhe and Qian Bao were just a step too late with their support. Qian Bao even wasted a teleport to get over to the top lane. By then, Gragas and Corki had already left, which basically meant Qian Bao had used her teleport for nothing.

From then on, WTG started to snowball to a greater and greater advantage—

This season, Jayce's Q did a lot of damage. If he got going early on, he would be extremely hard to deal with later in the game. Renekton could cut into the back line, but Trundle was hulking around in front of him, and Corki's E had a wide range. If Jayce hit him from behind with just one shot, Renekton would be crippled without taking any heads. There just wasn't any good place where Renekton could start to do his damage.

Sometimes, Shen Qiao even needed to rely on Azir's ult from Qian Bao in order to escape certain doom.

Shen Qiao took every opportunity he could find to strengthen his champion, but WTG seemed to know his every move. They kept the pressure on with Jayce, forcing DG into team fights again and again. By the time Kai'Sa had her gear, Jayce had already become the daddy of the field, doing consistent damage. Braum's shield could take damage for Kai'Sa as well, so it was basically smooth sailing in team fights for WTG from there.

WTG started to push towards DG's inner tower with their minions. Old Wo stood guard, helpless to do anything except use up Miss Fortune's ult. Before his ult was even fully unleashed, the other side had started to attack Baron Nashor. Shen Qiao, Qian Bao, Lu Zhe, and Yuumi all rushed over to make it a 4v5 bout—

They intended to stall WTG until Baron Nashor was nearly down, so that Old Wo could come over and take the Baron with another ult.

But WTG didn't fall for it.

They simply gave up on Baron Nashor and focused on their fight against DG. Shen Qiao's Renekton couldn't do too much damage, and Qian Bao didn't have a headcount advantage either. Ultimately, Qian Bao had to use Azir's ult to save them again, but they still lost Er-Hua's Yuumi in the end.

Lu Zhe was also critically wounded.

They had to return to their base after that.

Seeing that they wouldn't be able to take Baron Nashor, Old Wo could only crouch in the underbrush nearby and grind his teeth. "They can't see me on this side. If we really can't make this work, I'll go in once my ult is ready and—"

But WTG had already anticipated that as well. Their jungler was as experienced as Lu Zhe. They didn't rush to take down Baron Nashor just because they feared DG would charge in against them again. Instead, they waited until the very last second, and took down Baron Nashor after making Old Wo waste Miss Fortune's ult.

DG's players—

"Fuck!"

"What the—"

"Ai, goddamn!"

"Just missed it by a bit!"

"Defense, defense! We still have a chance! Defense!"

They couldn't waste any time lamenting over missed opportunities. They instantly rushed back to defend their base, but WTG didn't rush out to them. Instead, WTG unhurriedly took a fourth dragon, then slowly started to hack away at DG's towers on all three lanes.

They guarded their cannons well, and bombarded DG.

The inner tower on the top lane, the inner tower on the bottom lane, middle lane… the base tower on the bottom lane, an inhibitor turret…

WTG reaped the rewards of that fierce push.

DG had lost visual on their own jungle now, but they couldn't just stand around and guard their base either, because the Elder Dragon was due to spawn. But there were still a few minutes left, which was plenty of time for WTG to return to their base and upgrade their equipment.

A few minutes. Was that enough for DG to get back on the right track?

No one knew.

But what everyone did know was that the next fight would be their last hope in this round.

If they let WTG get the Elder Dragon, they would be swept away.

Qian Bao took Er-Hua with her and started to traverse the jungle, hoping to kill the enemy jungler before the Elder Dragon fight began. That would at least create an opportunity for her team. However, as soon as she caught her target, the enemy's support rushed over as well, and their top and middle laners soon teleported in too.

Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao did take this chance to get a few hits in on the Elder Dragon, but they couldn't do enough damage. Qian Bao had strayed a little too far from them, so it was too late for them to go over there—

WTG wiped out one of DG's carries in one fell swoop.

Without Qian Bao, DG was left fighting in a 4v5. They were behind in equipment and experience to begin with, so they were helpless to stop the other side from wiping them out. Then they could only watch as WTG took the Elder Dragon and started to attack their base.

"Congratulations to Team WTG for taking a 2-1 lead over Team DG! They've reached match point first!"

After the first round, no one had imagined this moment coming to pass.

DG's players took off their headsets and got up from their seats. It didn't show on their faces, but a thin haze had descended upon all their hearts.

The opponent now had two more chances to win.

While DG would have to win two in a row.

Could they do it?

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 98

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"DG won."

Inside WTG's hotel, the coach approached the players and announced the results of the first semifinals match.

The players, who'd just finished a training match against an LCK team, all straightened up in their seats. Paopao turned and asked, "What was the score?"

"Three to one," said WTG's coach.

"Holy shit, DG!" Paopao exclaimed.

Their jungler stretched and said, "Then it'll be up to us in tomorrow's match."

If they could win their match against Z1, it meant the LPL would be locking down the championship tournament in advance. As long as WTG took a win tomorrow, the domestic fans could start celebrating early.

The champion and runner-up could both be from the LPL. It could be a beautiful year.

"We're ride or die with our brothers until we meet again in the finals!" WTG's middle laner cheered. His teammates echoed that sentiment, until their coach checked the time and called for their attention again.

"Alright, get some rest early tonight," the coach said. "Don't stay up too late. Stay in good shape and be prepared for tomorrow's game."

"Will do."

"Understood."

"Got it, got it."

……

After DG took the win against SLG and sent themselves to the finals, they didn't start to slack off in the slightest. They proceeded with their training as usual, and they set aside time for the following night to watch the match between WTG and Z1 from their hotel.

The day passed quickly.

The world championship tournament schedule was packed, without much downtime for the players to do any serious relaxing. At most, they had time to keep up with their daily routines and play a few ranked matches. Before they knew it, the next semifinals match was upon them.

Shen Qiao wasn't actually too nervous about this match, but Qian Bao and Old Wo were both keeping their expectations low.

"Z1 has been in great shape this year. They've got a new coach, and they've done well in the picks and bans stages. Z1 will probably win."

"I want Z1 to win too. That way, we can feel like we're playing an outsider in the finals, and fans back home will support us more. Hahaha, just kidding, I don't want to jinx WTG."

Er-Hua looked over at Old Wo, who was chattering while pouring goji berries into his thermos, with a look of disgust on his face. "It's obvious what we should be hoping for—a WTG victory, and then another crushing victory for us in the finals. Wouldn't that be sweet?"

"Sweet, super sweet," Zheng Zhizhuo agreed.

The two kids couldn't focus on their own games either. They'd come over to watch the WTG vs Z1 match with the others. After all, whoever won this match would be DG's opponent in the finals. At this stage of the world championship, most of the teams had already revealed all their tricks. After observing these two teams, Coach Fang would be able to make any final adjustments they needed to their strategy before the finals.

Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao harbored the same opinion on this match—

WTG and Z1 each had a 50% chance of victory.

……

"Welcome to the League of Legends world championship tournament! Today, we'll be bringing you the semifinals match between WTG and Z1. Let's welcome both teams to the field—"

On the projected screen, the two teams took the stage while their fans cheered from the live audience and waved banners of support.

WTG's players entered one after another.

Then, soon enough, the picks and bans stage began.

The lineups for both teams indicated that they had carefully studied up on the habits and strengths of the other team. They pulled out the strongest champions from that season and picked standard, conventional teams. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

Perhaps they both wanted to play it safe in the first round and feel each other out.

The first game's teams were set—

Z1 would be running Aatrox, Jarvan IV, Twisted Fate, Miss Fortune, and Thresh.

WTG had taken Camille Ferros, Elise, Syndra, Kai'Sa, and Nautilus.

However, as soon as the game began, DG was immediately baffled—

Because during the first team fight in the jungle, Z1 lost three of their champions while only taking one kill off WTG.

"Fuck me, is Z1 falling apart already?"

"They took way too much of a loss in this fight."

DG's players all showed their admiration for WTG's ability to set the rhythm in that first fight. It was the perfect start that seemed to foreshadow something ominous.

In the next fifteen minutes, WTG's jungler seemed to do everything—ganking, farming, counter-jungling, and so on and so forth. He was like a fish in water, and he even found time to help Syndra take down the enemy Twisted Fate. And while Twisted Fate was back at their base, WTG's jungler went straight up to the top lane to help with the Rift Herald.

After taking the Herald, they went for a dragon.

Their rhythm was extremely stable.

Lu Zhe kept his attention fixed on WTG's jungler for the whole game, wanting to see if the other jungler had any refreshing tricks he would pull out on the world stage. But there wasn't much to see in that first round.

Because WTG seized the advantage early and held it throughout the whole game.

Before Kai'Sa got the equipment she needed, the team relied on Syndra to strike their opponents. Z1 was at too much of a disadvantage early on to initiate fights with WTG. They waited all the way until WTG had taken three dragons. At that point, they had to confront WTG to keep themselves in the game, but…

By then it was already too late.

Kai'Sa had a few pieces of equipment ready, and she was starting to flourish in her lane. She immediately teamed up with Elise in a team fight to get rid of the enemy Miss Fortune, instantly ridding Z1 of their carry.

They took another dragon after that, then Baron Nashor…

"Are they botting or something?"

"WTG is… way too good right now."

"They hardly made any mistakes at all. I seriously feel like they wrote up a script, and everyone's playing by it! This game could go down in LoL history!"

"Way too strong."

"This jungler, their carries in the top, middle, and bottom… Z1 seriously had no chance."

"And their Camille Ferros got a solo kill on Aatrox too… a solo kill… on Aatrox. If I remember correctly, Z1's top laner isn't bad or anything."

"Z1 is off their game. They didn't set the rhythm early on because they were afraid of self-destructing, but when they developed a bit and felt bold enough to fight, WTG took them on head-on. Syndra's in a good position to do damage. Elise, Kai'Sa, and Nautilus zeroed in on Z1's AD. And when Thresh wanted to protect them, WTG got in his way and took down Miss Fortune."

While DG's players praised WTG, they also couldn't help but imagine themselves as the opponents on this field. They knew that WTG hadn't possessed this fearful sort of momentum even when they won the spring tournament.

It was like…

WTG had done everything they needed to in order to prepare for victory in the world championship.

Before them, no team could stand as their equal.

……

After the first round, DG talked about the rhythm of the team fights, the mistakes Z1 made, and the highlights of WTG's performance. When the second game began, their voices quieted. They watched WTG's players set an intense, chaotic rhythm once more, perfectly controlling the game.

By the time the third round started, the hotel room had gone eerily silent.

All the spectators had been completely entranced by WTG's style of play and current state. Their eyes were filled with tension as they regarded this fierce opponent they would soon face. Tension, and a bit of excitement.

Someone murmured, "WTG is going to win."

Old Wo was the first to get up. He didn't bother to watch the last push as WTG made their way to Z1's base with Baron Nashor's buff and a ten thousand gold advantage.

Er-Hua looked up and followed him over to their computers. "Duo queue?"

"Sure."

Qian Bao was the third to leave.

Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao got up next, leaving only the two kids from the team watching WTG's stunning performance.

Coach Fang looked at the players heading off to their own computers, then suddenly smiled. Relief and approval flooded his gaze. He didn't disturb them from their training. Instead, he fell into thought and reviewed the tactics he'd planned for DG, thinking hard about any points on which he could still improve before the finals.

……

In front of their computers—

Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao had teamed up. Their voice chat was clearly open, but strangely enough, Lu Zhe wasn't speaking. He only typed a message to Shen Qiao in their team's chat channel.

[What do you think after seeing WTG's condition?]

Shen Qiao was just starting to queue up. Seeing that, his lips curved with a smile, and he typed back a response.

[Aren't we all the same?]

[Hm?]

[Not thinking about anything. Just have to focus on practice. Our opponent is strong. We'll need to adjust our condition and prepare to play our best in the match the day after tomorrow.]

Shen Qiao paused for a moment, then continued typing.

[WTG is very strong. Their jungler sets a good rhythm. But our jungler is pretty good too. Isn't that right, Daddy Zhe?]

When Lu Zhe saw the words 'Daddy Zhe', the smile in his eyes deepened. His fingers rested on the keyboard, like he wanted to type something else. But after he hit a few keys, another string of messages from Shen Qiao appeared in the chat box.

[DG lost to WTG in the spring and summer tournaments, and WTG is in great shape here at worlds. They blew Z1 away. The final match will definitely be a bitter battle.]

[I wanted to say it before, that the road to victory in this tournament may be extremely difficult…]

[But I still want you to win. I still want you to be the world's best jungler, forever.]

Lu Zhe deleted what he had typed into the chat, amending his message and instead sending—

[Not me. Us.]

[I want us to win together.]

I want to be with you.

I want to bathe in that golden glory with you.

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 97

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DG's match point game—

SLG chose the red side of their own volition, most likely so that they could have the last pick to counter DG.

DG stuck with blue. The pressure on SLG was much greater in this round, so no one would be able to guess if SLG would pull out some incredible new stunts to stun the crowd. Of course, with all that pressure on them, it was just as feasible that SLG would play it safe and choose a very stable team comp.

But DG wouldn't change their own plans because of this uncertainty. DG had been playing well in this match, after all. As long as their players stayed in a good state and maintained their momentum, they would be able to handle everything the other side threw at them.

Both sides banned more or less the same champions as they did in the previous three games.

But SLG did let one pick remain up for grabs—Elise, with whom Lu Zhe had won last year's world championship title.

When the time to pick came around, DG immediately took Elise. SLG had been so courteous as to leave her unbanned. How could DG turn that kind invitation down?

Once DG made that choice, SLG took Lee Sin and LeBlanc.

Everyone in the audience shifted restlessly when those picks came out. Both were popular champions for the jungle and middle lane respectively, and popular choices for all teams to practice with. But each individual player had a different style with them.

Soon, both teams began to take shape—

DG had Mordekaiser, Elise, Syndra, Ezreal, and Nautilus.

SLG, on the other hand, had Lee Sin, LeBlanc, Varus, and Tahm Kench. Only their top lane champion had yet to be chosen.

"Everyone knows champions with a longer range are more effective against Mordekaiser," said one domestic commentator. "Jayce, Gangplank, Kennen, and so on. I think Kennen would be a solid pick. They have Lee Sin and LeBlanc on their side, anyway. If they can't take our top laner on alone, they can force a 3v3. Kennen stuns the enemy, and then Lee Sin and LeBlanc come in for the kill. It would be anyone's game."

The live commentator in the domestic stream earnestly gave an analysis of SLG's options, but this was still only the analysis of an outsider. What SLG would choose in the end depended entirely on their coach's advice.

The cursor skittered back and forth over the big screens at the venue, hovering over Jayce, Gangplank, Kennen, Camille Ferros, and so on. It almost seemed to be teasing the crowd.

With just five minutes left on the timer, a choice was made.

Shauna Vayne.

It was a pick that baffled the whole audience.

"Shauna… Vayne… this is… this is a little unexpected. Are they playing by BLX's book? After seeing Lucian in the middle lane, we're seeing Vayne in the top lane in this year's world championship? Although we all know that Vayne can play quite effectively against Mordekaiser, you rarely ever see that outside of ranked matches. It's given us quite a scare."

"SLG still had that trick up their sleeve. They really want to win, huh? Just… how badly does their coach want their own top laner to destroy Wolfy?"

The two commentators were caught between crying and laughing. At the same time, DG's voice chat was silent.

While the game loaded, Qian Bao finally said, "Stay calm."

Old Wo joked, "Man, if I were you, Daddy Wolf, I wouldn't put up with this."'

Er-Hua calmly suggested, "How about this? If we win this one, we'll tell the coach to let our beloved top laner cut loose? Let him pick his long-hidden Soraka or Kalista for the top."

"I see nothing wrong with that," Lu Zhe said.

His voice was filled with a suppressed laugh. It was gentle and soothing as it flowed through his mic, spilling into Shen Qiao's ears. Lu Zhe's words seemed to drown out all the words that had come earlier, leaving only one doting sentiment echoing in Shen Qiao's mind.

"After all," Lu Zhe said, "anything other top laners get to have, our top laner will get as well."

Shen Qiao didn't make a sound throughout this whole exchange. Perhaps his teammates had already said all there was to say, or perhaps Shen Qiao had other things on his mind.

……

But as soon as the game began, everyone understood what Shen Qiao was thinking—

Mordekaiser set out with Conqueror runes and Doran's Blade equipped. It couldn't have been more obvious that he intended to square up against his enemy top laner, as if that enemy weren't his natural counter Vayne, but some other champion who would tremble under his hammer.

He wasn't panicking.

And Vayne certainly wasn't either.

Using her long reach, Vayne took cover behind her minions and seized every opportunity to fling an attack at Mordekaiser. She continually leveled up her E skill, clearly looking for the chance to pin Mordekaiser to the wall.

And by upgrading this skill, Vayne made it very clear that she was ready for Lee Sin to come over at any time, so that they could team up to take Mordekaiser down early.

Lu Zhe knew all of Lee Sin's strengths as a jungler. As soon as Lee Sin hit Level 2, Lu Zhe warned Shen Qiao, "Watch out for Lee Sin."

Shen Qiao hummed his acknowledgement and very quickly answered, "I know. I have eyes on him."

He'd set wards by the river and in the underbrush behind him. If Lee Sin came over to tear down his wards, Shen Qiao would instantly know where he was.

He knew he couldn't allow himself to be ganked too often in this game. If at all possible, he had to stay on even footing with the enemy Vayne, and he had to do everything in his power to keep Vayne from powering up too much. Otherwise, if Vayne and Varus and LeBlanc all started hitting hard in team fights later in the game, DG's sole tank Nautilus wouldn't be enough to fend off all their damage.

But with Vayne's long range bearing down on him, just trying to farm creeps was already hard enough for Shen Qiao. If he wanted to shoot her down before Level 6, he basically had to execute every single detail perfectly and with extreme precision—

He couldn't relax the pressure on her.

And he couldn't allow himself to be ganked.

Ideally, he would be able to keep his life when Lee Sin came to gank him. If he could keep them chasing him around, he could keep two of SLG's champions from developing too quickly.

Shen Qiao was very clear on his role in the team. When it was time for him to carry, he would carry. When he was needed to just stall, he would stall. In this round, SLG had very deliberately chosen a champion to counter him. He could at least still create opportunities for his teammates as much as possible.

Elise was powerful early on, and Syndra's damage output developed on a nearly smooth curve. Once she got Luden's Echo equipped, she would be terrifying in team fights. Besides pure tanks, no one could stand up against her. Especially if she'd gotten a kill or two more than her enemies. There was practically no one on the field who could survive a hit from her sphere.

And they had Ezreal for additional damage as well. Ezreal had more room for growth than Varus in the early and middle stages of the game. As long as Shen Qiao didn't fall too far behind early in the game, he could start joining in on team fights in the middle portion and just seal away any troublemakers in a place where he could hammer them to death.

That was what Shen Qiao was thinking.

But SLG didn't give him that opportunity—

Vayne was clearly keeping her focus on Shen Qiao, but she deliberately tried to entice Shen Qiao towards the red side's tower with her minions. Shen Qiao mulled it over, then signaled to Lu Zhe in their chat channel.

Meanwhile, Qian Bao and the enemy LeBlanc were duking it out in the middle lane. Crown wasn't much stronger or weaker than her. If he took a loss here, a world of trouble would come for SLG. So when Qian Bao was at low health, he made an aggressive advance with his minions.

Qian Bao relied on her positioning and a potion to continue facing off against LeBlanc, until they were both left with only a sliver of health. However, LeBlanc had stepped into the line of minions, attracting attention from the blue side's troops. When Crown retreated to his own side's tower with a skill, two faint streaks of blue light steadily chased after him.

Crown stared.

"First blood!"

Qian Bao exclaimed, "My godly little minions! Did you all see that?!"

If it hadn't been for the long-ranged attacks of those two little minions, Crown and Qian Bao would have come out of that bout with a tie. Who could have known that Qian Bao's first kill would come so suddenly? She couldn't resist grinning and pleading for praise in the voice chat.

"Cool, cool, cool," Old Wo chirped.

"Nice!" Er-Hua called out.

Shen Qiao also found a moment to say, "Solo kill on Crown. That'll be a highlight of your life. You can brag about that for a year!"

Qian Bao pushed her minions up to attack the middle lane tower, taking advantage of Crown's absence. She made her way up to the top lane then, while saying, "Since you praised me, Daddy Wolf, I'll come up to the top to help you take care of Vayne."

"Since you're helping him, Qian Bao, I'll acknowledge you as the number one mid-laner in the world," Lu Zhe said.

Qian Bao snorted and threatened, "If you feed me any more dog food, I'm turning around and leaving!"

……

Inside the domestic livestream, the commentators were getting worked up—

"It's starting, it's starting! DG's mid-laner and jungler are coming up to protect their top laner! Lee Sin and Vayne had no idea they would draw in Elise and Syndra just by bullying Mordekaiser a bit, and Syndra is already at Level 6 with her ult! Plus, Crown used his teleport earlier… he won't be able to get up to the top lane. It's going to be a 2v3!"

"Vayne tried to E the enemy Elise to the wall when Elise came up from the river, but Elise dodged and landed a hit with her web, which locked down Lee Sin. SLG never saw this coming! They couldn't have imagined that DG was coming to take Lee Sin! Syndra throws out all her skills… and Lee Sin is down!"

"Crown is on his way up, and Wolf Cub… Wolf Cub was sneaking in a few shots at their minions! He's hit Level 6 now! LeBlanc has gotten to the top lane now, but Mordekaiser immediately seals her away. Syndra and Elise are taking this chance to go after Vayne, but Vayne's leading them around… Lu Zhe's used his flash now, and Vayne uses hers as well to get back to their tower!"

"LeBlanc's out of Mordekaiser's cage now. She uses her positioning to dodge Syndra's stun, but she falls right into Elise's trap! Vayne's taking this opportunity to restore some HP under the tower, and she's continuing to fire some attacks at Syndra and Elise from behind."

"LeBlanc's ult isn't up. Everyone's trading skills, and DG's in great shape right now. Depending on who Vayne decides to target with her ult… ah, LeBlanc's all out of skills, and her A won't do any damage. Mordekaiser is going after her… and LeBlanc tries to lure him to the tower, but Elise is going for Vayne's head! And with a spiderling aimed at LeBlanc… she's down too! Lu Zhe played beautifully in this fight!"

"But Vayne's still up, she's using her ult! It's aimed at Lu Zhe's Elise! Elise is down to her last sliver of HP! Ah… and as expected…"

"But Money is keeping up with Wolf Cub! This time, Vayne didn't get a chance to retreat to her tower after using her skills. Mordekaiser takes her down!"

"DG's middle laner, top laner, and jungler each got a piece of that pie. This fight… if SLG's Vayne hadn't taken at least one kill, this would have been a one-sided bloodbath."

DG traded one death for two kills.

It wasn't the best outcome they could have gotten.

But Shen Qiao took advantage of Vayne's death to dominate the top half of the map for the time being. He was able to head over to Qian Bao to help her clear some minions, and the two of them went to join Lu Zhe against the Rift Herald after that. Meanwhile, SLG targeted a dragon near the bottom lane, where their Varus still held an advantage over Ezreal in the early stages.

SLG took down the first cloud dragon.

DG, on the other hand, took the Rift Herald. In the grand scope of things, the cloud dragon wouldn't have a monumental effect on the game.

Upon claiming the Rift Herald, Lu Zhe set it loose on the middle lane.

Mordekaiser, Ezreal, and Nautilus all came over to the middle lane, protecting the Rift Herald. Ezreal's gear was nearly ready, and he hadn't fallen behind too much in creep score. Now, when he came to the middle, he was no longer at a marked disadvantage against Varus, and Varus didn't dare face off against him.

Moreover…

In SLG's lineup, only Lee Sin could engage.

Er-Hua moved Nautilus to the front of their ranks, but he didn't rush to attack right away. Instead, he just paced back and forth in front of SLG's champions. SLG didn't break formation; their Tahm Kench stayed in the front as well. No one wanted to be caught by Er-Hua.

Neither side could find an appropriate opening to make a move.

After feeling each other out, both teams settled in to wait for the next dragon to spawn.

The second dragon was an infernal drake, which was a pretty important asset this season.

SLG headed off through the jungle, and Nautilus also set out to place his wards. Lu Zhe and the others also made their way from the river to the dragon pit. Seeing their approach, Nautilus suddenly shot his hook and—

Pulled Lee Sin out from the underbrush.

Mordekaiser went up and immediately locked Lee Sin away.

Varus rained down his arrows from behind Tahm, and Vayne looked for an opportunity to use her skills as well, but she ultimately only managed to impale and stun Nautilus before turning to focus on helping Varus to do damage.

Elise swooped in on Varus, ready to take his life. Syndra pumped all her skills into taking Vayne down. Nautilus returned to the front lines to protect the two of them.

Tahm swiftly opened his mouth to swallow Varus whole, spitting him out in the other direction. He personally tanked the damage from Elise and Syndra, but since he wasn't tanky enough, and since his magic resistance wasn't good enough, he could only bear their assault for a few seconds before losing his life to Syndra.

Elise stunned Varus with her web, not allowing him the chance to fire back at Syndra.

Ezreal took that opportunity to hit Varus hard.

Vayne had been in a pretty comfortable spot at first, but Nautilus's positioning was too good. He always stuck to the front, and even used an ult that knocked Vayne off her feet after the death of Tahm Kench.

Just then, LeBlanc joined the fray!

At the same time, Shen Qiao beat Lee Sin within an inch of his life in their shared prison.

After that chaotic brawl—

SLG's Lee Sin, Varus, and Tahm were killed. Vayne escaped. LeBlanc managed to take the heads of Elise and Syndra. But after expending all her skills, she had no way of escaping when Mordekaiser dragged her over and hammered her down. Nautilus and Ezreal joined in, and all three surviving members of DG teamed up to take her down.

It seemed SLG's carries were all in a decent position, but upon closer inspection…

Vayne was at one kill, one death.

LeBlanc had two kills, three deaths.

And Varus had no kills to show for his one death.

SLG's three potential carries hadn't actually gotten anywhere. Meanwhile, on DG's side, their champions were starting to flourish. Mordekaiser's equipment was ready, and Lu Zhe's Elise had a few kills to her name, increasing her damage.

The most terrifying stat was Syndra's three kills to one death, and Ezreal's set was finished as well.

If they got wrapped up in another team fight over the infernal dragon, SLG would be badly beaten.

They had no choice but to give up the infernal dragon.

And just like that, the game started to tilt in a certain direction…

……

"Look at this equipment on Money's Syndra—here it comes, here it comes! She's in the underbrush, and SLG has fragile champions on all three lanes. No matter where she goes, she's going to catch someone by surprise."

"Lee Sin! She got Lee Sin! He was killed by Syndra before he got a chance to put up a fight!"

"Syndra's running off to the bottom lane to go after Varus now!"

"Ezreal's sneakily farming some experience in the top lane, Wolf Cub is tearing down towers in the middle lane… huh? SLG didn't seem to make any huge mistakes, and the team fights have been a steady back-and-forth. Why does everything seem to be falling apart for SLG all of a sudden?"

"The difference in gold is already at four thousand."

"If SLG can't do anything during the next fight around Baron Nashor, today's game just might end here."

"DG's champions have actually opened fire on Baron Nashor! They're taking advantage of the fact that SLG don't have eyes on the area! They have the mountain dragon from before, so they won't need too long to take down Baron Nashor… will SLG be able to get there in time?"

"Lee Sin is coming! He's coming! But Mordekaiser's sealed him away again! Without their jungler, how will SLG steal Baron Nashor? LeBlanc has joined the fight, and she's got Syndra down to low health, but DG isn't letting Baron Nashor's HP go back up. There's just ten percent left… five percent… Lu Zhe and Varus are both attacking, what the—"

"Ohhhhhh! Varus was one step too slow! Congratulations to DG for taking Baron Nashor!"

With Baron Nashor's buff, DG pushed all the way up to SLG's base. Shen Qiao was shouting into the voice chat, "Go, go, go! One push, one push, one push!"

Lu Zhe looked over at the SLG players who were regrouping and coming after them. He raised his voice and called back, "Nope, no can do. We can't get off work early today. Fall back, fall back, fall back. Down to the bottom lane, bottom lane now. Go, go, go!"

The two sides duked it out for another five minutes. DG took down two more of SLG's towers without losing any of their own people. Unfortunately, they didn't do much damage to the Nexus. They had no choice but to turn around and go after another dragon, and they stopped by their own base to change their equipment along the way.

They would be ready for the next team fight.

By now, their gold advantage was up to seven thousand.

SLG tried to turn things around—

But DG was playing more carefully, more conservatively.

They didn't give SLG another chance.

After taking their fourth dragon, DG used Baron Nashor to pressure SLG into a fight. After wiping out SLG's entire team, they went to take the Elder Dragon buff as well. Once they were well-equipped with buffs, they stormed into SLG's base, took down their Nexus turrets, and then their Nexus—

The foreign commentators on the scene were whipped into an excited frenzy.

"Congratulations to Team DG for making it to the finals once more! They're taking aim at the throne! They don't want to give up their crown! Who will their opponents in the finals be this time?!"

The domestic commentators were also so excited that they were nearly shouting themselves hoarse.

"They're back! They're still the champions we know and love! They'll have another shot to scale this mountain! Will we see them conquer the world one more time?"

"November 2nd! We'll all be waiting for you then!"

Thunderous cheers rang out through the stadium.

Shen Qiao took off his headphones and turned to meet Lu Zhe's gaze. As usual, the two of them got up and gave each other a hug.

Lu Zhe murmured in Shen Qiao's ear, "Congratulations. We're one step from the finish line now."

They'd defeated SLG.

Only the finals remained.

Shen Qiao had waited for this day. He'd waited so, so long…

And now he could finally see the light.

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 96

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DG had the blue side in their first game against SLG.

As the red team, SLG would be able to counter DG's picks.

Both sides used their bans to send a message to the other team. DG banned Twisted Fate, the champion Crown had frequently been using in ranked games as of late. They also banned Kai'Sa, the champion SLG had used against BLX not so long ago.

And Xayah was banned as well.

SLG, for their part, took out Elise, LeBlanc, and Aatrox.

As those bans rolled out, the atmosphere at the venue grew more and more heated—

BLX's Lele and Mo Mo were both in the audience, but they weren't sitting anywhere near the front of the crowd. Rather, they'd been some of the last spectators to arrive. They were seated near the back of the stands, watching the game on the big screens in the venue.

Lele was even wearing a scarf and dark sunglasses. Upon seeing the bans come out, he whispered to Mo Mo, "It looks like they've studied up on each other. We'll have to see if SLG is decimated today, or if DG is ground to a slow and painful death."

Due to the scathing comments that were being flung at BLX those days, neither Lele nor Mo Mo wanted to be seen in public. BLX fans had nothing to watch now that their team had been eliminated. In their 'spare time', they would surely be spewing all sorts of vitriol online.

It wasn't hard to guess what the content of their comments would be—

[Mo Mo should have retired when he won the summer tournament. Could've been immortalized at the top of his game. But he just had to go off and disgrace himself at worlds. I gotta ask, did he fly out to Europe just to shop duty-free at the airport?]

[You guys didn't think BLX could really win the world championship, right? Just look at their top laner and jungler this year. Sometimes they can get things going, and sometimes they drag everyone down. Xu Xiao is too inconsistent, you can't rely on him. Is BLX incapable of affording a good top laner and jungler? Are they short on money?]

[You gotta look on the bright side. Their bottom lane duo clearly planned all this out. They can at least watch the tournament for free now. Doge.jpg]

[Forget the world championship. It's time to think about their next careers.]

……

As Lele pulled himself out of his thoughts, he heard his teammate hum slowly from next to him.

Lele looked at the screen and saw that DG had already taken Shen Qiao's best champion, Renekton. Mere seconds later, SLG took Mordekaiser, clearly preparing to put some pressure on the top lane.

Then SLG took Lissandra.

This was a champion who had also appeared in the tournament before. It seemed SLG wanted to take advantage of the fact that their players had been very stable as of late. They wanted to continue their usual style of play. Lissandra was useful in team fights and could hold her own in early-game matchups in her lane. Playing her well would be a test of game awareness.

Even after Lissandra was locked in, DG didn't rush to choose a middle lane champion for themselves. They took Varus and Thresh for their bottom lane first.

SLG immediately took Shauna Vayne.

Next, DG banned Nautilus and Jarvan IV. SLG responded in kind and banned Talon, which would have been a promising assassin for Qian Bao to play in the middle lane. SLG followed that up by banning Lee Sin as well.

It seemed like all of Lu Zhe's usual champions were on the ban list now.

In DG's voice chat—

"Gragas?" Coach Fang slowly suggested. "Would be a good choice for initiating fights."

Lu Zhe considered it for a moment. "What about… Jax? I used Jax in ranking a few days ago. Might not be great for snatching up resources on the map, but he goes well with Renekton and Syndra. Qian Bao will take Syndra for the middle lane, right?"

Qian Bao hummed and said, "I'll have to go with a burst champion against Lissandra, right, Coach?"

Coach Fang also agreed with a curt hum.

He considered the lineup for a while longer. Renekton and Jax, with Syndra in the middle and Varus and Thresh on the bottom lane… in almost all regards, whether it was initiating or controlling team fights, cutting into the back line, or managing AP and AD, there was nothing wrong with this lineup.

Finally, he nodded. "Alright, take Jax for the jungle. Lu Zhe, you're good at ganking on the lanes, so even if SLG drags this out to late-game, we still have a chance. Of course, taking the kill count advantage in the early stages of the game is still what we want to do."

DG took Jax as their second-to-last champion.

All five bans from both sides were already in place. Seeing DG take Jax, SLG went ahead and took Morgana as their support. She had crowd control abilities and could enable Vayne to do a great amount of damage in the bottom lane against Varus and Thresh. Plus, with her shield, she could also support her teammates well in team fights.

Seeing Morgana didn't change DG's final choice. They took Syndra for Qian Bao as their last pick.

And SLG took Rek'Sai as their jungler.

The lineups for both teams were finalized—

DG had Renekton, Jax, Syndra, Varus, and Thresh.

SLG would be running Mordekaiser, Rek'Sai, Lissandra, Shauna Vayne, and Morgana.

Lele took stock of the outcome of this picks and bans stage, then shook his head. "It's definitely worth it for us to study up on the LCK's methods of researching their opponents."

It was obvious from just a glance that DG's lineup was powerful. Renekton was a champion that allowed room for error in a team's gameplay. He could become an extremely powerful carry if he got going, but even if he didn't, he could still be a meaty tank. Just by planting himself in front of his team's AD, he could take a lot of damage during team fights, and he could help his team catch the enemy's back line off guard.

Furthermore—

Jax was tanky as well, and he had crowd control skills. He could continuously dole out damage while keeping the enemy under control in team fights. After Syndra did her damage, Jax could slip in and do some follow-up damage of his own.

Varus had Thresh's lanterns to protect him. He could comfortably do his damage with a few tanks to protect him.

However…

SLG had chosen the perfect counters to their lineup in the picks and bans phase. They seemed to be saying, so what if your Renekton could get going? If he dared to charge at them, their Mordekaiser would seal him away. The two of them could go one-on-one in Mordekaiser's prison, like real men.

Plus, Vayne had the ability to nullify Jax's crowd control. And she had Morgana to protect her as well.

No one could guess how their team fights would play out.

As expected, after both sides entered the game—

The predictions based on each team's champions popped up on the screen. DG had a forty-seven percent chance of victory in the early stages of the game, which became fifty-three percent in late-game. Their carry, Varus, would need a long time to develop, after all, and Renekton also needed some kills before he could truly take flight.

But if they dragged things out into the later stages of the game…

That was SLG's favorite way to play.

To make things worse for DG, Lu Zhe was playing Jax, who he hadn't pulled out in many tournament games before. Jax would be less efficient at taking resources in the jungle, when compared to Rek'Sai, and he would be slower to support his teammates as well. It was likely that he wouldn't be able to gain an advantage in the early stages of the game. Not only that, if he lost out on too many resources, he might cause his team to fall too far behind later in the game as well.

As Lele watched the players enter the game, he stroked his chin and mused, "This round won't last more than forty minutes, will it?"

……

In DG's voice chat—

Lu Zhe studied SLG's lineup. His lips curved into a faint smile as he said, "Lots of people are probably doubting our stamina right now, huh?"

Qian Bao laughed and agreed, "Yep."

Old Wo and Er-Hua followed Lu Zhe towards the red buff. While Er-Hua planted a ward in the underbrush, Old Wo laughed as well and said, "Didn't we play a one-hour game with BLX last spring?"

"Ai, it's all because Daddy Wolf has filled us up with the vigor of youth. Now people think we can't work overtime and play long games."

In truth—

DG wasn't necessarily weaker than SLG in this regard.

Er-Hua didn't say anything. He crouched in the underbrush and gazed out at another patch of grass across from him. He seemed to think about something for a while, then blindly shot out a hook at that spot—shockingly, it hit.

Morgana was dragged out.

Coincidentally, Qian Bao had been a little late to head out to her lane. When she saw this going on in the jungle, she'd yet to make it to the middle lane. She immediately headed down to the bottom lane now to help. Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Lu Zhe all chased after the enemy Morgana. In order to save Morgana, Vayne had no choice but to use an E to pin Er-Hua's Thresh to the wall.

But Lu Zhe stunned Morgana and worked with Old Wo's Varus to throw an endless barrage of attacks at her. Rek'Sai wanted to come over to help, but unfortunately couldn't do anything useful so early on in the game. Besides, Qian Bao's Syndra had already rushed over—

Seeing that none of her teammates were coming over to save her, Morgana had no choice but to use her flash to get away.

SLG's attempt at Level 1 counter-jungling failed.

Morgana had used up her flash. When she teamed up with Vayne against Varus and Thresh later, she would be a weaker link.

After taking the red buff, Lu Zhe decided not to let go of this opportunity to take care of SLG's bottom laners. He slipped back down to the bottom lane and surrounded Vayne and Morgana with Varus and Thresh, determinedly taking Morgana's head.

Shortly afterwards—

Shen Qiao took down a badly wounded Mordekaiser in the top lane. He'd already built up a creep score advantage of twenty by then as well.

……

"Wolfy-ge… you really can't just let him choose Renekton."

Lele leaned forward, gripping the back of the seat in front of him with one hand as he watched the game. His tension eased a little as he saw DG take the lead for the time being. Relief shone in his eyes for a moment, and he instantly thought back to the way Shen Qiao had run wild when he played with BLX in the spring tournament.

At that time, Shen Qiao had also played Renekton.

Mordekaiser, Renekton, Ornn, Maokai… these champions could all hold up under pressure. BLX's coach had been insistent on playing these champions in the top lane back when Shen Qiao was with them. Shen Qiao hadn't complained. He never showed a special preference for any particular champions, and he always practiced whatever the team needed him to practice, so he wound up being able to dole out a beautiful amount of damage even with these tanks.

Back then, as long as Shen Qiao could get Renekton, he could basically carry.

The teams in the LPL were all familiar with one another, so when they faced off against Shen Qiao, they almost always instinctively banned Renekton, knowing that it was one of his best champions.

Was it fate?

This was a champion Shen Qiao could play regardless of the season. Even if the current season weakened him, Shen Qiao could play more beautifully with him than anyone else.

Lele could see that Shen Qiao didn't need any help from their jungler for the time being. He was wailing on Mordekaiser like Mordekaiser was his defenseless little didi. Lele couldn't help but think back to all the champions Shen Qiao had played throughout that season.

Aatrox, Akali, Vladimir…

Mostly top lane champions who could thrive under pressure, even on their own.

More and more people were noticing Shen Qiao's metamorphosis.

BLX hadn't advanced to the semifinals this year, and there were plenty of fans in their supertopic openly mocking them for letting go of their promising top laner, only to recruit a new player from the Korean league who couldn't carry their weight. The top laner they'd released from their team, on the other hand, was flourishing.

Lele obviously wouldn't respond to comments like that. But as Shen Qiao's old friend, he couldn't help but feel silently happy for Shen Qiao as he watched him play his own way in the top lane.

BLX had never won a world championship in all their years, and Shen Qiao had spent a considerable amount of time with them. Seeing Shen Qiao go off to DG wasn't so bad…

If DG could win another championship title again, then BLX could more or less feel like they were close to that glory as well.

He felt a little frustrated at their loss, but also optimistic about their brush with the potential champions. He was lost in thought for a long while until he heard Mo Mo say from next to him, "Twelve minutes in. Ten kills, eight for DG. If they don't fall apart later, SLG won't stand a chance."

Lele collected his thoughts and looked at the headcount on the big screen, and the gold advantage of two thousand that DG had managed to build up. "DG should be fine as long as they don't get too reckless. SLG isn't as good at turning things around as some teams in the LPL, and Crown's condition has been declining. If they can't snowball to an advantage, they're probably not going to make a comeback."

Lele paused and flashed a self-deprecating smile. "Ai, if DG takes SLG down three games to none today, won't our fans all call for us to retire en masse? It's this sort of thing that'll make them realize just how shittily BLX actually played."

"Most likely," Mo Mo calmly agreed.

While the two of them cracked bleak jokes over their recent tournament results—

A team fight broke out in the middle lane. DG successfully traded two lives for four kills. Lu Zhe led his teammates towards Baron Nashor after that, taking Baron Nashor's buff for themselves at the twenty-minute mark in the game.

Neither team had managed to take the Rift Herald earlier, so this buff would become critical in pushing towards the enemy base.

After getting five kills without dying even once, Shen Qiao's Renekton had already become a powerful daddy in that round. He pushed onwards with his teammates in a 1-4 split; while he attacked the top lane tower alone, his teammates took Baron Nashor's buff and confronted the middle lane inhibitor, while protecting their cannons to bolster their offensive force.

SLG was being crushed on two fronts. Mordekaiser charged down the top lane, intending to go one-on-one against Renekton. But his own equipment fell short, and he was slain by Renekton in his own prison. Afterwards, the middle lane became a 4v4 brawl.

And on the top lane, Renekton continued to happily hack away at the tower.

Before Baron Nashor's buff elapsed, DG continued to grind away at SLG's middle inhibitor. They also took one of the Nexus turrets down to half health before retreating to their own base to heal up and strengthen their gear.

However, SLG didn't get a chance to struggle for much longer in this round—

Thirty-two minutes into the game, their Nexus was blown into oblivion.

The MVP of the game was Renekton by a mile. He had the highest participation rate, damage output, and kill count.

In a foreign language, a commentator excitedly roared, "Congratulations to Team DG for taking the first point!"

The audience also filled up with the sounds of DG's fans, cheering and waving their signs of support.

……

But the first round didn't decide anything.

SLG didn't seem especially affected by their defeat. They quickly adjusted their tactics and immediately sent Shen Qiao's Renekton to the ban list at the start of the second round. They also chose to play the blue side that time, taking the Varus and Thresh duo.

It seemed they'd settled on the 'if you can't beat them, join them' strategy.

Seeing SLG take Varus and Thresh, DG went ahead and locked in Kalista and Taric. This duo was known for their ability to execute a 'mutual protection' strategy. Kalista was extremely advantageous in early-game, and though her damage output would never be extraordinarily high in team fights later on, she had a lot of skills to help protect herself.

And Taric's ult was extremely useful in team fights.

After seeing Taric locked in—

SLG suddenly selected Poppy, a more tanky top lane champion.

Poppy's ult could send an enemy champion flying from one side of the rift to the other. During a team fight, she could easily get rid of that pesky enemy carry or some opponent who could change the tides of the battle. After flinging her opponent far, far away, the opposing champion could only slink back step by step.

So what if Taric could protect his teammates with his ult? It wouldn't matter if they were ejected from the fight. Poppy's presence seemed to say that Taric's shield was absolutely meaningless, because she could hammer him straight out of the jungle, and by the time he trudged back, her team would have taken Baron Nashor down already.

SLG's unpredictable choice of Poppy did put DG on edge during this second round. Since Poppy was too good at jumping into fights, she was able to repeatedly smash Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe straight out of their team fights. Not only did she prevent Lu Zhe from grabbing dragons and resources, she also rendered Shen Qiao ineffective, robbing DG of one of their sources of damage.

And so, in the thirty-fifth minute of the game, DG's Nexus was destroyed.

Both sides fought back and forth, tying up the match.

In the third game, DG took the blue side back.

They chose Varus and Braum for this third round. With Braum's shield, they would be able to effectively hold their own against high-damage champions like Poppy and Miss Fortune. At the same time, they dismantled SLG's favored combo of Kai'Sa and Braum.

But SLG simply played it by the book and calmly took Xayah and Rakan.

Seeing this Xayah and Rakan duo in play, Coach Fang assigned Qian Bao a champion she hadn't shown off in a long while… a tank in the middle lane.

Nautilus.

DG had practiced with this sort of team comp a bit in the past, but they hadn't used it extensively during the summer tournament. They'd only pulled it out once in a practice game against WTG, and the results were a bit interesting.

It could be called…

An ace up DG's sleeve.

Although WTG had learned of this trick a long time ago.

Faced with this strange choice for Qian Bao, SLG seemed a bit bewildered. They dragged out their next pick until the timer was nearly elapsed. Their coaches must have been deliberating over something.

Crown was a bit stumped. He hadn't faced off against this style of mid-laner much in the past, and in the past two rounds, Qian Bao had been going toe-to-toe with him. Now his opponent was stubbornly hiding under her own tower, refusing to come out. Just like a turtle in its shell. She was completely immovable, and she refused to come out to play.

She even…

Qian Bao was even willing to sacrifice her own minions. She only left her post to teleport up to the top lane, becoming the link between the top laner and the jungler to help them wail on SLG's top laner.

SLG's top-lane champion Jayce was ruined in the early stages of the game.

From then on, SLG was short on damage. Jayce was rendered ineffective, and DG slowly, carefully widened the gap between them and SLG through little wins throughout the game.

And then—

They ended the game in the twenty-ninth minute!

……

At that moment, in the chat of the domestic stream—

[DG has reached match point! Oh my god!]

[I'm so nervous I'm so nervous I'm so nervous]

[DG, hurry up and win! Take us home with a three to one victory! Mama is ready to celebrate!]

[Ahhhhh, worlds is really way too exciting! Wahhhh, I'm going to watch today's match over and over again for sure! I love Wolf Cub I love Emperor Zhe I love Money Money Wo Wo and Little Hua!]

[Wait, previous commenter, hold your horses. What the hell is Little Hua?]

[I don't care about anything else, I just want to see DG in the finals again! Your fans have been waiting for this all year. Use all your strength to show everyone who the real kings of the LPL are!]

……

Backstage, in the players' lounge area—

Shen Qiao accepted a cup of warm water that Lu Zhe had poured for him. As soon as he downed it all, he heard the coach and staff members reminding them the next round would be starting soon. Shen Qiao glanced over at Lu Zhe as they started to head out.

Lu Zhe smiled faintly and asked, "Nervous?"

Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows.

Old Wo also turned back when he heard Lu Zhe's voice. "What? Who's nervous? Daddy Wolf? Oh, that's right. This is his first time in the semifinals of worlds, isn't it? He wasn't with BLX the last time they got to the finals, huh?"

"Aiya, don't be nervous," Qian Bao coaxed. "Wait until we win this match to be nervous. We're not even at the finals yet."

Er-Hua thought of the water he'd just seen Shen Qiao drink, and he thoughtfully reminded, "If you're nervous, don't drink too much water. If SLG tries to drag this out into a long game, you'll be miserable in half an hour."

Even Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo scooted over. Their palms were clearly both sweating with their own nerves, yet they still looked like they wanted to reassure and support Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao was silent.

Expressionlessly, he said, "I'm not nervous."

Lu Zhe good-naturedly answered, "Mm, okay. Then, let's go. The fourth round is starting—"

Shen Qiao hooked one hand into his pocket and glanced at him again. He followed Lu Zhe another few steps forward. As they passed through the dark corridor leading back to the stage, he deliberately slowed his pace and fell to the back with Lu Zhe.

Once they were a fair distance from the staff members, he whispered, "I'm really not nervous."

"Hm?" Lu Zhe looked over.

Shen Qiao saw that Lu Zhe was listening attentively, but he deliberately held back what he wanted to say. He looked straight ahead again, at the lights of the stage.

"After this round, I'll tell you."

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 95

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WTG made it through.

The matchups for the semifinals would be drawn randomly. Of the four teams who made it to the top, two were LPL teams—WTG and DG. The other teams in the semifinals were SLG, who'd previously defeated BLX, and Z1 from the European division.

On the day of the draw, DG's players were all on edge. They didn't want to clash against WTG again so soon—

One reason was that they were both teams from the same region, who'd clashed in the spring and summer tournaments already. They often played practice matches against each other as well. Even though they hadn't arranged any practice games against each other since the start of the world championship tournament, they knew each other's tactics and strategies very well. They'd fought in best-of-one, best-of-three, and best-of-five style matches before, making it so that they truly knew each other inside and out.

The second reason was that if they met in the semifinals, it meant only one team from the LPL would make it to the finals. Either DG would eliminate WTG, or WTG would eliminate DG.

The loser would definitely be devastated.

DG wasn't the only team thinking this way. WTG didn't want to meet them in the semifinals either. After all, DG hadn't played well against them in the spring tournament due to Fish's unexpected condition. And in the summer tournament, Lu Zhe had been out with an injury. WTG didn't get to face off against DG at their full strength during either of those games. When DG played in their 'complete' form, as defined by all the big commentators in the industry, there were no guarantees of victory for WTG.

And it seemed a higher power heard the wishes of these two giants of the LPL—

The results of the draw came out.

DG vs SLG.

WTG vs Z1.

As soon as the official announcement came out, the domestic esports circle whipped themselves into an excited frenzy.

[Charge!!! I want to see our LPL take the finals this year!!!]

[Let my dreams come true without any suspense, okay? I want to see our LPL dominate this year!]

[WTG, go! DG, go! Fans of both sides should strike a truce right now and support both teams, to cheer on the LPL together. PS: Obviously we'll be enemies again if we meet in the finals!]

[Wolf Cub! The time has come to avenge your former teammates!]

[Let's set a small goal first, okay? I just want us to take home a biiiiiig trophy. That's totally doable, right? SlightSmile.jpg]

……

In addition to the voices of the fans, the official Weibo accounts of the two LPL teams also shared the official announcement of the semifinals match-ups and cheered each other on.

@DGeSportsClub: Show no fear of daunting peaks. The view from the highest mountains… I want to see it again. DG, good luck! @WTGeSportsClub Brothers, see you in the finals!

WTG shared the same message and added their team's logo, echoing DG through the comments—

Brothers, see you in the finals!

The fiery atmosphere scorched the land and sky.

Besides the fans that continued to spew hatred and vitriol in the comments of BLX's official Weibo, all the other fans of the LPL rallied around WTG and DG, cheering them on and wishing them smooth victories in the semifinals so that they could meet at the finals—the peak of their world.

The personal accounts of BLX's players were completely silent during this time. None of them wanted to stick their necks out and draw the storm of ire to themselves. At most, the braver players would host a livestream, weathering the storm of insults that inevitably came through the bullet comments.

As for DG—

Shen Qiao hadn't streamed since the start of the world championship tournament. He didn't want his state of mind to be affected, and there were still lots of practices that he needed to attend. He didn't want his strategies to be leaked at such a critical time either, so he'd decided to make up for his streaming hours after the tournament.

Lu Zhe didn't have many mandatory streaming hours in his contract anyway, so he had no concept of feeling obligated to stream. Only Old Wo and Er-Hua queued up together and logged a few hours. Even Qian Bao simply remained mired in her own training.

Shen Qiao had originally been queuing with Lu Zhe.

After spending half a year with DG, where the team culture was fairly relaxed, Shen Qiao had improved. His hands were more nimble, his play style was more aggressive, but inexplicably…

In ranked games, he couldn't do anything but lose.

Simply put, he was a beast in tournament games, and a lowly guard dog at home.

Many of their opponents weren't very tough at all, but because Shen Qiao didn't like playing conventional champions like Aatrox or Ornn in the top lane, and insisted on choosing bizarre champions like Camille Ferros, Akali, Corki, Qiyana, and so on, he ultimately spent most games as the underdog.

His other teammates might all take seven or eight kills, blossoming into capable carries, while Shen Qiao's poor 4-10-7 performance made them lose in the final battle around their base in the end.

If Lu Zhe didn't wholly devote himself to the top lane, then the enemy top laner would basically gank Shen Qiao like crazy. And if Shen Qiao was playing a fragile champion, it wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary for him to be slain three times in a row.

After dragging Lu Zhe down in the ranks until Lu Zhe was teetering on the edge of ranking down, Shen Qiao adamantly refused to queue up with Lu Zhe again.

Lu Zhe looked amused. "You really don't want to team up with me anymore?"

Shen Qiao, still wearing headphones, coldly huffed a stern affirmative.

Lu Zhe didn't pay attention to his own game for much longer, and he completely ignored all the friend requests that were streaming in for him. He shifted his chair over to Shen Qiao's desk and checked out how Shen Qiao was playing.

After one game began, Lu Zhe immediately raised his eyebrows and said, "Oh?"

Shen Qiao hadn't paid much attention to the chat or IDs of the other players. After all, as long as he could identify key icons and recognize common abbreviations in English, he would be fine. He didn't have much interest in the long strings of Korean at all.

But he followed Lu Zhe's gaze when he heard Lu Zhe's voice, seeing that Lu Zhe had taken an interest in a specific spot on his screen.

There was a very familiar ID, in English, on Shen Qiao's list of teammates.

It was SLG's mid-laner Crown.

Shen Qiao also raised his eyebrows.

Then he looked down a bit more and found another familiar ID—

The support on his team was Leee.

That was none other than Lele.

Almost as soon as Shen Qiao noticed that name, Lele typed a message into the team chat.

[Qiaoge!]

[goodluck!]

Lele could only type in pinyin in this chat, which was something Shen Qiao hadn't seen in quite a while. He couldn't help but smile as he looked at that familiar text once more, responding with a string of pinyin himself.

Lu Zhe watched him play from the side.

The only two other players on DG who were relatively idle were Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo. No matter who won in the semifinals, there wouldn't be another chance for either of them to take the stage again. Their world championship run was essentially over, and neither of them had a streaming contract either, since they were both underage.

When they happened to glance over and see Shen Qiao playing with the world-famous Crown, they also scooted over to watch. Before long, a few new heads popped up behind Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao died at one point and switched his gear back at his base. When he turned at that time, he nearly jumped at the sight of all the people gathered behind him.

"What are you all doing?"

"Checking out our enemy's state of play in advance, of course," Qian Bao self-righteously explained.

Shen Qiao was a bit speechless. "…if I didn't know better, I would've thought I was going 1v1 with Crown. What can you tell from this, anyway? His champion pool is so deep that it's a champion sea."

That was true.

Ever since he started playing in S4, Crown had set new heights and expectations for doing damage as a mid-laner. Many other players tried to learn from him and imitate him, but Crown had a unique understanding of many champions. He'd invented new plays all by himself, constantly raising the bar for all middle laners. In recent years, he had been affected by some old injuries; that was the only reason his play may not have been as sharp and hard-hitting as usual.

He was still the demon king of the middle lane.

Qian Bao glanced at Shen Qiao's team info while Shen Qiao adjusted his equipment. "Phew… your Lucian, and Crown's Ekko… that's something you'd only see from the two of you."

Zhao Yue couldn't help but sigh. "The top and middle laner are both going against the flow."

Suddenly surrounded by spectators, Shen Qiao couldn't help but feel a little ashamed. After all, he'd been schooled by the enemy top and middle laners a few times during that game already. It was only with Lu Zhe that he would sometimes try to explain himself. Now, Shen Qiao could only blush faintly and mumble, "I really am playing poorly this round. But our bottom laners are pretty strong. We should be able to win. The support is Lele."

With Shen Qiao praising Lele, Qian Bao also chimed in, "I was wondering why this Nautilus was so powerful! He even got a solo kill earlier. So it's Mo Mo's epic partner, huh? Got it, got it."

Lu Zhe noticed Shen Qiao's discomfort. He lifted a hand and shooed the others away. "If you want to study the enemy, go talk to Coach Fang. Stop crowding around here."

After that, he turned to Shen Qiao and calmly added, "Don't worry. You're not playing poorly. Crown is at 3-4 right now, and you're only 2-3. You have one less death than him."

Hearing that, Shen Qiao was helplessly silent for a few seconds, before he suddenly laughed and said, "Is that how you comfort people?"

"No," Lu Zhe deadpanned.

Shen Qiao made a curious noise.

Lu Zhe smiled and lifted his chin at the screen, indicating to the game that was being pushed to the final stages. "I'm just saying, you have at least three pro players in this game with you. And one of them is Crown. You're bold enough to drag him down with your strange champion choices, and yet you're still afraid to queue up with me?"

Shen Qiao fell silent.

He respawned at the fountain, then headed out to clear away some more minions. Calmly, he stated, "I'm not dragging him down."

"Yeah, totally. You're not," Lu Zhe said. "That fight in the bottom lane earlier? He definitely didn't rush in because you went 1v3 against the enemy."

Shen Qiao was silent again.

He had nothing to say to that.

He hadn't imagined that Lu Zhe would completely abandon his own training just because he stopped queuing with him, just to watch Shen Qiao drag others down while queuing alone.

As Shen Qiao watched his own side's Nexus be blown to bits, he quickly gave up on his resolve and said, "Fine, fine, fine. Let's queue together. Go, go. Team up."

Lu Zhe saw that Shen Qiao genuinely felt a little guilty about dragging his team down with him. He lifted a hand and tousled Shen Qiao's hair, then rested his hand on Shen Qiao's nape for a moment before giving his shoulders a squeeze. "Don't worry. There's no pressure when you're with me. I just love ranking down with you. Okay?

"I can still drop a hundred points or so in this rank. What am I afraid of? We play together in tournaments. What's so scary about playing ranked together?"

Shen Qiao quietly mumbled, "It's not the same."

"Hm?" Lu Zhe hummed.

Shen Qiao looked left and right. He saw that Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo had gone off to the snacks area to have some beef jerky, and Qian Bao had put her own headset back on to continue her training.

It was only then that Shen Qiao muttered, "I don't want to drag you down. I want to take you to victory. I want to win with you in tournaments, and I want to win with you in ranked games."

Lu Zhe was struck right in the heart by these soft words from Shen Qiao. He was typically a very shameless person, but he was always deeply affected by Shen Qiao's simple words of affection. He averted his gaze for a second, then looked back.

A beautiful smile bloomed across his lips.

……

Two days later—

DG vs SLG.

The game was set to go live.

Lu Zhe put on his headset and tested the mic. He glanced to the side and slowly said, "Qiaoqiao."

Shen Qiao instinctively looked over at him. "Hm?"

The light of the arena rained down on them. Lu Zhe smiled as beautifully as he had in the training room that day. His eyes looked like they were filled with countless stars, bursting and scattering stardust through the skies. His voice was soft, flowing through the mic and straight into Shen Qiao's ears—

"Take me to victory."

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