WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 83

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Shen Qiao took his Vladimir up to the top lane and faced off against Jayce. Typically, when these two champions faced off, they were pretty evenly matched. They were both rather fragile, after all. Vladimir could heal himself, while Jayce had a long range. As long as Jayce stayed where Vladimir's attacks couldn't reach him, he would be fine. But if Vladimir managed to reach him…

He would have no choice but to die.

As soon as Shen Qiao got to the top lane, he ignored all the minions and headed straight for Jayce, chasing him back to the other side's tower and keeping him trapped there with a relentless assault.

The bullet comments filled up with question marks.

[Saying these champions are evenly matched is a lie, isn't it? This Jayce, today… he's pretty much dead on arrival, isn't he?]

[The one who gets the first kill is the one who's entitled to start working on their creep score. You guys get it?]

[Farwell, Jayce. Nice knowing you.]

While Shen Qiao kept Jayce running, without even pausing to hack at some minions, everyone suddenly heard Shen Qiao say into the voice chat, "Thanks."

It was then that the fans noticed Shen Qiao's jungler had placed a ward in the underbrush near him, allowing Shen Qiao to easily keep an eye out for Lu Zhe coming up to gank him.

[That jungler is saying: I'm ready to stick to you like glue!]

[This is a perfectly positioned ward with very clear intentions. Dog Lu, watch out! Someone is trying to be more of a suck-up than you!]

[Question: I've played LoL for so many years. Why hasn't a jungler ever dedicated a ward just to me? Is it because I'm not Wolf Cub?]

Shen Qiao couldn't see what was being said in the bullet comments. He was focused on terrorizing Jayce, making it impossible for the enemy top laner to kill minions or improve his creep score. Shen Qiao didn't let up until he'd led his forces to the other team's tower. Once he hit Level 6, he finally typed a message into the global chat.

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Vladimir): Why aren't you coming?]

[Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! A provocation! DG's top laner and jungler are about to duke it out!]

[Huh, all I can hear is flirting.]

Shen Qiao's teammates also laughed into the voice chat and asked, "Wolf Cub, if you provoke Captain Lu like this, will we be… totally obliterated by him later?"

Shen Qiao continued to farm minions while avoiding Jayce's skills. He answered, in a totally relaxed tone, "No. When he sees how arrogant I am, he'll only come after me."

As expected, the moment Shen Qiao finished speaking, Jayce advanced a little, coming out from under the protection of his own tower. At the same time, Lu Zhe's Elise showed up on the map. He boldly strolled over from the river and positioned himself right behind Shen Qiao, blocking Shen Qiao's path back to his tower.

Upon seeing Lu Zhe's arrival, Jayce moved away from their tower and used his E to open up his acceleration gate. He started to attack Shen Qiao with his Q, finally taking an aggressive stance to show off some heroics.

Shen Qiao healed himself as he retreated, but he'd led his forces too deep into the other team's territory. It was a long way back to his own tower. Even if he had his Q to restore his HP, and his E—

Ultimately, he could only avoid Jayce's attack by retreating to his own tower. He couldn't avoid Lu Zhe's spiderlings, and he was helpless against Lu Zhe's final attack.

A cold voice rang out through the livestream—

"First blood!"

Shen Qiao, with the camera fixed on him, held his breath for a few seconds. In the end, he couldn't help but huff a laugh as he stared at his grayed-out screen. Then he started changing his equipment as if nothing had happened.

[Who was it who just said they weren't easy to gank, hm? Who told the enemy to come charging in?]

[You get what you ask for.]

[He came. Are you satisfied now?]

[Hahahahahaha, I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh, but I just can't hold it in.]

Shen Qiao's teammates were all silent in the voice chat. Shen Qiao was the one who'd given up first blood, after all. Originally, they had wanted to comfort him, but when they heard him laughing, they remained silent.

Only Lu Zhe's cheerful reply came through in the global chat.

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Elise): Didi, did I come quickly enough?]

Shen Qiao saw that message in the global chat. He could practically imagine the sound of Lu Zhe's voice, merrily whispering those words in his ear. He couldn't help but smile wider, even with the camera still on him. His eyes lit up with mirth.

Any unknowing onlookers would have thought he was the one who'd just taken first blood.

Shen Qiao answered 'not bad' in the chat, then went back to the top lane. This time, he played it by the book and farmed minions without extending too far. He was extremely methodical, not letting a single minion slip away.

He also signaled to his teammates and issued them a warning in the voice chat. "Elise isn't in the top lane now. You guys be careful."

"Okay, Wolf Cub!"

"You be careful too, Wolfy! Captain Lu has been gone from the map for a long time! But he hasn't come to us! He might still be stalking you from the jungle!"

Shen Qiao hummed his acknowledgement. After finishing off another wave of minions, he decided to check the river to see where Lu Zhe was lurking. The ward that the jungler Gragas had placed for Shen Qiao earlier had already been eliminated by Lu Zhe, so the upper half of the jungle was shrouded in shadows. Shen Qiao had no choice but to personally venture out there to have a look.

But Shen Qiao only took a few steps before he noticed the enemy Jayce moving down with him, wavering back and forth in front of him. Shen Qiao vaguely wanted to go up for a solo kill, but then the other party strayed farther away again.

This was a perfectly standard tactic.

But Jayce did get an assist earlier, when Shen Qiao was killed. Rationally speaking, he should have at least tried to face off against Shen Qiao now. This sort of behavior…

Was he putting on an act?

Shen Qiao hesitated and thought for a second, then decided to cautiously return to his own lane to continue farming. But just as he stepped onto the trail by the dragon pit to return, he saw Elise skipping towards him from the top lane.

Jayce, who had been half-seriously and half-earnestly fleeing from Shen Qiao, turned back around and used the same trick as last time to assist. First an E, then a Q—

Once again, Shen Qiao was treated like the filling of a sandwich.

He was surrounded and practically powerless to fight back. Once again, Elise took his head.

Shen Qiao was silent for a moment. "…tsk."

[Happened in a flash, did you think you would go out like that?]

[Little Wolfy, do you have a lot of question marks in your head right now?]

[There was no escape…]

[Are you going to stand for this?! I wouldn't be able to bear it! Charge, Wolfy! Go 1v1 him! Go unplug his internet cable!]

[What's going on with the top laner? Stop giving your life away, hahahahaha.]

[Teammates: Daddy Wolf, please stop giving up your life. If you give up any more, we'll lose.]

At just that moment, Lu Zhe was relaxed enough to send another message into the global chat.

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Elise): Call me 'gege', and I'll stop ganking you.]

Shen Qiao's teammates all shouted into the voice chat, "Don't fall for his tricks, Wolf Cub! Captain Lu is a total dog!"

"Exactly! It's okay to lose the match! But we have to play with pride!"

Right then, their support Soraka meekly said, "Do we not want Wolf Cub to call Captain Lu 'gege' because… we're afraid Captain Lu will stop ganking him and start going after us instead?"

Shen Qiao's other teammates went quiet for a moment.

"…well, it's true but you shouldn't say it."

Gragas encouragingly added, "Daddy Wolf! Don't worry! I'm coming up to help you right now! I'll place another ward for you!"

[????]

[You should be going up to the top lane to help him gank, jungler!]

[Gragas: I'm not brave enough to face off against Captain Lu, I can only sneakily place a ward for you. Cowering.jpg]

[He's thinking, if you guys can do it, you do it. I, Gragas, won't go anywhere near that mess.]

Shen Qiao couldn't help but laugh at his teammates' words. He shook his head at the camera, then returned to the top lane. He placed a ward in the underbrush next to their outer turret. At the same time, Gragas came up to the top half of the jungle again and placed another ward next to the river.

The two wards faced each other—

And it was enough to reveal Lu Zhe's hiding spot.

Endless strings of laughter flooded the bullet comments.

Shen Qiao once again moved in against Jayce. This Jayce had won two bouts against Shen Qiao's Vladimir already, but he didn't act like it at all. He still cowered by his team's tower, watching Shen Qiao take advantage of every opportunity to attack.

Gragas saw that Lu Zhe's Elise wasn't hanging out nearby. When Shen Qiao got Jayce backed up against the enemy tower again, Gragas boldly strutted over to help Shen Qiao take Jayce's head. Afterwards, Shen Qiao was badly bloodied by the enemy tower. He barely escaped with his own life.

But he didn't flee into the jungle. Although he didn't see Elise anywhere nearby, he still cautiously moved up to the underbrush between the enemy's inner and outer turrets. It was only there that he returned to his own base.

The viewers in the bullet comments were still laughing wildly.

[Hahahahahahahaha, Wolf Cub has already been ganked so many times that he's scared to even go into the jungle?]

[Who would've thought? My ship is delicious when they love each other, and they're just as delicious when they kill each other.]

[I see, I see. Today is the day our DG's top laner and jungler break up.]

[We'll break up one duo per day during this fan tournament! Yesterday we tore apart the bottom lane duo, and today we'll tear apart the top laner/jungler pair!]

As expected, while Shen Qiao was channeling in order to return to his base, Lu Zhe appeared from the jungle and set a poisonous spiderling loose. Just one scant second before that spider exploded and dealt its damage, Shen Qiao managed to recall back to his team's base.

After switching his gear and heading out again, Shen Qiao checked the map and saw that his teammates were going up against a dragon in the lower half of the jungle.

"I don't see Lu Zhe," he warned. "You guys be careful. He definitely wants to take that infernal dragon."

He was only halfway through his sentence when he heard Gragas shout, "He's coming, he's coming! He's really coming to steal the dragon! I'll use smite!"

By the time Gragas finished saying that, they already had the infernal dragon down to low health. Caitlyn and Soraka came up from the bottom lane to assist, and just as they were about to hit the dragon with a finishing blow—

Lu Zhe got there with his smite first.

A system notification popped up on the screen.

(Elise) Red Team has slain an Infernal Drake.

When Shen Qiao saw that message, he pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth for a moment. Then he smiled helplessly and said to his teammates, "It's fine."

He continued to methodically improve his creep score in the top lane, while keeping pressure on Jayce and hacking away at the enemy tower at the same time. The clanging and clashing sounds of battle from his headset were especially pleasing to the ear.

Soon enough, he had the enemy's outer tower down to its last plate of health.

Jayce had been cowering under the tower, grabbing whatever minions he could while keeping an eye on his own E skill, waiting for it to come off cooldown. Whenever possible, he would fling out a few attacks to push Shen Qiao back, using that opportunity to get a few minions.

But suddenly, he saw that Shen Qiao was retreating. He glanced at the map and saw Elise coming their way. Upon seeing that, he instantly chased after Shen Qiao and threw up his acceleration gate.

In that instant, Lu Zhe appeared as though out of nowhere and tried to stun Shen Qiao with his Elise—only to have Shen Qiao strike him with his Q skill, draining away a sip of his blood.

Shen Qiao threw a few A attacks at him at the same time.

Lu Zhe fled and ducked into the underbrush. Meanwhile, Shen Qiao sank into a pool of blood to avoid Jayce's skills.

Just as Shen Qiao emerged from that pool of blood, Lu Zhe flung a web at him, in an attempt to pin him down. But Shen Qiao took advantage of his positioning behind Jayce, managing to dodge that attempt.

Jayce saw Shen Qiao getting close to him. He instantly turned tail and fled, but at that moment—

Kassadin from Shen Qiao's team teleported up from the middle lane and chased after Jayce, wanting to pick a fight.

Shen Qiao decided to give up on Jayce. He faced Elise and flung a full set of his skills at her, draining her blood until she had only a sliver of HP left. At the critical moment, when Elise drew near once more, Shen Qiao flung his Q in her direction.

Instantly, Elise became a corpse decorating the map.

Shen Qiao arched his brows and typed into the global chat—

[A Carrot Who Loves To Eat Rabbits (Vladimir): How could this gege be killed by his didi?]

Lu Zhe saw that message and breathed a laugh. After respawning, he moved back up into the top lane. Shen Qiao had taken down their outer tower and teamed up with Gragas to chase Jayce into the jungle. While they prepared to take on the Gromp, Elise appeared right next to them again.

Shen Qiao had just used up all his skills. His flash wasn't up, and his ult wasn't ready. He hastily called out in the voice chat, "Go, go, go, back, back, back."

[What's that I hear? Go? Back? Daddy Wolf, is that really you?]

[You can get the kill! He doesn't have his flash! Charge, charge, charge! Wolf Cub, isn't what what you said during the tournament~? LMAO.jpg]

[Seeing Elise is like seeing the devil for Wolf Cub right now, huh? lolololol]

Shen Qiao's teammate heard his call to retreat, but it was too late. Unfortunately, Elise threw out a web right away and stunned Gragas, who was instantly killed by the duo of Elise and Jayce. Only Shen Qiao managed to retreat safely to his own team's tower.

When Jayce saw that Shen Qiao was fleeing and that Lu Zhe was still there, he wanted to give chase.

By then, Shen Qiao's bottom lane teammates Caitlyn and Soraka had already quietly knocked down the outer tower on Lu Zhe's bottom lane.

Shen Qiao praised them for their beautiful work, then saw that Jayce was coming after him. He used his positioning and his Q to get Jayce down to low health, after which he kept Jayce on the ropes, targeting him whenever he came too close and otherwise targeting the tower.

Just as Shen Qiao brought down their outer tower on the top lane, Jayce came rushing in. He couldn't hold back any longer, it seemed. He charged in headlong, practically delivering his head to Shen Qiao's front door. Seeing this, Shen Qiao huffed a laugh and figured it would be just rude not to take a life that was offered up so freely.

After taking Jayce's head and starting to advance again, Shen Qiao's Vladimir dodged to the side at just the right time, deftly avoiding another web from Elise at the same time.

This time, Shen Qiao didn't let Elise get away either. He gave chase, intending to get another kill all by himself—

Then, suddenly, the red light of someone teleporting in appeared beside him.

It was Lu Zhe's middle laner, Syndra, coming out to help Lu Zhe take Shen Qiao down.

Unfortunately, Lu Zhe's skills were cooling down. He set a spiderling loose and tried to duck away, but in that instant, Shen Qiao managed to correctly predict his movements. He took the damage from the spiderling's explosion, then got the kill on Elise—after which his own HP was left dangerously low.

Just as Syndra prepared to wipe Shen Qiao out, Shen Qiao's Vladimir sank into his pool of blood once more. When he emerged, everyone thought Vladimir would flee. But he actually charged into battle against Syndra.

Shen Qiao had led his forces forward. Taking advantage of his positioning, he dodged Syndra's skills as much as possible while striking back with a flurry of his own Q skills. With one last Q—

The screen announced a triple kill.

[????????]

[WTF WAS THAT]

[Holy shit, what just happened? Can we review? Did that Vladimir just go 0-3 kills? 0-3 kills? 0-3 kills? How did he do that? How did he get so strong?]

[Am I drunk? I just went to the bathroom when Elise started chasing Vladimir, and after getting back, the situation is…?]

[I take back what I said earlier. Right now… seeing Vladimir must be like seeing the devil for Elise.]

[Captain Lu, quick question. Does it feel good to die by the hand of your own top laner?]

Shen Qiao killed Lu Zhe once more and grinned into the camera. But he didn't continue harassing Lu Zhe this time. Instead, he went into the middle lane to take down the outer tower there. Syndra was a little hesitant to draw closer when she saw him coming. As a result, Shen Qiao managed to brazenly bring down their tower right in front of her eyes.

Seeing that Shen Qiao's team was getting ready to push onwards to their inner tower, Lu Zhe and his team instantly gathered on the middle lane to engage in a team fight. Shen Qiao's ult was ready by then. Besides Lu Zhe, who ducked away, the other four champions on Lu Zhe's team were all clustered together too closely—Shen Qiao's ult instantly drained a third of the HP away from all four of them. Caitlyn intended to rush up to continue doling out damage—

But Jayce immediately opened an acceleration gate and rushed in to stop Caitlyn.

Ashe tanked Shen Qiao's damage and used her skills to slow him. Syndra hid behind her and chucked a few attacks at Shen Qiao when she had the chance. Shen Qiao was already spent in that bout. His team's Soraka didn't have her ult up in time to heal him, and he missed the split second's chance he had to go invulnerable.

He could only watch as Vladimir became a corpse.

Just as Shen Qiao died, Lu Zhe instantly jumped back into the fray and killed Soraka on the spot.

Gragas and Kassadin were so terrified by this display that they turned tail and fled.

Shen Qiao exhaled lightly. He went to change his gear, and heard his teammate Soraka saying in the voice chat, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Wolfy! I didn't hit my R in time…"

Calmly, Shen Qiao said, "It's okay. That was my mistake, I died too early. Don't worry, we're ahead of them for now."

Upon hearing him take the blame, his teammates felt even more guilty. Caitlyn also spoke up in the chat to say, "I misplaced my ult just now, and I moved up by way too far. That's why I died too early. It's my fault."

Shen Qiao smiled and said, "It's fine, really. You guys are all playing very well."

At just that time, Gragas meekly asked, "Daddy Wolf, the red buff in our jungle is back out. Would you like to eat it?"

[!!!]

[Dog Lu, look what you've done! You've forced your top laner to eat out of someone else's hand!]

[Wolf Cub, look at me! I'll give you red buffs and blue buffs and krugs! Everything in my jungle is yours! I'll even let you take my life if you want it! Wahhh, just look at me!]

[Wolfy, look at me, eat me, eat me~]

Shen Qiao politely thanked Gragas, then happily gobbled up the red buff. Afterwards, he went down to the bottom lane to attack the inner tower. With her long range, the enemy Ashe tried to throw her Q and R skills at Shen Qiao, but her attempts were all easily dodged by Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao hit the tower a few more times, then checked the map. After giving the tower another whack, he zipped in to kill Ashe while tanking the damage from the enemy tower.

Then he went back and patiently waited for his minions to bring down the tower.

His teammates asked, "Daddy Wolf, team fight?"

Shen Qiao checked their conditions and said, "Sure."

Very soon after that—

After being provoked by Shen Qiao, Lu Zhe rallied his teammates and clashed with Shen Qiao's team once more. Shen Qiao started out on the back line this time, avoiding all the skills that he could dodge. Then, after taking stock of the formation of Lu Zhe's team, he suddenly charged into the fray and unleashed his ult!

As soon as he used his ult, he instantly went into stasis without even thinking about it.

This well-timed invulnerability made the enemy Syndra waste her skills. Caitlyn from Shen Qiao's team took that opportunity to take down both Ashe and Syndra.

Lu Zhe wanted to cut into the back line to get at Shen Qiao, but he was intercepted by Gragas and Kassadin. At just that moment, when Shen Qiao's invulnerability was about to wear off, he said—

"Soraka. Give us an ult."

This time, Soraka calmly used her ult and healed up her whole team. Shen Qiao threw his Q at Lulu, then turned on his heel and launched an attack against Lu Zhe. Lu Zhe's fragile Elise instantly dropped to low health.

Kassadin had also taken a fair amount of damage in that fight, but he worked together with Gragas to take Elise's head. Shen Qiao, on the other hand, continued to chase Lulu back towards Lu Zhe's base, determined to take another kill for their team.

His teammates shouted at him through the voice chat, "For… forget it, Wolf Cub! We should let it go, right?"

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! Forget it, forget it, the tower is going to hurt you…"

"It's fine," Shen Qiao stated calmly and unhurriedly. As expected, he took Lulu's head as soon as he finished speaking, and he healed himself up by draining all that blood away. Even when the enemy tower struck him, his HP remained at a fairly healthy level.

Just then, Kassadin was slain right before he could kill Elise. But Elise went down too, leaving only Gragas, Soraka, Caitlyn, and Shen Qiao standing.

After knocking down Lu Zhe's base tower, Shen Qiao checked their situation. Only Jayce was still standing on Lu Zhe's side. Shen Qiao flashed a smile of satisfaction, which was picked up by his camera. His eyes seemed to glitter with stars as he excitedly called out—

"Push, push, push. Take their base."

Jayce saw Shen Qiao charging up. He knew that Shen Qiao had exhausted all his skills already, but he still didn't dare get too close. He could only try to interfere with them from a distance. Ultimately… he could only watch as Shen Qiao's team took out their inhibitors and started attacking their Nexus.

While targeting the Nexus, Shen Qiao typed out one last message into the global chat—

[A Carrot Who Loves To Eat Rabbits (Vladimir): Call me 'gege', and I won't blow up your Nexus.]

Almost instantaneously, Lu Zhe's response popped up—

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Elise): Gege~]

Shen Qiao's teammates were all baffled.

All the bullet comments in the stream—

[??????????]

[Captain Lu, you weren't like this a few minutes ago.]

[No. Wait. Where is your dignity as an alpha?]

Shen Qiao's teammates all hesitated for a moment before one asked, "Then… do we keep attacking, Wolf Cub?"

Shen Qiao looked at the word 'gege' on the screen, then righteously said, "Of course. I said I wouldn't attack. I didn't say you guys wouldn't attack."

His teammates jumped.

[Wolf Cub is so vindictive, hahahahaha!]

[This is the you that I love, Wolfy!]

[Argh! Please stop being so charming!]

Just as the energy of Shen Qiao's teammates and viewers reached a high, a string of big letters flashed across the screen—

VICTORY!

Shen Qiao thanked his teammates and wished them well. After disconnecting from the voice chat, he turned and looked at Lu Zhe from across the room.

Their eyes met in midair.

Shen Qiao raised his eyebrows, breathing out a silent laugh.

One match down.

Question.

Was a certain someone prepared to lie down?

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 82

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In the fan tournament streaming room—

Shen Qiao was sitting in a gaming chair, wearing his headphones. His camera was on, and his upper body was actually visible for once. It was rare for him to turn on his camera of his own volition during livestreams, so the chat quickly filled up with people shrieking and sending screen-licking emojis.

What got the fans even more worked up was that Shen Qiao was wearing an especially attractive silk shirt that day. It was half black and half blue, with a smattering of white that looked like ink splattered across the fabric, creating the shape of branches and leaves. The wild sort of pattern emphasized Shen Qiao's own wild temperament, while the high-quality material of the shirt made him look quite noble as well.

He had already logged in for the tournament, using an alt account provided by the team. All the champions were unlocked on that account, and of course Lu Zhe was offered the same conditions.

However…

[Wolf Cub, did you and Captain Lu get matching couple's IDs on purpose? One of you is called A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots and one of you is called A Carrot Who Loves To Eat Rabbits. You guys are a perfect set.]

[It's not just their IDs! I just came from Dog Lu's livestream, and he's wearing a flashy shirt like this too. Save me, why are you two showing off so much! Why do I have to eat dog food when I'm just trying to watch an esports player stream!]

[Just signed up for Old Wo and Er-Hua's tournament yesterday, that was fun. Now I'm here to mess with Dog Lu and Wolf Cub.]

[Wolf Cub! Husband! Good afternoon!]

[You up there, stand down. He's not your husband anymore. He's Dog Lu's husband!]

[Will you give us some fanservice if you win today? Like, maybe a kiss in front of the camera?]

Shen Qiao saw that the number of comments about him and Lu Zhe was growing steadily. He cleared his throat and interrupted, "The club gave us these accounts, and we just happened to buy the clothes at the same store. It isn't a couple outfit."

[Did you buy those rings from the same store too?]

[Did you buy those rings from the same store too? +1]

[Did you buy those rings from the same store too? +1284698]

Shen Qiao glanced over at Lu Zhe, who was sitting a fair distance away from him. Although today's tournament was just for fun, Manager Zhou had still arranged seats that would preserve the integrity of the game for them.

As a result, Shen Qiao couldn't see if Lu Zhe's fans were behaving the same way in his chat. He decided to just change the subject, saying, "We still have five minutes before the game starts. I'll play a song for you guys. What kind of music do you want to listen to?"

[If you sing it! We'll listen to any kind of music!]

[We like the music that's sung by you!]

Shen Qiao fell silent.

He turned a blind eye to those teasing comments and opened up his music player on his computer, putting on a song called 'faded'.

On the other side—

Lu Zhe smoothed out his bangs. A bright, carefree smile lit up his face as he picked out the comments from his chat that he could answer.

"Our clothes? We got them at the same store. I noticed he hadn't bought many clothes this season, and since we haven't had any tournament games on our schedule lately, I dragged him out to shop yesterday."

"The watch? Mm, it's a lovers' bridge. Who's it from? A lovers' bridge watch can only be from a lover, right? Do you even need to ask? As for who that 'lover' is, I'm the only one who needs to know. Why should I tell you?"

"Oh, he's playing music in his stream? Which one of you bullied him again, hm? If you have any questions, come ask me. Don't tease him so much. If you guys rile him up, it's me who has to comfort him later, isn't it?"

Lu Zhe answered these questions with his hands folded on his desk. His smile never wavered, giving him an exceptionally beautiful expression. Even the casual fans who just happened upon his stream were captivated, reluctant to leave. They all gazed at his face for a long while.

[Blech, you back off, I'll comfort him!]

[??????? Dog Lu, can you show at least a tiny bit of shame?]

[Thanks for your concern, but there's no need for it. If Wolf Cub comes into my arms, I guarantee I'll do a better job of comforting him than you.]

[I don't know why I feel like I'm watching someone show off.]

[Be good and tell us exactly how far you two have gotten!]

Lu Zhe was just about to answer that last comment when Manager Zhou came over and whispered to him that they could start the first game now. At that, Lu Zhe cut over to the game where he saw participants randomly being assigned to his team.

To the viewers in the bullet comments, he simply said, "The match is starting. We'll chat more later."

……

A female fan was the first to be assigned to Shen Qiao's team.

"Wolf Cub, Wolf Cub, I finally got matched up with you! Good afternoon!" Her voice was exceptionally sweet. Everyone in the bullet comments started guessing whether she was an alpha, beta, or omega.

Although Shen Qiao typically showed a rather passive expression during his streams, he was usually very cordial with enthusiastic fans. He politely answered, "Good afternoon."

That fan let out a delighted wail.

The second member of Shen Qiao's team was another woman who happily greeted, "Hello, Wolfy! I love your style of play, and I've been your fan since you played for BLX! Good luck at the world championships this year! Oh, right, and I'm already married with kids, so sisters in the comments don't worry, I'm not here to steal your god from you!"

With a bit of a smile in his eyes, Shen Qiao responded, "Thank you for following me and for your support. Here's to a happy family life for you."

[Ahhhhhh, boo! I want to talk to Wolf Cub too, bwahhhhhh!]

[I'm jealous I'm jealous I'm jealous]

[Does someone want to get a group together to check on Dog Lu?]

The fans in the bullet comments continued to voice their envy of the fans who got to play with Shen Qiao.

The third fan to join Shen Qiao's team was a male fan, and his voice through his mic was fully charged with his excitement. "Daddy Wolf! I love you! I love you, I want to have your babies, do you know that?!"

Faced with such an unexpected outburst of enthusiasm, Shen Qiao froze for a moment, with a few measures of shock flashing across his face. After a few seconds, he said, "Thank you for your love, but babies… aren't necessary."

[Hahahahahahahahaha!]

[His expression right now: wtf did I just hear?]

[Holy shit, is Wolf Cub shy or something? Oh my god, I want to whisper in his ear a thousand times, I love you, I want to have your babies. He'll definitely blow up with shyness!]

[I love you too, Wolf Cub! Look at me!]

The fourth teammate assigned to Shen Qiao had a masculine, upbeat voice full of positivity and sunshine. This fan sounded a bit shy as he greeted, "Daddy Wolf, I've liked you for a long time! I'm here to ask on behalf of all your omega fans—do we still have a chance?"

Shen Qiao was silent.

This again?

Again?

He licked his lips and resisted the urge to look over at Lu Zhe. His gaze did shift slightly before he finally answered, "Sorry."

After a beat, he added, "I already have someone I like."

The omega fan instantly answered, "That's okay! I'll still support you, always!"

Luckily, these fans knew that this game would be streamed to tens of thousands of viewers. No one said anything particularly egregious. When Shen Qiao started up the game, the five of them began to discuss their plan of attack.

Shen Qiao was the first to ask, "I… what position do you want me to play?"

Since this was a fan appreciation tournament, the main point wasn't to win or lose. It was just to let the fans feel the joy of playing with professional players. So Shen Qiao didn't take things too seriously. As long as his teammates were happy, he could play anything. He would even play support.

But his fans didn't agree—

Right away, they uniformly answered, "Top lane!"

"Of course the top lane, Wolf Cub!"

"We want to see your Vladimir in the top lane!"

Shen Qiao still double-checked, "Lu Zhe will probably be in the jungle on the other side. Are you sure you want me in the top lane?"

"It's okay, don't be afraid, I'll help you counter-gank!" the fan who wanted to play jungler reassured him.

Shen Qiao laughed, as if he really had been comforted. "I'm not afraid. I'm not that easily ganked, anyway. Let him come at me."

While they chatted, Shen Qiao's teammates chose which champions they wanted to ban. Since this was just a game for fun, they didn't think much about strategy and simply banned the champions they personally didn't like playing against—

Shen Qiao's team wound up banning Nautilus, Miss Fortune, and Ezreal.

Lu Zhe's side banned Yuumi, Riven, and Ornn.

After one of Shen Qiao's teammates took Caitlyn, another teammate asked, "Wolf Cub, I only know how to play Soraka. Is that okay?"

"Sure," Shen Qiao said. "Pick whoever you want, whoever you like to play."

"Daddy Wolf's meaning is that we can pick whoever we want, and he'll carry us! Right?" one of his teammates asked with a giggle.

Shen Qiao smiled with his eyes again. He earnestly answered, "If Lu Zhe weren't on the other side, I would be able to carry you anywhere."

……

The two lineups were set.

Shen Qiao's team would be running Vladimir, Gragas, Kassadin, Caitlyn, and Soraka.

This lineup was full of glass cannons, without any tanks that could take a lot of damage. It was a lineup that clearly said, Come at us, you dogs. This is a day where I'll kill you or die trying.

On the other side, Lu Zhe's team had chosen Jayce, Elise, Syndra, Ashe, and Lulu.

As soon as that lineup came out, a cold snap cracked through the voice chat of Shen Qiao's team.

"Wait… you guys didn't ban Lu Zhe's Elise?"

"Forgot."

"Forgot…"

"We only thought about making sure Wolf Cub got Vladimir, wahhh!"

Shen Qiao hurriedly reassured, "It's fine. Elise is fragile. Don't panic."

However, after entering the rift—

Three messages popped up in the global chat channel.

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Elise): I heard there's someone who thinks I'm fragile?]

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Elise): Please pay close attention to the fragile little me. I'll be going up to the top lane to gank. ^v^]

[A Rabbit Who Loves To Eat Carrots (Elise): The one who dies first will have to be good and play the part of my didi.]

 

Author's Notes:

Elise and Vladimir, the spider and the vampire, two fragile glass cannons… how will this faceoff turn out?

I want to go play in the fan tournament with Qiaoqiao too! I want to beat Dog Lu!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 81

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"Our heartiest congratulations to DG! They've successfully defeated BIG, and now they've won over COCO as well! That settles it! Our three teams for the world championships are set—they are BLX, WTG, and last year's world champions Team DG!"

In the Hua City stadium—

The DG fans in the audience cheered loudly enough to shake mountains. They waved their banners so excitedly that they practically started tearing them apart. On stage, the players from COCO exchanged hugs before gloomily gathering up their peripherals to start heading offstage. Their coach patted each of them on the shoulder as they passed, whispering words of encouragement in their ears.

DG's side wasn't overjoyed either.

For one thing, they were the reigning world champions. When they took the title last year, the reaction from their domestic fans was even wilder than the reaction they were receiving now. After all, that was the LPL's first world championship trophy—the entire domestic esports industry could be overjoyed for them. All those who had failed to bring home the world championship title for the LPL in the past could cheer DG on, for making their dreams come true.

For another thing…

They were last year's champions. They should have ridden that momentum into this season, but even as the former kings, they were reduced to struggling for the third spot in this year's qualifying tournaments. That was nothing to celebrate. In fact, they could only sigh over their struggles.

If DG had lost today's match against COCO, they would have been the ones who were left crushed and dispirited.

Sometimes, a team's true strength couldn't be gauged by one or two games. After all, many factors went into determining a victory—such as the state of the players, the team comp, the tactics. Players and coaches all worked together to achieve each win.

Of course, fans primarily gauged a team's strength solely by whether they won or lost. Winners were strong. Even if they used bewildering tactics or champions, they were awesome as long as they won.

Now—

Only those who played on the field knew COCO's true strength. Even though they lost and regrettably missed out on qualifying for the world championship that year, their standing in the hearts of DG's players was clear.

Team COCO had been a worthy adversary.

……

After the match, it was Qian Bao's turn to be interviewed.

Lu Zhe and the others waited backstage.

Shen Qiao lowered his head to check his messages. He had already received a few from his old teammates on BLX, who'd all watched the match DG had just played against COCO.

From Lele—

Qiao-ge, congratulations to you all! We'll see you at worlds! See you in Europe! Hahahaha!

Under that message, there was also a string of reaction memes and gifs. Some were of fireworks, some were of little characters dancing around in excitement. All sorts of celebratory images were there.

A smile reached Shen Qiao's eyes as he scrolled through them. Once he got to the bottom, he replied, See you in Europe.

The location for that year's world championship tournament had already been decided. As one of the strongest leagues, the LPL would only need to turn up starting in the group stage. Before that, a few other wildcard teams would still need to battle it out to earn their spot at worlds.

Just as Shen Qiao finished sending off that message, Lu Zhe came over to his side with the light scent of cedarwood emanating from his body. "Manager Zhou just told me there's a casual fan tournament going on next week. He'd like us both to participate, as a treat for our fans."

Shen Qiao put away his phone and froze for a second, thinking of the various fan tournaments he'd seen in the past. "Online or offline?"

Lu Zhe thought about it for a moment. "It should be online, I think. Offline is too much trouble. You'd have to take venue security into consideration. Online is more convenient, and fans can still get together and have fun."

Old Wo had been sipping at his red date and goji berry water, but his ears were very sharp. He heard this right away and instantly asked, "What kind of tournament? Which streaming platform are you collaborating with? Are you two going to be a team?"

His voice was loud, and he instantly drew the attention of the rest of their teammates. Lu Zhe looked at them and decided to explain the situation to them as well. Afterwards, he added, "You can sign up as well. The more people the better, for Manager Zhou. That way, more fans will sign up as well."

After hearing all that, Old Wo instantly waved a hand. "No, no, no. I refuse to work overtime. Just fulfilling my monthly streaming hours is tiring enough."

Er-Hua calmly answered, "I want to sign up."

Then he looked over at Old Wo and added, "Old Wo has to sign up too. I want to apply to be on the team facing off against him. I'm tired of playing support for him day in and day out. I want to be the AD."

Old Wo was speechless.

He gave Er-Hua an incredulous look. "What am I doing wrong to make you suffer so much? You just say it and I'll change. I'll end myself if I don't change."

"How about we do a 1v1 tonight first?" Er-Hua suggested.

Old Wo laughed curtly. "Exactly what I was thinking."

The bottom lane duo started up their daily ritual of dissing each other. Meanwhile, Zheng Zhizhuo looked at Shen Qiao, then brushed his nose and turned to Lu Zhe to whisper, "Captain, can I participate as a fan?"

Lu Zhe smiled and answered, "Sure. If you sign up and get assigned to Qiaoqiao's team, I won't have a problem with it."

Zheng Zhizhuo carefully thought about how many fans Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao had, then silently calculated the probability of randomly being assigned to a team with a bunch of Shen Qiao's fangirls. In the end, his expression grew a little gloomy.

Shen Qiao, however, didn't seem to understand at all. He looked at Zheng Zhizhuo with confusion and asked, "What's the point of joining in as a fan? If you want to play with me, I'll see you in the rift tonight."

Zheng Zhizhuo froze for a few seconds before his eyes suddenly lit up again!

Lu Zhe watched as this little fan fawned over his idol. He couldn't help but laugh. Once Qian Bao returned, the team got together and agreed on a course of action—

They would hold a two-day fan tournament.

On the first day, Old Wo and Er-Hua would each lead a team and play for four hours.

On the second day, Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe would each lead a team.

……

On the road home—

Lu Zhe nudged Shen Qiao with his shoulder, but didn't say anything. He just waved his phone a little, gesturing for Shen Qiao to take a look at his own phone.

Shen Qiao gave him a suspicious look, thinking that Lu Zhe was trying to show him some shameful R18 content again.

However, when he checked his messages, he found a very simple question—

Remember the 1v1 you owe me from before? How about we bet that on the fan tournament instead?

Shen Qiao stared at the screen for a moment.

He gave it some thought, then asked Lu Zhe, "Are there any ranking requirements for fans who sign up for the tournament?"

"Nope. It's more exciting that way, isn't it?" Lu Zhe said. "Who knows, you might get legendary players while I get stuck with bronze-rank players."

In other words…

The two of them could only guarantee their own skill. Not the skill levels of their teammates. It was very likely that one of them would get stuck in a situation where they had to carry their four teammates.

Shen Qiao smiled and shook his head. This guy really… didn't miss out on any opportunity to engage in an 'adult' life.

Now that the summer tournament was over, and the world championship had yet to begin, it was true that they could let loose and relax a bit—

Shen Qiao slowly sent back two messages.

Okay.

Whoever loses will be a good boy and lie down.

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 80

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That night, in various supertopics on Weibo—

A photo of Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao hugging on stage was circulated rapidly by their fans. All their shippers, regardless of which ship name and 'configuration' they supported, came together to celebrate the onslaught of delicious content.

[My ship is thriving, my ship is thriving! Why am I so happy even though DG only came in third?]

[Someone tell me RIGHT NOW where they got their rings!]

[Don't you think silver and gold are very deliberate color choices? If I remember correctly, neither Shen Qiao nor Lu Zhe were in the habit of wearing rings before Shen Qiao joined DG. Why are they suddenly wearing such fancy ones?! If you extrapolate from there, that means they probably got married! And if you extrapolate some more, that means they're probably sleeping together! Tell me I'm not the only one who thinks this!]

[Dog Lu and Wolf Cub are together, they're really together! Look very, very closely at this photo. First of all, they're two alphas hugging each other. Let's not even get into how much alphas tend to repel each other with their pheromones. Next! The rings they're wearing! And that's not all! Lu Zhe's watch! Everyone look at Lu Zhe's watch! This is the lovers' bridge VCA watch, isn't it?!]

[Ahhhhhh, I don't care, I don't care, I don't care anyone! I officially announce today as the day that WolfDog becomes official!]

[Are you all crazy up there? This is LuShen territory. All you WolfDog fans, please remove yourself from the premises, thank you. Our ship is not reversible!]

……

After the shippers partied like it was New Year's Eve, they quickly split up into clear-cut factions once more—arguing over who topped and bottomed between Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao.

Lu Zhe casually downloaded a few R18 LuShen fanworks while he joined his teammates in the training room to watch the livestream of the finals between BLX and WTG. He brushed his fingers across the screen of his phone and sent those downloads along to Shen Qiao as well.

Shen Qiao was sitting right next to him, watching a fight unfold between BLX's top laner Xu Xiao and WTG's top laner. Meanwhile Zheng Zhizhuo was sitting on Shen Qiao's other side, raptly watching the stream and whispering, "Ward, ward, ward, the jungler is coming to gank…"

Shen Qiao heard Zheng Zhizhuo's mutterings. He tilted his head and, while keeping his eyes on the screen, explained what he knew about Xu Xiao's style of play. "He knows the jungler is coming, but he wants to take down the enemy Renekton while he can."

As soon as he finished saying that, Shen Qiao felt his own phone vibrate.

He looked down and found that it was a message from Lu Zhe, with a few text files that bore rather strange names.

Before opening the first text file attached to Lu Zhe's message, Shen Qiao turned and looked at Lu Zhe, wondering exactly what Lu Zhe had just sent him. But Lu Zhe was already talking to Coach Fang, on his other side; he didn't notice Shen Qiao's gaze.

Shen Qiao could only lower his head and click open the text file. Before opening it up, he assumed Lu Zhe had organized his thoughts on the game and wanted to share that with Shen Qiao. But as a result, once he opened the document—

The article began with a few lines marked out by asterisks.

This story is not real! Not real! Purely for entertainment, do not take it as reality!

CP: Lu Zhe x Shen Qiao (R18 content! Minors, begone!)

Various settings and scenes—kitchen, bathroom, training room. Don't like, don't read!

Shen Qiao stared.

He expressionlessly turned off the screen of his phone. The air around his whole body seemed to grow chilly.

Zheng Zhizhuo, after witnessing BLX's Xu Xiao single-handedly take down WTG's top laner, heaved a mournful sigh for WTG's player. He was just about to turn to Shen Qiao again to discuss WTG's performance in that bout, when he suddenly noticed Shen Qiao's expression had darkened.

He couldn't help but call out, "Wolfy-ge?"

Shen Qiao managed to resist the urge to bash his phone against Lu Zhe's skull a few times. He took a deep, long breath and calmed himself down. He muttered to Zheng Zhizhuo that nothing was wrong, then got up to pour himself a cup of water, switching his seat when he returned.

Lu Zhe and the coach were still talking. BLX managed to storm WTG's base, and now—

The score between the two teams was 2-2.

Both sides were at match point.

When BLX dealt the finishing blow to WTG's base, Lu Zhe turned with the intent of discussing that final team fight with Shen Qiao. But when he turned, he found that Shen Qiao had put a mile of distance between them. He'd squeezed in between Zheng Zhizhuo, Zhao Yue, and Old Wo… and he was refusing to even look Lu Zhe's way.

The two teams on the screen retired to their respective rest areas for a break. Lu Zhe fixed his heated gaze on Shen Qiao, but that wasn't all he did to beckon Shen Qiao back to his side. He let his cedarwood-scented pheromones out as well. The scent that diffused through the air was so noticeable that Old Wo, Qian Bao, and Er-Hua all looked over at Lu Zhe. It would have been a challenge for Shen Qiao to continue pretending not to notice anything.

"Captain?"

"May we please inquire as to why our captain is suddenly feeling rambunctious while watching a game?"

"Restrain yourself, restrain yourself. I'm afraid our neighbors will come knocking down our door to complain about the alpha pheromones leaking out from here."

They all cracked exaggerated jokes about Lu Zhe's display of pheromones, though in truth Lu Zhe's pheromones weren't really drifting towards them. It was just that alphas all had sensitive noses. They could detect the scent of Lu Zhe's pheromones even though Lu Zhe was aiming them at Shen Qiao.

But Lu Zhe was shameless, and he instantly retorted to Old Wo, "It's not like I'm being 'rambunctious' at you."

After saying that, he patted the spot on the couch next to him and smiled towards Shen Qiao. "Come here. What are you doing all the way over there? It's not like I'm going to eat you."

Shen Qiao scoffed coldly. He folded his hands under his chin and kept his gaze fixed on the commercials playing on the screen. He would rather listen to these mindless ads than give Lu Zhe any attention.

Lu Zhe smiled at him with mirth twinkling in his eyes. He knew that Shen Qiao must have already looked at the 'documents' he'd sent over, so he didn't continue teasing Shen Qiao out loud. Instead, he only reached for his phone and sent over a message—

How far did you read?

Shen Qiao glanced at his phone, which he'd set down on the table. When he saw the contents of that message, he simply rolled his eyes and muted his phone before flipping it over and placing it facedown on the table.

Old Wo took in their interactions and chuckled over this new bit of drama.

"Are you guys fighting?" he asked. "Captain Lu needs a beating. Hurry up and give it to him."

"Seconded," Qian Bao added.

From the sidelines, Er-Hua watched his two teammates stick their noses into Lu Zhe's business. He sighed and shook his head. "Be noisier, be noisier. Keep this up and Captain Lu is the one who'll give you a beating."

DG's players joked and bantered with each other until the fifth round of the finals started to play on the screen. This was the game that would determine the winner of the LPL's summer tournament, as well as the first seeded team that the LPL would send to the world championship.

Everyone quieted down and turned their full attention to the big screen.

……

WTG and BLX both came prepared.

During the picks and bans phase, both sides played it safe and made very conventional, by-the-book choices. Neither team's coaches chose any outrageous champions. If they won, such choices would have been fine, but if they lost, their fans would curse them all into early graves.

Both sides created a lineup that could take and dish damage.

BLX seemed like they wanted to play a more cautious game, but unfortunately—WTG came at them right away. When everyone was still at Level 1, WTG invaded BLX's jungle and started up a Level 1 team fight in the bottom lane.

Mo Mo and Lele were both given a scare. Luckily, they had plenty of experience with all sorts of storms and challenges. As soon as they saw WTG lurking in the underbrush nearby, they signaled their team for reinforcements. If they hadn't been quick enough, they would have come out of that battle at a loss.

In the first ten minutes of the game, Xu Xiao blew past his opponent in creep score.

During that time, WTG's jungler went up to try to gank him, but ultimately failed to get the kill.

Meanwhile, BLX's jungler repeatedly visited the bottom lane to help his teammates power up as quickly as possible. Mo Mo was playing Ezreal while Lele played Yuumi. They kept WTG at bay and built up an advantage before long.

After that…

WTG began to aggressively farm in the jungle. They forced BLX into a team fight outside a dragon pit, trying to snatch the advantage back for themselves.

The fierce match went on for thirty-eight minutes. The intense back-and-forth between the two teams kept all spectators on the edges of their seats. Finally, WTG was pushed back to their base by BLX, but WTG all respawned and came out with new gear, fighting back with all their strength—

BLX's Mo Mo perished in that battle, leaving Yuumi to tag along with their middle laner. WTG barreled past BLX's assault, pushing them back and directing the action away from their base, leaving only their support behind to defend.

Just as WTG was about to regroup and flip the tables on BLX, a bright red bolt of light suddenly appeared next to WTG's base. The commentators' hoarse voices excitedly rang out—

"WTG has killed off four of BLX's champions! BLX only has their top laner Xu Xiao left! He's teleported in! He's teleported directly to WTG's base! Right now, WTG only has their support guarding their base, and their Nexus is at half health!"

"Xu Xiao is behind the Nexus! The support can't stop him! He's targeting the Nexus! WTG is coming back now, but it's too late, it's—"

"Ahhhhhh, congratulations to BLX for their successful assault! Our summer tournament champion has been decided! The former kings are back on top! Let's congratulate this year's summer champions once more—BLX!"

……

As the crowd roared at the stadium, the group watching the stream at DG's base also leapt to their feet.

"Holy shit, in those final moments… Xu Xiao really did good work."

"WTG didn't keep enough people at their base. That support couldn't have stopped Xu Xiao alone."

"That play… was way too sick."

Amidst that wave of excited chatter, Lu Zhe suddenly said, "BLX will be the first seed, and based on the cumulative scores between the spring and summer tournaments, WTG will definitely be the second seed for the world championships. In that case, our opponents in the fight for the third spot… will be COCO and BIG."

The other players instantly reacted—

"Wow, these two teams again?" Old Wo said. "If we slaughter them one more time, will they suffer some lasting psychological damage?"

Er-Hua calmly took a sip of water. "Between them suffering psychological damage and us suffering the regret of missing out on worlds, I choose the former."

Qian Bao rubbed her hands, eager for action. "I like how this is playing out."

Shen Qiao took out his phone and sent a 'congratulations' to Mo Mo and Lele, his old teammates. Then he put his phone away and said, "The rest is up to us."

Lu Zhe looked at him. After a long moment, he sincerely answered, "Yes. This summer will be over very soon."

If their team could successfully win a spot at worlds, then the future would be bright—both for their team, and for him and Shen Qiao.

They could look forward to playing in the world championship tournament.

They could also look forward to…

Deepening and strengthening the understanding between them.

To Lu Zhe, in his mature view of the world, he wanted it all—the championship title and Shen Qiao. He wouldn't miss out on a single thing.

 

Author's Notes:

Hehehe.

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 79

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Shen Qiao lifted a hand and rubbed at the nape of his neck. He looked over at Lu Zhe, and his voice was a little less self-righteous than usual when he took off his headset and said—

"We won, didn't we?"

DG had had more champions up and ready for battle, and the enemy DPS champion's flash was on cooldown. COCO hadn't been running any champions like Ezreal, and they didn't have any formidable, large-scale AOE moves. Under those circumstances, who in the rift could have resisted such a perfect opportunity?

Besides, DG had already pushed their way up to COCO's base by then.

Lu Zhe smiled as he watched Shen Qiao get out of his seat. He picked up his own jacket, which he'd draped over his chair earlier, and started heading back to the rest area with Old Wo and the others.

"That's right, we won. It's all thanks for our Qiaoqiao, seizing the day."

Shen Qiao swept his tongue over his lower lip. He could tell that Lu Zhe was teasing him, but he couldn't help arguing, "That really was a good opportunity."

Lu Zhe had teased him enough now. He nodded earnestly and said, "You're right, we could have won that fight, and we did. I was just taking their respawn times into consideration, and Baron Nashor had already spawned, so I figured we could play it safe. Taking them on directly was fine too, it just meant we had a smaller margin for error.

"Luckily, our top, middle, and bottom laners aren't prone to making mistakes. Even by taking them on right away, our chances of victory were high."

Shen Qiao lifted his brows at that. When he walked into the rest area with Lu Zhe and heard him praise every member of their team, while leaving himself out, he looked over and asked, "Did you do that on purpose?"

"Hm?" Lu Zhe hummed.

Shen Qiao loosely crossed his arms and gave Lu Zhe a once-over. "You're deliberately pretending to be humble, and just waiting for me to praise you. Is that right?"

Lu Zhe crinkled the corners of his eyes and asked, "Then are you going to praise me?"

Shen Qiao had no interest in entertaining him. He tried to move past Lu Zhe to get to the couch, but Lu Zhe blocked him at every turn. If Shen Qiao moved right, Lu Zhe blocked right. If Shen Qiao moved left, Lu Zhe blocked left.

Ultimately, it was Manager Zhou who sighed and said, "How childish are the two of you?"

Shen Qiao lifted his chin and pushed those words off on Lu Zhe. "You hear that? You're childish."

Lu Zhe laughed so hard that his shoulders shook, faintly. The jacket he'd draped over the chair earlier was draped over his shoulders now. The fabric was lightweight enough that the sleeves swayed in the air, as though carried by a breeze.

His eyes crinkled into crescents, and his smile grew brighter and wider as well. He teasingly complained, "Why is it so hard to get you to praise me?"

After saying that, Lu Zhe remembered something else. He didn't spend any more time pulling Shen Qiao's pigtails like they were flirty schoolkids. Instead, he turned to Zheng Zhizhuo, who was sitting nearby and watching their interactions.

"Today's plan is for us to each play one round," Lu Zhe said as he moved over to Zheng Zhizhuo. "I went on for the second round, so you're up next."

Zheng Zhizhuo froze. He was sitting down, so he had to look far, far up to meet Lu Zhe's eyes. He lifted his head with a hesitant smile and said to Lu Zhe, "It'll be match point next, right? It's better for the captain to go on after all. This is the captain's first appearance after his recovery. If he goes out there and brings us a 3-0 victory, it'll be a huge morale boost for everyone."

After saying that, Zheng Zhizhuo shyly added, "But if I get the chance, I'd love to play a few rounds at the world championship."

Lu Zhe knew what he really meant. His eyes softened. Zheng Zhizhuo was a really good kid. Off the field, he was the type who always knew how to look after his teammates. On the field, when he really got going, he was the type that anyone and everyone liked to work with.

Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue were still young. They had many seasons left to play. Lu Zhe was happy to see these newcomers play for DG. Even if Zheng Zhizhuo went to another LPL team in the future, Lu Zhe was sure he would make a name for himself.

"If we make it to worlds—" Lu Zhe smiled. "—the coaching team will definitely let you play."

Zheng Zhizhuo's smile grew even brighter.

……

"Welcome back to the LPL's summer tournament! We're now entering the third game of our best-of-five! DG has taken the first two wins, and they've brought us to match point. COCO must be very nervous right now. We're all waiting to see what kind of team comp their coaches will bring out for this one—"

As the voices of the commentators rang out through the stadium, the players of COCO and DG took the stage again. Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao returned to their seats. As soon as he put on his headset, Lu Zhe voiced a question—

"I've noticed you practicing with all sorts of champions recently. In today's deciding game, is there a special hero you'd like to play?"

When Qian Bao and the others heard this question, they all turned to look at Shen Qiao.

They'd all been playing together for a while now, but in the picks and bans stage, they mostly all went along with Coach Fang's suggestions. The other players of DG had never seen Shen Qiao show a special interest in any champion in particular.

In their typical training sessions, Shen Qiao would often train with random champions in ARAM mode, and he would practice with the champions chosen for him by Coach Fang when queueing up for games. When the team thought about it now, they really had no idea which champions their top laner preferred.

Shen Qiao glanced at Lu Zhe. His eyes were bright with a slight smile, and he asked, "Do you really want to know?"

Lu Zhe was silent, but curious.

Shen Qiao followed the instructions he received from Coach Fang and banned Pantheon. As he did so, he unhurriedly answered, "I want to play Ezreal in the top lane."

Lu Zhe thought about that fragile little Ezreal, with viable skills but pretty much nothing else. His mana consumption was also quite high. In the early stages of the game, he was the type to die off easily.

After thinking for a few seconds, Lu Zhe asked, "Anyone else?"

"Nautilus? Kai'Sa? Twitch?" Shen Qiao casually listed out.

This time, before Lu Zhe could even answer, Coach Fang stated, "As long as I'm here, don't even think about pulling out this sort of outrageous lineup."

Old Wo laughed and recited a popular saying. "A top-lane AD is sure to make your parents weep."

Lu Zhe breathed a low laugh into the headset as well. Then he said, "Alright. After today's game, I'll queue up with you tonight, and you can try Ezreal in the top lane. But I'll tell you now—don't blame me if we lose."

The top lane was on the outskirts of the rift. Playing an extremely fragile champion there was difficult. Even if that fragile champion had the benefit of a long range, which would help against the enemy champions and minions, being ganked was too much of a threat. Upon being targeted, these brittle champions tended to die on the spot.

Besides, the top lane champion was supposed to be one with a nice balance between damage output potential and tankiness. The middle lane was often dedicated to an AP champion, while a glass cannon was played on the bottom lane as the ADC. If a glass cannon was played on the top lane as well, then there was a good chance that the team as a whole wouldn't be able to tank the opposing team's damage.

Of course, LoL did a great job of balancing its champions. Each champion had their own unique characteristics and strengths, which varied from version to version. It certainly wasn't impossible for Shen Qiao to win with a glass cannon in the top lane, but in order to make that work—

He needed a jungler who practically lived on the top lane, the type that never strayed. But playing like that… made the chances of defeat much higher.

When Lu Zhe offered that compromise, it was more or less the same as shoving a handful of dog food down his teammates' throats.

For some reason, perhaps because they were truly enraged by the grotesque amounts of dog food they'd been fed as of late, DG's players were all chomping at the bit during that round. They took every opportunity to drag the other team into a team fight. Just eight minutes into the game, a brawl broke out on the bottom lane, in which DG and COCO each took two lives.

After that team fight, they went on to fight a dragon. After that dragon, it was the Rift Herald. After the Herald, it was Baron Nashor.

COCO had no chance to snowball their way to an advantage in this round. They were completely swept away by the intense rhythm DG set. DG gained a huge advantage throughout the round, and at the twenty-nine minute mark—COCO's base was blown to bits.

A huge cheer roared through the crowd!

"Ahhhhhhhhh!"

"DG! DG! DG! DG!"

"Wahhhhh, they won, they won!"

This was clearly only a third-place ranking match, but DG's clean sweep and Lu Zhe's performance told their fans one thing—they could still believe in DG.

Even the commentators were shouting themselves hoarse.

"Twenty-nine minutes! Twenty-nine minutes! COCO had no chance to fight back! The DG we know and love is back!"

"Congratulations to DG for placing third in the summer tournament!"

"Although they didn't qualify for the finals of the summer tournament, with the current standings in the league, DG can definitely make it into the tournament for the third spot for the world championships. Now we just have to wait and see who they'll play against…"

"Then, can we start to look forward to a performance at worlds that'll rival what we saw last year?"

……

On stage—

Shen Qiao took off his headset and looked over at Lu Zhe while fireworks sprayed out from the edges of the stage.

Lu Zhe had already stood up to wait for him. When he saw Shen Qiao's calm demeanor, he suddenly remembered the way Shen Qiao had given Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue each a high-five when they first won their own games.

So he also lifted his hand.

Shen Qiao had originally been very composed. But when he saw this gesture from Lu Zhe, he couldn't help but stand up right away. He moved closer and reached up. A pair of rings, one gold and one silver, glinted in the light as their palms met.

At just that moment, Lu Zhe suddenly gripped Shen Qiao's hand and pulled him closer—

Shen Qiao stumbled forward two steps with the force of that tug, drawing closer to Lu Zhe's side.

The scent of cedarwood wrapped him up.

In that instant, Shen Qiao's shoulder brushed Lu Zhe's chest, and the man's lips brushed his ear.

"I'll give you this bronze trophy for now," Lu Zhe whispered softly. "We'll take it one step at a time. Next time, we'll do even better."

Lu Zhe only hugged him lightly before releasing him, but this display had been captured perfectly by the cameras. The fans in the stadium were screaming incessantly.

Their rings were silver and gold, and the confetti littering the stage was silver and gold as well. When the lights rained down on them, it was as though all the radiance in the world was centered around the two of them.

But the two men at the center of all this light were completely oblivious to their surroundings. They were lost in each other's eyes.

Hearing Lu Zhe's words, Shen Qiao smiled even wider. "So confident?"

Without waiting for Lu Zhe to answer, he continued, "As expected of last year's FMVP. You're in a league of your own."

Lu Zhe seemed to detect some hidden meaning in those words. He suddenly asked, "Are you praising me?"

Shen Qiao shook his head. "No. I'm just stating the truth."

Lu Zhe was just about to silently mark down two instances where Shen Qiao neglected to praise him today, when he suddenly heard Shen Qiao speak again.

"Whether we do better or not, you'll always be the most outstanding player in my heart," Shen Qiao said. "To me, you'll always be the FMVP—"

His eyes were glittering, his smile was brilliant, and the image of Lu Zhe was reflected in his pupils.

Unhurriedly, he finished—

"That's my praise, for you."

 

Author's Notes:

FMVP: Most valuable player of the finals. It can be considered the highest honor in the LPL~

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 78

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"DG is putting on quite a cunning show today. Previously, due to Lu Zhe's injury, they could only field the junglers from their second-string team. Now, these second-string players have also become quite formidable. With Lu Zhe back in play, will DG be using their jungler as a wildcard slot?"

"Seems like they want to keep you guessing when it comes to their jungler today."

At BLX's headquarters—

Mo Mo and the others were watching the match between DG and COCO with their coaches. When he saw that Zhao Yue had been replaced by Lu Zhe after playing so well in the first round, Mo Mo couldn't help but swear.

Lu Zhe, Zheng Zhizhuo, and Zhao Yue all had their different strengths, but it was undeniable that Lu Zhe's skill was still at a higher level. His awareness of the field, his ability to control the jungle, and his previous experience in tournaments all gave him an edge. But anyone could see that, in time, Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue would become permanent fixtures in the next generation of Team DG.

Some teams only made a fleeting impact upon the history of the league. They inspired hope in many fans, but ultimately couldn't carry on at their original strength. Due to a lack of young talent, these teams faded away, only to be mentioned once in a while by nostalgic fans.

DG's ability to sharpen Zheng Zhizhuo and Zhao Yue in such a short span of time really proved one old adage—

When one door closes, another opens.

"They'll ban Elise," Lele blurted out as the game they were watching entered the picks and bans stage. As expected, the blue team COCO swiftly banned Elise right away.

Truth be told, Elise was a champion with very strong support and ganking capabilities, but she was way too fragile. In the late stages of any game, she could basically only throw out a skill, then wait to die.

So why was it that everyone instinctively used their first ban on Elise, after Lu Zhe showed what he could do with her?

The reason was simple. Last year at the world championships, Lu Zhe had used Elise to completely dismantle a European team that had been hopefuls for the finals—all within the first fifteen minutes of their game.

To the LPL, that game from the world championship tournament was evidence of the power of the top teams in the LPL. But to DG's opponent, it was simply an embarrassing defeat.

Although coaches and players were all cautious to keep Elise from developing too well in the early stages of a game…

What if they were unfortunate enough to be decimated by her at the start of a round? What then?

So, in the end, it was better to send her straight to the ban list.

……

The line-ups for the second round gradually started to take shape.

DG chose Jayce, Lee Sin, LeBlanc, Xayah, and Nautilus. It was obvious they wanted to take the initiative to engage in this round as well. Lee Sin and Nautilus both had ults that could help them get the jump on the enemy, while LeBlanc, Jayce, and Xayah were all champions capable of doing a lot of damage that season. Nautilus was also tanky. There was nothing wrong with their line-up at all.

As for COCO—

They picked up some counters.

Ornn, Rek'Sai, Syndra, Kai'Sa, and Thresh.

"COCO has made some good choices here as well. Ornn was their last counter pick, so there was no chance for DG to pick up Braum. Without Braum in play, Ornn can basically start a team fight anywhere he summons his elementals. As long as he picks a good spot, he's an excellent choice. He's tanky enough to counter Jayce in the top lane, too."

The voices of the commentators began to sound out again.

"And both sides are actually very balanced. DG has Jayce, LeBlanc, and Xayah for DPS on their side, while COCO has Syndra and Kai'Sa. In terms of raw damage output, LeBlanc falls short of Kai'Sa, but DG also has Jayce to make up for that in the top lane. It'll all come down to the two junglers and how they manage to establish dominance for their teams. In the early stages of this match, we should be careful to keep an eye on Jayce."

"Alright, now… let's begin!"

……

In DG's voice chat—

As Old Wo waited for the map to load up, he slowly and carefully asked, "Captain, you remember the rules of the playoffs, right? We're playing a best-of-five, you know. Why have you come out so early? Don't you know that the man who shows up for the grand finale is the most charming hero of all?"

He spoke like he was lecturing Lu Zhe and teaching him the ways of life.

Lu Zhe didn't even glance his way. His warm, gentle voice flowed through his microphone. "Is my charm any of your business?"

Old Wo fell silent.

Qian Bao straightened up in her seat and answered Old Wo properly. "It's suspicious, isn't it? Ah, but I can answer this question. Waiting around is a tortuous feeling, isn't it? Captain Lu was just impatient to come out and show off to a certain someone."

Er-Hua also added, "Here, we should be saying @DG-Wolfy."

After buying his starting gear and heading up to the top lane, Shen Qiao huffed a laugh and said, "You guys are starting all that again, huh? I get the feeling you all act up as soon as Lu Zhe arrives."

Old Wo led Er-Hua all the way to the jungle. "That's because we have a daddy again. Our spines are stronger now. Daddy Lu, shall we launch a little invasion?"

Er-Hua had yet to start leveling up his skills. When he heard Old Wo's suggestion, he waited patiently for Lu Zhe's response before deciding which skill he would focus on first.

Lu Zhe reflected upon COCO's usual habits, then answered, "Sure, we can do that. But they're probably going to come counter us. Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. If you give away a life or two, it's not a big deal. But if you give away too many, you'll have to be lectured with me when we get back tonight."

Old Wo beamed and eagerly followed behind Lu Zhe. Er-Hua tagged along as well, hiding in the underbrush.

At that moment, an eagle's eye view would have clearly shown that both COCO and DG had players crouching in the underbrush by the river. Everyone was waiting for someone to make the first move.

COCO waited for a while, then took the initiative to emerge first.

Just then—

A hook shot out from the underbrush! DG's Er-Hua attacked with Nautilus, but only succeeded in grabbing the support of the other team. The other players from COCO all backed up right away, preparing to retreat.

Lu Zhe, however, didn't intend to let this opportunity slip past. "Go, go, go!"

Hearing that command, DG's players charged into the fray, quickly surrounding Thresh and hacking away at his HP. Nautilus also came up once in a while to tank damage for his own team. Both supports took a great deal of damage over a short span of time.

During that battle, Shen Qiao spotted an opportunity. "Kai'Sa came forward. We can attack."

Before he even finished speaking, he launched a few attacks against Kai'Sa.

Lu Zhe had originally planned on calling for them to retreat after seeing that they had doled out more damage in that exchange. The order was already halfway past his lips. But before Kai'Sa could flash away, Lu Zhe rushed over and used his Q to bring Kai'Sa down to her last sliver of HP, making her a very alluring target.

"I'm coming, I'm coming!"

"Captain Lu, how could you do this? You were about to tell us to retreat, but now you're sneaking around and stealing kills behind our backs?" Qian Bao complained as she also turned back to continue the fight.

The commentators were excitedly watching the ebb and flow of the battle. Originally, they had started saying that DG would have come out of that battle with the upper hand if they retreated after doing some serious damage to COCO's champions. However, before they even finished that line of thought, they saw all five of DG's players turn back around to continue fighting, like they were determined to take a kill.

"They're not backing down! They're gunning for the kill! Kai'Sa has already used up her flash, and she was hit by Lee Sin's Q. But Lee Sin was quickly targeted by Syndra and Ornn. Luckily, Ornn's damage output isn't that high just yet, but now Thresh is also charging up to help… only to be hooked by Nautilus!"

"Jayce is still chasing Kai'Sa! Why is he so aggressive?! And there it is, Kai'Sa is down! But Lee Sin also… ai, Lee Sin also used up his flash. COCO is trying to catch up to him, but at this distance, it seems impossible, unless they use their flash as well. They're very close to the DG's tower on the middle lane, though, so this positioning… ah, and they really couldn't catch up."

"So, in this fight, it's DG who walks away with first blood—"

The commentators' voices continued to fill up the stadium.

On DG's side, Lu Zhe returned to their base to buy new equipment and heal up. With a smile lacing his tone, he said into the chat, "I feel like you've developed a much bigger appetite as of late. You're no longer satisfied with a few krugs? You need the taste of blood to satisfy you? I wonder what I'll have to feed you in the future."

Shen Qiao was in the middle of facing off against Ornn in the top lane when he heard Lu Zhe's words, which were heavy with certain implications. Shen Qiao couldn't help but draw a sharp breath. While focusing on leading the enemy Ornn around and dodging those attacks, Shen Qiao also spared a second to answer Lu Zhe—

"Can you not?"

Lu Zhe checked the current conditions of both teams, then returned to the jungle to farm. "Of course. I'll agree to anything you say."

Qian Bao and Syndra were battling it out as well. After deftly dodging a skill from Syndra, Qian Bao happily chirped into the chat, "Did you guys forget that this is the team channel? Dog food isn't sweet when it's force-fed to you. I won't eat!"

Lu Zhe glanced at the map while he answered, "Until the league puts out a voice channel for couples, we'll have to trouble you to put up with it."

At that moment, Er-Hua placed a ward near the river and started leading Old Wo towards COCO's territory. Lu Zhe took stock of the situation on the map and sent Shen Qiao a signal. "Rek'Sai is heading up in your direction. Be careful."

Lu Zhe, for his part, planned on making a play in the middle lane.

The two bottom laners weren't well-suited to ganking, after all. Lu Zhe wanted to help Qian Bao take down Syndra in the middle lane first, so that Qian Bao could get ahead with her champion LeBlanc. As long as LeBlanc got slightly better equipment, she wouldn't be at a disadvantage against Syndra.

Plus, the middle lane was the shortest of all three lanes. It was easier, relatively speaking, to develop more quickly there. Once LeBlanc racked up some more experience, Lu Zhe could take her up to the top lane to help Shen Qiao's Jayce develop as well.

Shen Qiao's counter-gank awareness had improved as of late. While Lu Zhe took some time to farm in the jungle near the middle lane, Shen Qiao could hold his own. He wouldn't be caught off-guard so easily, and he could wait until Lu Zhe was ready to make his way over to him.

And if they didn't stop the enemy Syndra from growing too powerful now, she could easily carry her team and destroy DG in the later stages of the game.

After taking all these things into consideration, Lu Zhe called out, "Qiaoqiao."

Shen Qiao already knew what he wanted to say. He instantly answered, "I know. You don't have to come."

He could already see Rek'Sai's icon on the map. Shen Qiao's creep score was currently ahead of Ornn's. When it was necessary, he could bring his minions back to DG's tower to defend. Jayce had a good range, after all. He could keep farming near the tower, while Ornn would struggle to reach him before hitting Level 6.

Shen Qiao only had to be careful not to let Rek'Sai get too close.

Lu Zhe hummed his acknowledgement, then moved into the middle lane to help Qian Bao gank her enemy.

……

The game unfolded according to DG's plans—

Before hitting Level 6, Syndra was ganked twice by Lu Zhe in the middle lane. Rek'Sai went up to the top lane to try to help Ornn gank Shen Qiao, but Shen Qiao's position was way too good. On their first attempt, Rek'Sai was badly bloodied by DG's tower.

Ornn didn't get the kill that time. On their second attempt, they did manage to take Shen Qiao down. But Shen Qiao swept a wave of minions right before he died, using the damage from DG's tower to take Ornn down with him.

Overall, Rek'Sai came out at a loss.

After all, he sacrificed his own potential for development and only got an assist in return. Ornn had given away his own life too, allowing Shen Qiao to upgrade his equipment back at DG's base.

At that time, Rek'Sai's HP was already quite low. He circled around DG's tower for a while, then ultimately decided against trying to get another kill. He gave up and retreated to the jungle.

Before, while enduring the joint assault from COCO's top laner and jungler, Shen Qiao hadn't allowed his creep score to fall behind. Now that the jungler was gone, Shen Qiao could brazenly charge forward with his E and brutally hit Ornn with his Q.

He was very close to bringing COCO's top laner to tears.

When the commentators took a look at the game stats—

Although Ornn could continue battling it out under DG's tower without retreating to his base, he wasn't well-poised to help anyone in the middle or bottom lanes. Especially not when Lu Zhe came over to lend Jayce a hand. Even if Ornn summoned his elementals right there and then, he wouldn't have been able to escape his fate of handing over his head again.

"I never want to pick Ornn again," COCO's top laner bemoaned.

The early stages of the round were fierce.

Once Lu Zhe claimed the Rift Herald and destroyed COCO's middle lane tower, COCO's troubles only grew. DG forced them into a team fight on the middle lane, where the teams wound up trading two kills for two kills.

But one of the casualties was COCO's support, Thresh.

And the ones DG lost were… Qian Bao and Old Wo.

With that, DG was all charged up and ready to go. They used their advantages to claim two dragons, one ocean and one infernal. They'd had to let the first dragon go since Rek'Sai was camping out nearby in the bottom lane.

After those three dragons were defeated, the time to challenge Baron Nashor drew near.

If the next team fight wasn't over Baron Nashor, it would surely be over the Elder Dragon.

Shen Qiao farmed without pause, strengthening his own equipment. COCO's players were doing the same in their own lanes. Both sides were waiting for the perfect moment for the next team fight.

And now—

Lu Zhe put some pressure on Rek'Sai in the jungle, intending to steal the blue buff from COCO. Although Lu Zhe made Rek'Sai use his smite, Syndra came out of the underbrush right behind Rek'Sai. The two of them surrounded Lu Zhe, preparing to take him down.

Syndra's damage potential was extremely high, but because she hadn't managed to level up her equipment enough, she couldn't bring Lu Zhe down right away.

To make matters worse for COCO, Qian Bao and Shen Qiao teleported down to Lu Zhe as soon as they saw Syndra emerge beside him. Old Wo and Er-Hua, seeing a fight brewing, also started making their way up from the bottom lane.

The two sides clashed outside Baron Narho's pit. Er-Hua's Nautilus entered a beautifully timed invulnerable state first. He was able to tank nearly all the damage from Ornn's summoned elementals. DG kept up the rhythm, forcing Ornn to exhaust his skills.

Xayah attacked fiercely at that point, and COCO's formation was disrupted by Lu Zhe. Almost instantaneously, COCO lost two lives.

Because Lu Zhe overshot his dash and entered the fray, while being very fragile, his own HP plummeted to a dangerously low zone. The enemy Kai'Sa, seeing the opportunity for an easy kill, chased him all the way from the jungle to the middle lane, abandoning the team fight that had already broken up.

Lu Zhe drew away the enemy AD all by himself, but he was out of options now. He ultimately spotted some of COCO's minions, intending to jump over to them with his Q skill—

But.

The damage from his Q was too strong. That little minion was Q'd to death by him.

Lu Zhe was silent for a moment. "…tsk."

He could only run away on his own two feet now.

Shen Qiao also noticed Lu Zhe's little failure just now. He couldn't help but laugh. "Captain Lu, are there a lot of question marks floating over your head right now?"

Lu Zhe also breathed a helpless laugh. "Can you really stand to watch me be mercilessly slaughtered by Kai'Sa?"

At that time, Shen Qiao had already wrecked COCO's inner tower on the top lane. He was pushing his way towards COCO's base like he was playing a single-player game. Coolly, he deadpanned, "Good luck. You can survive."

As soon as Shen Qiao spoke, Lu Zhe was surrounded and killed by Kai'Sa and the recently-resurrected Syndra.

Shen Qiao let out a faux-sorrowful sigh. "Ai. Better luck next time."

"Better luck next time," Old Wo echoed.

"Better luck next time," Qian Bao chimed in.

"With a partner like this, who are you supposed to turn to in times of need?" Er-Hua asked.

Lu Zhe huffed out a bitter laugh.

When he emerged from their base after respawning, he saw that Shen Qiao and Old Wo had just killed COCO's Thresh again. They were already starting to push onwards to COCO's base. As Lu Zhe moved Lee Sin towards the middle lane to meet up with them, he said, "Get the Baron, get the Baron."

That was the safer move. COCO still had four living champions, after all.

But Shen Qiao called out, "We can do it, we can do it, we can do it—Syndra doesn't have flash up right now!"

Er-Hua and the others hadn't received orders from Lu Zhe in a long time. Now, hearing two conflicting commands, they all froze, unsure of what to do. Er-Hua ultimately asked, "The Baron? Do we go for the Baron?"

"Captain!" Old Wo called out. "What's your command?"

On the monitors—

As soon as Shen Qiao finished saying they could take COCO down, Lu Zhe's Lee Sin was the first to spring into action. He sent Kai'Sa flying with a kick, delivering her straight into the middle of DG's forces.

Ornn immediately summoned his elemental and managed to hit three people, but unfortunately his damage wasn't high enough—he had no noticeable effect on the battle. After DG got rid of Syndra, they turned on the tanky Ornn to snuff him out as well.

From the back of DG's formation, Old Wo said, "I get it, Dog Lu, I understand. You just want to get a pentakill with me."

It wasn't until DG crushed COCO's base, without going after Baron Nashor first, that Lu Zhe leaned back in his chair. He turned to Shen Qiao with a smile in his eyes, lifting his brows and saying—

"I didn't want to charge in either. But the thing is… there's someone who didn't want to listen. What choice did I have, but to indulge him?"

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 77

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News of Lu Zhe's imminent return quickly circulated throughout the LPL.

Of course, COCO was the team most keen on knowing whether or not these rumors were accurate. They would, after all, be the team facing off against DG next in the third-place match of the summer tournament, and the results of that match would have an effect on which team took the third qualifying spot for the world championship.

The top two teams of the summer tournament had already been decided—

WTG and BLX.

WTG had been the champions of the spring tournament. If they also won the summer tournament, they would undoubtedly be the first seeded team for the world championship from the LPL—by a wide margin, at that.

But if BLX won the summer tournament, then they would be the first seeded team from the LPL. Meanwhile, the second seed would be determined between COCO and WTG. The two teams were neck and neck in their scores that season, so whether COCO won or lost against DG in the third-place match would be very important to them.

Naturally, the best case scenario would be if WTG won against BLX. Because BLX performed very poorly during the spring tournament, only finishing in the top sixteen. If WTG won, regardless of whether COCO or DG won the third-place match, COCO would have more points than DG and BLX. They would be the second seed from the LPL.

Unfortunately…

The game between DG and COCO took place before the finals between WTG and BLX.

Placing their fate in the hands of another team was a foolish endeavor, so COCO obviously wanted to get a clear idea of where DG would stand against them. DG could be said to have three junglers at the moment, after all, and each of them had a different play style. The coach's picks and bans strategy differed from player to player, depending on who DG fielded as their jungler. If Lu Zhe was really going to throw himself into the mix, COCO had to prepare accordingly.

However—

Everyone knew that Captain Lu's defining characteristic was that he was a 'dog'.

If someone were to ask him directly, he would probably respond with some tawdry words that shook the enemy troops. Or perhaps he would simply mock whoever asked for fearing his return.

COCO's only option was to prepare a backup plan and take note of the champions Lu Zhe had been practicing as of late, so that they could target them for the first bans.

The official starting lineup would be formally announced the day before the match, anyway. COCO would be prepared for anything.

……

"Welcome one and all to the LPL's summer tournament playoffs! We're currently looking at COCO and DG. This is going to be a very important game for them. The LPL's season statistics are already out, and we can see that this victory will be crucial for COCO. If they win, they'll qualify for the world championship as the second seed of the LPL. If they lose, they'll have to fight for the third qualifying spot for the world championship alongside other fierce contenders."

After the commentator on the left side of the announcers' booth enthusiastically recapped the current standings for the audience, the other commentator took over and said—

"Yes, but there might be a big surprise in store for COCO today…"

The two commentators locked eyes, both knowing exactly what the other intended to say.

"It's been around two months since Lu Zhe suffered an injury to his arm, and we're sure everyone has seen Lu Zhe playing on the Korean server as of late. Does this mean Lu Zhe's return is imminent?"

"Will Lu Zhe have our full attention in today's match?"

"Let me tell you this! To kick off today… in round one of this match… playing in the jungle for DG… will be Zhao Yue, Moon!"

As the commentators hyped up the crowd, bullet comments flooded the livestream room. Colorful remarks of every sort flew across the screen at blinding speeds.

[??? Is this commentator playing with us?]

[Ahhhhhh, my Captain Lu! I'm waiting for him! Nobody even try to move me away from my computer today!]

[I've waited so long for this day, I've tried so hard to dream you into life!]

[Wahhhh, will the captain of my dreams be coming back? Ahhhhhh!]

[Lu Zhe has been my most beloved alpha ever since last year's world championship.]

[If Lu Zhe plays a few rounds and hurts his hand again today, wouldn't that be funny?]

[If DG loses today, will they try to blame it on Lu Zhe's injury?]

[All you haters, shhhhh! I swear, right now, that I'll support DG forever, no matter what!]

……

4:55 PM.

Amidst the welcoming voices of the commentators and a wave of cheers from the crowd, the players of the two teams facing off that day took the stage.

COCO's line-up of players was unchanged, so their fans were relatively relaxed. In contrast, nearly everyone was staring at DG's entrance, waiting with bated breath and hoping to see Lu Zhe appear.

In front of the whole stadium of spectators—

The first to emerge, as usual, was the top laner Shen Qiao.

Immediately afterwards, the jungler appeared.

As soon as that person emerged from behind the curtain, DG's fans had their answer judging solely by his height. Regardless of whether it was Zhao Yue or Zheng Zhizhuo, this was clearly one of the team's new didi—not an extraordinarily tall alpha.

The first jungler to take the field would be Zhao Yue.

After that, the mid-laner Qian Bao and the bottom laners Old Wo and Er-Hua emerged in turn.

The cameras swept over the players, pairing close-ups of each contender with the one who would oppose them on the other team. Backdrops of blue ice or red flames were displayed behind the players as their images were thrown up on the big screens at the venue. Finally, a full shot of both teams illuminated those screens.

At just that moment—

A camera panned over to Shen Qiao again. Septembers in Hua City weren't too cold, but the air conditioning at the venue was still on full blast, so Shen Qiao was wearing a team jacket.

All the players wore the same jacket. Even the positioning of each sponsor's logo was the same. The only difference between their jackets was the name emblazoned on the middle of the back of the jacket, in DG's logo.

When that camera swung from Shen Qiao's front to Shen Qiao's back, everyone at the venue and everyone watching the livestream could clearly see the name on the back of Shen Qiao's jacket that day—

Wolfy.

The commentators at that game also knew that Shen Qiao had been wearing Lu Zhe's jacket as of late, as a means of showing they were both fighting every battle together. When the commentator on the left glanced at the screen and saw this image, he suddenly stopped mid-sentence and changed the subject—

"Oh? Wolf Cub is actually wearing his own jacket today?"

The other commentator couldn't help but laugh. "Since when did it become a shocking thing for a player to wear their own jacket on stage?"

The first commentator blinked innocently. "Of course it wouldn't matter if it were anyone else, but this is Wolf Cub who's wearing his own jacket today. All of DG's fans know that Wolf Cub has been wearing Lu Zhe's jacket to every game during Lu Zhe's absence. I've even heard that the WolfDog ship is the ship with the biggest fanbase in the LPL these days."

The commentator on the right picked up on his meaning and helped set him up for a grand reveal. "Then, in that case, Wolf Cub wearing his own jacket all of a sudden means…?"

The other commentator grinned and gradually raised his voice as he spoke, hyping up the viewers in the bullet comments.

"It means… today… we can look forward to seeing Lu Zhe on stage! Isn't that right?!"

[AHHHHHHH! I knew it!]

[Holy shit, my ship is sailing again, wahhhhhh! Even the commentators are giving us food right now!]

[I have a reasonable suspicion that this gentleman on the left is a shipper.]

[Nothing else matters! I'm pumped up again!]

[YESYESYESYESYES]

……

When the camera panned over Shen Qiao's back, the other members of Team DG had already guessed what the reaction from the fans at the stadium would be. After they all took their seats, Old Wo readily put on his headset and said into the voice channel—

"Daddy Wolf, do you want to guess how many of your shippers are in the audience?"

Shen Qiao glanced over at the cameras, then answered, "No."

Old Wo unscrewed the lid of his thermos while sighing and shaking his head. "How boring."

Zhao Yue glanced back in the direction of the team's rest area. When he returned his focus to his monitor, he looked exceptionally determined. He knew that if he didn't play well in this first match, whoever came after him—be it Zheng Zhizhuo or Lu Zhe—would be under a lot of pressure.

No matter what, he had to play well.

"The picks and bans are starting—"

"COCO gets things rolling by banning Pantheon…"

As the commentators narrated, the two teams went through the picks and bans process. Finally, as the game was set to begin, the lights in the arena slowly dimmed. Only a row of small lights remained on stage, giving the players enough light to clearly see their monitors.

The teams were set. DG had gone with a team comp that would allow them to initiate team fights; they went with Jarvan IV as their jungler. As for COCO, they ran a more defensive comp with Kennen in the top lane.

Both sides were extremely stable. Zhao Yue, Qian Bao, and Er-Hua successfully worked together to dominate the middle and bottom lanes. In the top lane, Shen Qiao made good use of Mordekaiser to keep Kennen on the ropes. His range clearly wasn't all that long, but he used skill after skill to good effect, dazzling the entire audience with his performance.

In COCO's team voice chat, their top laner's anguished howls rang out.

"This, this, this… ah, I… he… can I get a jungler to help me out? I can't, I can't, I really can't with this Mordekaiser. He's going to kill me dead…"

"Ahhhh, he's coming, he's coming, he's coming at me again! He's swinging his hammer!"

"I… wow, he's really just unreasonably strong!"

Just like that, with their top laner crying in the voice chat, COCO was wiped out in a team kill near Baron Nashor's pit. DG pushed straight onwards to COCO's base. Kennen was the first to respawn. He rushed out to try to stall DG, only to be on the receiving end of another flurry of attacks from Mordekaiser.

Kennen's screen went black again.

DG's minions swarmed up to COCO's base while Old Wo fired away at COCO's tower from behind. COCO's other players rushed out as soon as they respawned, but it was already too late for them to wrench victory back from the jaws of defeat.

"Congratulations to Team DG for taking the first round—!"

COCO's players slowly took off their headsets. They were greeted by the wild cheers of the DG fans in the audience.

After they took some time to calm down in the rest area, COCO's players thoroughly discussed their next move with their coaches. Then they took the field again, only to hear that those wild cheers had grown even louder—practically loud enough to shatter the ceiling and pierce the sky.

The five players of Team COCO looked across the stage…

DG had changed their jungler.

The man behind Shen Qiao, with such a warm and gentle expression… if it wasn't Lu Zhe, who else could it be?

COCO's top laner went pale. Once he sat down and put on his headset, he frantically whispered, "Holy shit! Coach, look! Look at this! I'm going to be ganked like crazy this round! That dog Lu Zhe is definitely going to help Wolf Cub rip me apart!"

……

On DG's side—

Lu Zhe put on his headset. Without saying anything, he looked over at Shen Qiao and breathed out a soft laugh.

It had been a long time since Lu Zhe last took the stage for an official game. He'd almost forgotten this feeling of sitting beside Shen Qiao, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with him.

Shen Qiao was typically expressionless on stage, regardless of whether they won or lost. But when he saw Lu Zhe watching him and smiling now, he met his gaze for a few seconds and curved his own lips into a smile as well.

"What?" Shen Qiao asked.

Before Lu Zhe could even answer, the livestream room was already blowing up with comments.

[He smiled! He smiled! Holy shit, how long has it been since I last saw this guy smile?! Wolf Cub, you really! You really have something with Dog Lu!]

[I don't know if you guys have noticed this, but Shen Qiao has never, ever, ever, ever, ever smiled before a game!]

[This marriage! I approve!]

 

Author's Notes:

I also approve of this marriage.

Today is another day for the shippers to rejoice!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 76

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Ultimately, Shen Qiao was convinced to not snitch.

But with that word 'wife' still ringing in his ears, Shen Qiao narrowed his eyes like a cat who'd heard some sort of bad joke. He gazed at Lu Zhe and adopted a somewhat mild tone.

"Have you gotten the wrong idea because I've been spoiling you too much lately, Captain Lu?" he asked. "Who's your wife?"

Lu Zhe's arm was completely healed. Only a scar remained. He'd already started physical therapy and some basic training. Earlier that day, he'd played a few ranked matches by himself. Shen Qiao and the others only didn't notice because they had been playing a practice game against BLX at the time.

Hearing Shen Qiao's words now, Lu Zhe looped his arm around Shen Qiao's neck again, with a little more force. He leaned in closer and boldly kissed Shen Qiao on the mouth, even going so far as to nip at his lower lip. A laugh rose from deep in his throat as he contentedly murmured, "You are, of course."

Shen Qiao lifted a hand to Lu Zhe's shoulder, wanting to push him back and turn his own head away. But not only did he fail to get away, Lu Zhe bit down a little harder. Hard enough to send a jolt of pain through Shen Qiao's lower lip.

Right away, Shen Qiao stopped trying to pull back. He slid his hand from Lu Zhe's shoulder to the nape of Lu Zhe's neck instead, tightly squeezing the spot where Lu Zhe's glands were located. He waited for Lu Zhe to tense up at that motion, then took that opportunity to twist his head away.

His lower lip was already numb and aching due to Lu Zhe's actions. Shen Qiao instinctively licked at that spot. Without having to look, he knew that his lips must have been stained a darker color. He could practically feel the teeth marks that had been left behind.

"Tsk." Shen Qiao looked over at the monitors that had been left on by their teammates. He pressed the backs of his fingers to his lips and asked, "What is Captain Lu trying to do in the sacred training room?"

Manager Zhou had said something similar when reminding them to show some restraint.

Lu Zhe seemed to miss the hint of a warning tone in Shen Qiao's voice. He leaned back in his chair and grinned at Shen Qiao, with mirth coursing through his narrowed eyes. As though afraid his words would be misheard by the other party, Lu Zhe deliberately enunciated each character and spoke slowly, almost like he was stating one word at a time.

He said, "Do you even need to ask?"

He said, "Of course, I'm trying to do you."

Shen Qiao was speechless.

Judging by Lu Zhe's brazen attitude, Shen Qiao could deduce one thing—Lu Zhe's arm was probably all better, or at least close to all better. Otherwise, Lu Zhe wouldn't have dared act like such a shameless dog.

Shen Qiao refused to respond to Lu Zhe's perverted comment. He pushed his chair back over to his own desk. While the wheels of his chair slid across the smooth ground, he raised his brows at Lu Zhe and said, "That's great. It looks like Captain Lu is in perfect health now. Totally ready to resume training right away."

Lu She laughed when he heard those words. His gaze didn't move away from Shen Qiao's figure. He folded his hands together, lacing his ten fingers, and adoringly studied Shen Qiao for a moment.

Then he asked, "Wanna 1v1?"

Shen Qiao was just about to say yes when he heard Lu Zhe continue, "Three rounds, two to win. Loser has to agree to one of the winner's conditions."

Hastily, he added, "You pick the champion for the first round. I'll pick for the second, and we'll randomize it for the third."

Although Lu Zhe's words weren't as blatantly suggestive as before, Shen Qiao very clearly understood the implication—

Whoever lost would be on the bottom.

Shen Qiao flashed him a smirk and asked, "Do you know that from before to now, I've never lost a 1v1?"

Plus, as of late, he'd spent more time than usual in game modes with randomized champions. As such, Shen Qiao had increased his familiarity with champions that he never played much in official games. After playing a dozen of those randomized matches or so, he could easily take the title of MVP.

Upon joining DG, Shen Qiao had been asked to submit a list of champions he was proficient with. He'd answered that he could play any champion, and that was even more true now that he'd had practice with many more of them. He also diligently trained up his accounts on the Korean server. In truth, Shen Qiao felt that his chances of beating Lu Zhe were even better than 50/50.

…especially since Lu Zhe had taken a break from the game for a while.

Lu Zhe smiled as he continued to watch Shen Qiao. To be specific, he was staring at the darkened spot he'd just left on Shen Qiao's lower lip. Unhurriedly, he answered, "You know what, Qiaoqiao? This confident look of yours is my favorite thing. And listen to this coincidence—

"I've never lost a 1v1 either."

Shen Qiao studied Lu Zhe's injured arm for a moment, then put on his headset while pretending not to be too invested in this proposal. He casually answered, "Forget it. Your arm just got better. It would be bad if you played a few rounds against me and hurt yourself again."

Lu Zhe noticed that Shen Qiao's mint-scented pheromones had flared up, spreading through the air. It was obvious that Shen Qiao wasn't as calm as he appeared. He was quite affected by this challenge.

After breathing out a short laugh, Lu Zhe asked, "Scared?"

Shen Qiao instantly cast a look at Lu Zhe out of the corner of his eye. He scoffed, like he wanted to laugh, but refused to do so.

"Scared?" he echoed, with a smile. "Three rounds of 1v1 will take more than an hour. Do you see what time it is already? After we play and I win, do you think I'll do you or not? If I do, you'll be bedridden tomorrow. If I don't, I'll have worked hard only to leave my reward hanging. Wouldn't that be a loss for me?"

Lu Zhe couldn't help but laugh out loud again. His shoulders even shook with it.

Clearly, Lu Zhe had only proposed a friendly 1v1, and yet Shen Qiao had already thought ahead to the morning after.

This could only be the person Lu Zhe set his sights on, right?

How could he be so confident?

Zhao Yue returned from the bathroom to find Lu Zhe reclining in his gaming chair with a huge grin on his face. At first, Zhao Yue didn't understand what that was all about. He followed Lu Zhe's line of sight and found him looking at Shen Qiao, who was focused on playing his game.

Without paying any attention to the teammate who'd just returned, Lu Zhe finally stopped laughing and reached over to tousle Shen Qiao's hair. "Sounds like you're very reasonable."

After a beat, Lu Zhe continued, "Alright. Then let's postpone our 1v1. We'll wait until the end of the playoffs. How's that?"

Shen Qiao huffed a laugh under his breath, like he was already sure of Lu Zhe's future defeat. Then he let out a sigh and said, "Fine. Since our Captain Lu is that desperate to taste defeat, we'll do as you wish."

Lu Zhe leaned in closer and whispered directly in his ear, "This confidence… please be sure to keep it up."

After saying that, he turned back to his own computer and invited Shen Qiao to a voice chat once they grouped up together. Once Shen Qiao accepted, Lu Zhe said, "Don't queue with Lu Qianshuang so much, your rank will drop. Queue with me. Gege will take you anywhere you want to go."

Shen Qiao said nothing.

Then his slightly hoarse, raspy voice came over the line, still tinged with a laugh that tickled Lu Zhe's ears.

"In my capacity as the head of the household, I'll give you one more chance to rephrase yourself," Shen Qiao said.

In order to avoid being kicked off Shen Qiao's team, Lu Zhe quickly changed his tune and said, "Daddy Qiao, play with me. I want a piggyback ride."

Behind them—

Lu Zhe's little fan, Zhao Yue, was rendered speechless.

He silently shook his head to himself, refusing to reflect upon the thoroughly shattered mental image of his idol.

……

[Come quick! Wolf Cub is playing on his alt, room number: xxxxxx]

[Wow, who's this 'StandUpLittleO' person? When did DG start recruiting players from cheap brothels? Is this Wolf Cub's significant other?]

[No! My ship will never sink! We'll never admit defeat! Little Wolf, you can't do this. Our Captain Lu just hurt his hand a little. How could you go off and find another dog so soon! I won't accept this!]

[We've busted Wolf Cub for playing with girls in the middle of the night now, right? Hey, you DG shippers are ready to disband now, aren't you? This should be a devastating night for you.]

[My god, why is this 'StandUpLittleO' so wild?]

Late in the night—

Many of the streamers who'd tried to invite Shen Qiao to their games, only to be ignored, had decided to start spectating Shen Qiao's game in their downtime. They streamed themselves watching the game, and soon enough the news spread to DG's supertopic. Countless fans rushed into their streams to see Shen Qiao play.

And as soon as these fans arrived, they watched a wild match where the top laner and jungler ran rampant. A match that ended in just ten minutes.

The next match—

That jungler, named 'StandUpLittleO', was still there.

There was no doubt that Shen Qiao was queueing with this person.

It was the middle of the night. A professional player was on his alt account. Queueing up with a low-ranked omega. What did it mean? What did it mean?! What could it possibly mean?!

It was obvious! The only explanation was that Shen Qiao was flirting around with a girl!

The two people in question had no idea they were being watched by a large audience. After the second match began, the streamers and their viewers all saw the contents of the chat box in the lower right corner of the screen—

[StandUpLittleO: Gege, carry me. Carry me hard.]

[StandUpLittleO: My body is ready. Go ahead, carry me for forty minutes.]

The fans were bewildered.

Which brazen omega was sexually harassing their wolf cub right now?! Huh?!

Very quickly, Shen Qiao's reply appeared in the chat box. It was just a string of ellipses. But very quickly after that, he replied again.

[Wolfy111: Screenshot taken.]

[Wolfy111: I'll be reporting you to Manager Zhou tomorrow.]

[Wolfy111: You're dead, Captain Lu. :)]

The other players on their team were baffled.

As were the streamers and their viewers.

Very quickly, their team chat and the chat in the streamers' rooms exploded with activity.

['Screenshot taken.']

['You're dead, Captain Lu.']

[Oh, so you're the legendary Captain Lu? Respect, respect.]

[Only you, Dog Lu.]

[I should have figured it out a long time ago. Besides Dog Lu, who in the world would dare be this bold with Wolf Cub? Today is yet another good day for us WolfDog girls! TAT]

In the livestream rooms broadcasting Shen Qiao's game, one viewer finally seized upon an important point. Amidst all the chaos—

[Wait! Captain Lu and Wolf Cub are queueing together! You know what that means?! Our Daddy Zhe! Our number one jungler in the world! He's! He's coming back, AHHHHHHHHHH!]

 

Author's Notes:

Let's have a round of applause for Dog Lu's return!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 75

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During Shen Qiao's self-imposed break from Weibo, two playoffs games took place. DG won the first. They played against WTG in the second game, and ultimately—WTG, whose players were more well-suited to playing best-of-five matches, won that one. As a result, DG would unfortunately have to face off against COCO for the third place position.

Spectators were all worrying over whether or not DG would qualify for the world championship. After all, there were only three spots for the world championship that year. One would go to the winner of the LPL's summer tournament, and now it was already impossible for DG to win that title.

One of the other spots would go to the team with the highest cumulative score from the spring tournament and summer tournament. Judging by DG's fourth-place finish in the spring tournament and the fact that they wouldn't be first or second in the summer tournament, this spot wouldn't go to DG either.

In that case…

DG's final chance to qualify was to duke it out for the third spot.

The third spot would be contested by high-ranking teams, with the two previously seeded teams removed from the competition. The three top-scoring teams that hadn't already secured a position at the world championship would battle against one another to determine a victor for the third and final spot.

This system inevitably raised the suspense for Team DG.

Online, many comments mocked DG for being last year's champions who wouldn't even qualify for the world championship this year. Besides that, other voices all asked just one question—

When exactly would Lu Zhe return?

One night, at one in the morning.

DG's headquarters were still lit up like a beacon.

Shen Qiao had devoted himself to practicing his strategies in Teamfight Tactics over the past few days. That night, he decided he wanted to play a few ranked matches during his personal training time. But, perhaps because the server was extremely busy over summer break, he queued up for ages without managing to get into a match. In the end, he switched over to his alt on another server.

He hadn't used this alt account much since joining DG. Most of the champions he'd unlocked on that account were junglers. When he logged in now, the account was still sitting at a silver rank.

Some people on the friends list of that account were also online, even at that late hour. A few of them were streamers who played LoL. They'd played a few rounds with Shen Qiao in the past, before asking if they could add him as a friend. Now, seeing him come online, they all threw him invitations to join their games.

Shen Qiao glanced at those incoming messages, where he saw a familiar name.

[StandUpLittleO: This account… is this Qiaoqiao-gege's alt?]

[StandUpLittleO: When did I add you? How come I don't have any impression of doing that at all? Well, whatever. Qiaoqiao-gege, come watch over me when you have time… wahhh, I've been losing all day! I worked so hard to get up to gold! QAQ]

Shen Qiao could practically imagine the expressions Lu Qianshuang was making as he read those messages. Originally, he'd planned on queueing up by himself, but now he wrote back and asked, You're staying up this late?

[StandUpLittleO: !!!]

[StandUpLittleO: Don't tell my brother! I made plans with a friend to pull an all-nighter, please don't tell!]

Shen Qiao drummed his fingers against the tabletop. He looked around the training room and saw that Lu Zhe was busy watching footage from previous games with Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo, analyzing the strengths and tactics of other teams. For the time being, Lu Zhe wouldn't have any time to pay attention to Shen Qiao.

So Shen Qiao simply answered, Mm.

Then he tossed Lu Qianshuang an invitation to queue up with him.

……

After Lu Qianshuang teamed up with Shen Qiao, she giddily started to type—

[StandUpLittleO: I! I! I can play jungler! I can play AD too! I know how to carry! What are we playing? Ranked?]

Shen Qiao answered, Up to you.

[StandUpLittleO: Then let's go for ranked! We'll be working together, anyway!]

Shen Qiao had created a room for a ranked game already, so he started matching right away. In just ten seconds or so, he got into a game.

Lu Qianshuang was assigned to play ADC. Shen Qiao's preferences were still set to what he'd made them much earlier, so he was assigned the role of jungler. Immediately after that, Lu Qianshuang locked in the champion Ashe.

Newcomers to the game basically all liked to play Ashe, but this champion was actually subject to many limitations. Playing Ashe was a test of a player's skills and awareness of the field. Those who played well could make the enemy support and AD champion chase them around like chickens with their heads cut off. With Ashe's slowing skills, a good player could make their enemies experience death at half speed.

But if a player didn't use this champion well…

This was basically a glass cannon waiting to be slaughtered. You would have to be blind not to go in for the kill.

Shen Qiao took a look at Lu Qianshuang's records with the champion Ashe. She'd played a total of fifty games with this champion, and of those fifty games, she'd lost forty-two. There was no doubt that Lu Qianshuang didn't belong to the former type of Ashe players.

Shen Qiao checked out their enemy's team and saw that they'd chosen Master Yi as their jungler. He thought about it for a moment, then locked in Lee Sin as his own champion. This hero was quick to develop. As early as Level 2, he could start ganking the enemy and supporting his team. Regardless of the rank of the game, this was always a popular champion to see in the jungle.

Finally, the two full teams were set. On Shen Qiao's side—

Aatrox in the top lane, Yasuo in the middle lane, Lee Sin in the jungle, and Ashe and Soraka in the bottom lane.

As for their opponents—

Jax, Mordekaiser, Master Yi, and Kalista and Nautilus.

Both teams were fairly standard. There were no wild surprises anywhere. The other side was a bit tanky, while Shen Qiao's side was more well-balanced—they had champions with good DPS, resistance, crowd control, and so on. During team fights, each champion could do what they were best at.

Of course…

That was just what it looked like on the surface.

Everyone knew that, in the lower ranks of LoL, it was possible for an extremely strong lineup to produce zero results.

Furthermore, the combination of Ashe and Soraka in the bottom lane was really too fragile. Soraka didn't have the ability to tank damage for Ashe if the need arose. If they weren't extremely aware of their surroundings at all times, it would be easy for them to put up a performance that was reminiscent of a supermarket sale—

Buy one get one free.

Shen Qiao finished choosing his equipment, then left the base and headed towards the red buff. He decided to keep an extra close eye on the bottom lane.

……

"First blood!"

After reaching Level 2, Shen Qiao went down to the bottom lane to help Lu Qianshuang take first blood against the enemy Kalista. Then he immediately went back to his own part of the jungle to mind his own business.

As a result—

Aatrox and Jax soon got into it in the top lane, and the low-health Jax was soon taken care of. In the middle lane, Yasuo led his forces against Mordekaiser and kept him on the run for a while. But once he ran out of steam, he was chased back by Mordekaiser and beaten until he was only left with a sliver of health.

Shen Qiao moved his mouse and took stock of their plays, then decided to go up to the top lane to help Aatrox gank the enemy Jax a few more times. Soon enough, they both reached Level 5.

The middle lane player behind Yasuo noticed Shen Qiao helping out in the bottom lane and top lane. After Yasuo was offed by Mordekaiser two more times, the player couldn't resist typing into the chat—

[Yasuo: ?]

[Yasuo: Hey, blind monk, are you blind to the middle lane? You need to learn to share the love!]

Shen Qiao was silent.

He checked the map. Aatrox was already doing pretty well now. The two top laners seemed pretty evenly matched. In the bottom lane, Lu Qianshuang was managing to stay alive with Soraka's healing. Although she did still die once, her performance wasn't outrageously bad.

The enemy jungler, Master Yi, was focusing on farming in the jungle alone. He didn't ever visit any of the three lanes. Under these circumstances, Shen Qiao felt comfortable going to the middle lane to help take a kill.

His teammates were all extremely comfortable. The enemy, however, had been ganked by Shen Qiao so many times that their minds were practically blown. They frantically typed mass amounts of question marks into the chat, and occasionally dissed their own useless Master Yi as well.

[Jax (Global): Hey! Look at what that Lee Sin is doing. Can't you do the same? Can't you learn from him a little? What are you doing in the jungle anyway? Picking mushrooms for your horse?]

[Master Yi (Global): You think it's my problem that you suck? If your DPS was as fierce as your mouth, we'd be in great shape.]

[Mordekaiser (Global): …guys, stop fighting.]

However, Jax and Master Yi weren't swayed by Mordekaiser's attempts to break up their fight. They continued to bicker and cuss at each other, ignoring the game itself. By the fifteen-minute mark, their team had forfeited, giving Shen Qiao and Lu Qianshuang each a victory.

While they queued up for another game, Lu Qianshuang refused to stop heaping glowing praise on Shen Qiao, claiming she was certain she would be able to rank up to Gold I with him that night.

Shen Qiao thought of her current ranking and calculated exactly how many games it would take for her to reach Gold I. After a while, he reached out and touched his pack of cigarettes, idly wondering how he could convince Lu Qianshuang to just go to bed already.

Lu Qianshuang was completely oblivious to his thoughts. She happily urged him to hurry up and start their next game.

……

After winning three games in a row, Lu Qianshuang was assigned to the support position in their fourth match.

She sent a long string of ellipses into the chat channel, then said to her teammates, I don't know how to play support.

Shen Qiao didn't think much of it. He typed back, I'll play support, you take the jungle.

They were just playing for fun, anyway. He didn't care much about which position he played.

Lu Qianshuang didn't know how to play all that many champions. She also chose Master Yi as her champion, while Shen Qiao locked in Veigar. Just as the game was loading, Lu Zhe finished talking to Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo. He passed by Shen Qiao's desk and stopped behind him.

"Ranked?"

Shen Qiao looked up at him and realized that he'd yet to notice Lu Qianshuang's ID. He hummed in acknowledgement, then finished gearing up and headed out with their AD to help Lu Qianshuang camp out near the red buff.

In the first five minutes of the match—

Lu Qianshuang had learned from Shen Qiao's earlier plays. She was very conscious of opportunities to help her teammates. She went down to the bottom lane once, and over to the middle lane once.

Shen Qiao's Veigar never missed, hitting each enemy he targeted. The team's AD, Lucian, comfortably followed along, mowing down their enemies and farming up experience like crazy. The two of them worked together to pressure their opponents back against the tower.

However, their middle lane champion Ahri still messed up and got herself and Lu Qianshuang killed, one after the other.

[Ahri (Team): Master Yi, can you stop using your feet to play the game? Don't come to my lane just to give your life away, alright? Omegas should just be good and stay home doing embroidery these days. What are you playing LoL for?]

Lu Qianshuang tried to reason with this player—

[Master Yi (Team): You died because you kept missing with your attacks, right? And I only died because I blocked some damage for you.]

[Ahri (Team): Oh, sure. Thanks for that. Let me ask you to never do it again. Can you do anything except stealing kills? If you don't want to play properly, go take a stroll around the base. Don't waste space here.]

Shen Qiao stunned an enemy and glanced at the chat. It had been a while since he got a chance to bicker with people in the game. He started to type—

[Veigar (Team): You play poorly, and you're discriminating against your teammates for their secondary sex? I've never met anyone with as many screws loose as you.]

[Ahri (Team): ……]

[Ahri (Team): I just remembered why your ID looks familiar. Aren't you Shen Qiao? What, you hotshot professional players don't practice during your days off? You just stroll around here trying to get girls? You're always either trending on Weibo or trying to snag a girl, huh? Not even male hookers are as efficient as you. Just stay in your lane and don't butt in, alright?]

Shen Qiao had just gone back to the base to change his equipment. When he saw that message, he had to laugh.

He racked up more kills as he fired scathing insults back at Ahri. Finally, Ahri was utterly crushed by his poisonous tongue. That player couldn't think of any retorts. In the end—

[Ahri (Team): This is the quality of character that professional players possess, is it? Alright, conversation screenshotted. Tomorrow, I'll have to ask your club if they pick up players from the trash. Your breath stinks.]

Shen Qiao was just about to respond when a hand suddenly shot out from behind him, stopping his movements.

Then, Lu Zhe took over his keyboard and typed out a message—

[Veigar (Team): You can run, but you can't hide. When you lodge a complaint tomorrow, make sure you ask for Lu Zhe. He'll teach you how to behave.]

Shen Qiao blinked.

He looked back at Lu Zhe and saw that Lu Zhe had his phone between his shoulder and ear. As soon as the call connected, Lu Zhe said to the person on the other end of the line, "Log out. I'm getting on."

After hanging up, Lu Zhe took a seat in the chair next to Shen Qiao. He swiftly booted up his computer and entered the game.

Shen Qiao lowered his own headset and looked over at Lu Zhe's arms. He quirked his lips and said, "What are you doing? You can't hone your skills in these low-rank games, you can only sharpen your tongue. What are you taking it so seriously for?"

Lu Zhe glanced at him and shifted his arms. "It's time for me to start practicing anyway. I may as well start today—

"Besides, it's our duty to cure these little kids of their internet addiction. They should study well and play fewer games."

……

Afterwards, that middle lane player's life became a living nightmare.

For some inexplicable reason, the jungler Master Yi suddenly became much more skilled. Whether it was farming in the jungle or ganking other champions, his plays were extremely smooth.

To make matters even more astonishing, that Master Yi would come up to the middle lane over and over again, practically killing the enemy middle laner before they could even take five steps.

If it was just that Master Yi suddenly seemed to attack like a feral dog, that would have been fine…

But for every kill that Master Yi helped the middle laner get, he would happily compose a colorful message reminding the middle laner of exactly what a waste of air and space their Ahri was.

[Master Yi (Team): The way you play… if I scattered rice over the keyboard and brought in some chickens, they would play better than you.]

[Master Yi (Team): I could place a ward in the middle lane and even it would be more useful than you.]

[Master Yi (Team): If you're going to cower by the tower all day, you shouldn't be in the middle lane. You should be running on home.]

……

Ahri went offline. They couldn't win against Lu Zhe on the field, and they couldn't win against him in the chat either. After realizing this, they gave up the fight.

Of course, the opposing middle laner also quit in despair.

Shen Qiao and Lucian kept pushing along in the bottom lane. Lu Zhe took down a dragon and Baron Nashor. The two top laners were also very competitive, earnestly battling it out. But Shen Qiao's team had basically taken over all three lanes by then. It wasn't long before they pushed up to the enemy's base, forcing the enemy to surrender.

Upon seeing the victory sign flash across the screen, Lu Zhe calmly took off his headset and quit the game.

Suddenly, a very polite knock sounded against his desk.

Lu Zhe turned and saw that Shen Qiao had a hand pressed to his desk. Shen Qiao moved his chair closer and closer, causing the distance between them to gradually shrink. A smile hung brightly in Shen Qiao's eyes as he smoothly teased, "Our Captain Lu is such a good brother. He'll seek justice for his little sister even when he's injured."

Lu Zhe twisted the wrist of his injured arm, then suddenly looped an arm around Shen Qiao's neck. His eyebrows arched up.

"Is it just that?" he asked, slowly drawing out each word. "It's not only my little sister. I won't stand for anyone bullying my didi either."

Shen Qiao glanced at the lean muscle running up Lu Zhe's arm. Originally, he'd wanted to slap Lu Zhe's arm away, but he wasn't sure if Lu Zhe really was all better or not. Ultimately, he didn't move away. He only scoffed and said, "Who's your didi supposed to be? You're doomed if anyone finds out about this, you know. All of tomorrow's headlines would be about you again."

Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo had stepped out of the training room by that point. Some of the other computer monitors were still on, but everyone else was currently away.

Lu Zhe immediately donned a pitiful expression. "Are you going to report me?"

Shen Qiao mulled it over for a few seconds. "Depends on your behavior?"

Lu Zhe smiled and answered, "Then, let me amend my previous statement. It's not okay to bully my little sister…

"But it's even more unacceptable to bully my wife. Now, as my wife…"

Shen Qiao instantly stood up and turned to the door. "Manager Zhou!"

 

Author's Notes:

Shen Qiao: Are you high or am I not menacing enough?

The world championship is right around the corner! We aren't far from our Captain Lu's return! Hehe!

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WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 74

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After failing to receive the praise he was looking for from Manager Zhou, Lu Zhe left with a bit of dissatisfaction in his heart.

He returned to the training room after Manager Zhou finished babbling about whatever it was he'd wanted to talk about. When he reentered, Lu Zhe saw that Shen Qiao was completing his allocated streaming hours for the month. Shen Qiao had even turned on his camera for the stream. Chat comments were rapidly flowing across the right side of the screen.

[Little Wolfy, your mom fans want you to turn on your camera so they can see YOU! We don't want to see your desk! Then again, Little Wolfy's hands are also pretty nice…]

[Ready for the playoffs? Ready for the playoffs? Ready for the playoffs? ARE YOU READY FOR THE PLAYOFFS?]

[Let's set a small goal first: win the summer tournament. That's not hard, right?]

[Has Captain Lu's arm gotten a bit better?]

While waiting for his teammates to choose their champions, Shen Qiao glanced over at the comments and chose one to answer.

"Getting better. He's doing physical therapy now."

Seeing that Shen Qiao was only answering questions about Lu Zhe, his fans all started up a chant.

[Only answering questions about Captain Lu?]

[Only answering questions about Captain Lu?]

[Only answering questions about Captain Lu?]

Countless strings of this same comment flowed across the screen, drowning out all other comments. Once Shen Qiao finished choosing his champion and runes, he glanced at the comments again and saw that he was being called out by his fans.

Luckily, the camera wasn't pointed at his face. Otherwise, his fans definitely would have been able to see the heat rising in his neck.

Shen Qiao pursed his lips and refused to answer, acting like he hadn't seen anything. However, in the end, Lu Zhe scooted closer and presented his phone to Shen Qiao from behind, while lowering his head to ask through Shen Qiao's headset, "These. Should I send them to you?"

Shen Qiao glanced at the screen of Lu Zhe's phone. Lu Zhe's camera roll was open, and all the recent photos were ones Lu Zhe had taken earlier that morning on campus. Shen Qiao hadn't felt like they'd taken all that many photos, but now that he was looking at them all on one screen, it seemed like there were a lot.

He took Lu Zhe's cell phone and lowered his head to flip through the photos. He enlarged one, then looked over at Lu Zhe and asked, "Are you using your phone right now?"

If not, Shen Qiao would take his time looking through the photos.

And he would just casually forward them all to himself.

Lu Zhe laughed and leaned against the back of Shen Qiao's seat. "No, go ahead. Take your time."

After saying that, he glanced at Shen Qiao's computer monitor and caught sight of the stream of 'Only answering questions about Captain Lu?' comments that were still flowing.

"You guys, don't bully him so much," he said on Shen Qiao's behalf.

The fans were all puzzled.

[If I bully my husband, is that any of your business?]

[We won't bully him, we won't. But what precious thing are you guys looking at? Let us have a look?]

[I've been wrongly accused! Would I dare bully an alpha?]

[Captain Lu, Captain Lu! Look into the camera for a sec, okay? We miss you so much!]

[When did you get so bold? Did you get your man?]

Lu Zhe watched as these new comments came in. The corners of his lips quirked into a faint smile as he lifted a hand and pointed out that 'If I bully my husband, is that any of your business?' comment to Shen Qiao.

Shen Qiao stared at it for a moment.

Then he cleared his throat and reminded everyone, "Those of you calling me 'husband', calm down a little. I won't answer you if you call me that."

[That's not what you said in bed last night.]

[You weren't like this before. You used to love us so much.]

[Dog Lu threatened you, right? Tell him to come at me.]

[Then who will you answer if they call you 'husband'?]

There were too many fans in the bullet comments who were way too adept at asking pointed questions. Shen Qiao skimmed those comments for a long while, but had no way of answering any of them. Fortunately, the game started at just that moment. He was playing Soraka in the top lane, equipped with Doran's Ring.

Lu Zhe didn't keep teasing him either. He simply pulled over a chair and watched as Shen Qiao happily faced off against the enemy with Soraka.

As a champion, Soraka was typically played as a support and paired with Draven. She was primarily geared towards healing. One of her skills allowed her to heal herself upon striking an enemy, and she had a passive which allowed her to move faster to assist teammates. Another of her skills allowed her to sacrifice her own health to heal her teammates, another allowed her to interfere with her enemies' movement, and her ult healed her whole team.

When Soraka appeared in the top lane, it was always a test of skill to see if she could single-handedly slay her opponent. Success depended heavily on the player's technique and awareness of their surroundings. After all, if Soraka were to be pinned down, her health was so fragile that only death would await her.

Shen Qiao calmly faced off against the enemy champion, Fiora Laurent. His opponent was a rather level-headed player, only diving in when the opportunity for a kill presented itself. Otherwise, his opponent stayed back and farmed minions.

Shen Qiao had set Lu Zhe's cell phone down on his desk. He planned on checking the photos later, when he returned to their base and had a spare moment.

The enemy champion grew more and more aggressive, eventually abandoning the minions and rushing up to attack Shen Qiao. Shen Qiao continued to calmly string his opponent along, without giving his enemy the chance to get too close. At the same time, he also didn't give his opponent much breathing room.

Just like that, they remained locked in combat for five or six minutes. Fiora Laurent was struck by countless skills from Shen Qiao. With her health so low, it would have been a good time to go back to her base, but she didn't show any signs of wanting to retreat. It seemed like she was trying to lure Shen Qiao in with her low health, hoping to take Soraka down with her.

Shen Qiao checked the minimap. He noticed that the enemy team's jungler had disappeared at some point, in the upper half of the map. After mulling it over, he decided not to fall for the opponent's trap. He let his low-health enemy continue to wander around in front of him, refusing to give in to her provocations.

Just as Shen Qiao hit the enemy with another skill, Lu Zhe suddenly murmured, "You can get the kill."

At almost the exact same time, Shen Qiao flashed forward and cast his E skill at Fiora Laurent, successfully taking her life before the enemy jungler could arrive. Immediately after that, Shen Qiao retreated to his own tower.

The bottom laners on Shen Qiao's team had already taken two kills. Now, adding in Shen Qiao's kill, the headcount stood at—

3-0.

Shen Qiao had battled it out against that Fiora Laurent for quite a while. His own mana was low, so he decided to head back to his base to change his equipment.

At that point, he picked up Lu Zhe's cell phone again and pressed the switch at the side to illuminate the screen. Just as he was about to use his fingerprint to unlock the phone, he was surprised to see the new wallpaper that popped up.

His finger was already pressed to the sensor, and the phone automatically unlocked with a sound of falling water. The wallpaper faded away to reveal a different photo and all of Lu Zhe's apps.

Shen Qiao froze for a second, suddenly remembering something. He instinctively looked over at the comments in his livestream, only to see that the bullet comments were—

Ah. As expected, the '??????' and '!!!!!!' comments that had filled up the screen after he got a kill with Soraka had all been replaced by comments of a different nature.

[Mystery of the year: why is Wolf Cub able to unlock Captain Lu's phone with his fingerprint?]

[Did you guys see the photo that was set as the wallpaper?]

[I was recording my screen I was recording my screen I was recording my screen!]

[Pardon me, but what the actual hell? I have so many questions about your operations—the way you operated Soraka, and the way you operated Captain Lu's phone.]

[You and Captain Lu… are you planning to make your official announcement today?]

Shen Qiao was silent.

He calmly retorted, "If you're asking, this is just normal sharing and caring between teammates."

[??? Is that so?]

[I may not be very well-read, but don't you try to lie to me.]

[I don't even understand what the word 'teammate' means anymore lololol]

After giving that curt answer, Shen Qiao swiftly turned his camera away so that it was pointing at one corner of his desk. He shoved Lu Zhe's phone back into his arms, wearing a calm expression that seemed to imply nothing had just happened. Nothing at all.

Lu Zhe, however, had already seen the bullet comments. His lips curved into a bigger and bigger smile—

All according to plan.

Half an hour later…

Lu Zhe scrolled through the Weibo supertopic dedicated to the ship of him and Shen Qiao. Someone had already clipped that bit of Shen Qiao's stream and uploaded it, showing how Shen Qiao had casually unlocked Lu Zhe's phone. There was even a close-up of the photo that had been set as the wallpaper.

The uploader had added the text, Shocking! What is Wolf Cub sneakily doing during his stream?!

The comments below were all nearly unintelligible screams.

[Today is the day! WolfDog girls are winning!]

[I'm into DG's gameplay and I'm into DG's ships. I'm the happiest boy in the world right now!]

[Are Wolf Cub and Captain Lu together today? Yes! They! Are!]

[Everyone knows that alphas are extremely territorial. No alpha would let another alpha enter their territory or touch their personal belongings—so, what? They're lovers? Oh, pretend I didn't say anything.]

[Why aren't they married yet? Huh? Are they waiting for another world championship trophy as a dowry?]

Lu Zhe did his very best to resist the urge to give each and every one of those comments a like.

He just smiled to himself and watched as Shen Qiao finished logging his streaming hours for the month, patiently waiting until Shen Qiao got offline.

After ending his stream, the little wolf cub subtly let out a sigh of relief. He decided he would finish the rest of his assigned hours after playoffs ended. Whenever the public forgot about his little slip-up was when he would appear before them again.

……

That night, DG's official account posted the schedule for the playoffs.

Shen Qiao, Lu Zhe, Qian Bao, Old Wo, and the others shared the post to their personal accounts, adding on words of encouragement like 'good luck' and 'fight on'.

Very soon after that, a series of very strange comments appeared beneath each of their posts. The comments were all along the lines of—

[Can our Qian Bao use her fingerprint to unlock Captain Lu's phone?]

[Old Wo, are you brave enough to unlock Captain Lu's phone?]

[Flower, do you know the password for Captain Lu's phone?]

Old Wo liked checking the comments after he and his teammates posted to Weibo. Seeing those strange remarks, he couldn't help but look up and call out, "Hey, Daddy Lu, what's going on with your cell phone? Why are our fans all asking in the comments if I can unlock your phone?"

Lu Zhe looked over at Shen Qiao. The corners of his eyes crinkled with a smile. "About that…"

Shen Qiao immediately glared at him.

Lu Zhe slowly continued, "I'm not too sure either."

Old Wo blinked.

He just knew, somehow, that there was dog food hidden in those secretive words.

After mulling it over for a few seconds, Old Wo returned his attention to Weibo and wrote a response to the message that had been bumped up to the top of the 'hot' comments section under his post—

[It doesn't matter if I can unlock his phone or not. The important question is whether or not Daddy Qiao can unlock it. @DG-Wolfy]

Er-Hua and Qian Bao, who'd been watching all this unfold from the sidelines, shared his comment and added their own response—a dog face emoji.

In the early hours of morning, the tag #LuZheCellPhone# started to climb up the trending topics list. Once again, an incident which Shen Qiao wished would never see the light of day was spread all throughout the esports industry.

 

Author's Notes:

Dog Lu: I feel great.

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