Hearing those immensely provocative words, every single one of their teammates decided to play deaf.
Qian Bao looked back at her computer monitor and suddenly blurted out, "Fuck!"
When Lu Zhe began recounting that old story, she'd suspected there would be something unsavory that her fans shouldn't be allowed to hear. She'd muted her mic so that the only sound playing over her stream was the background music she'd put on earlier.
The bullet comments were full of people idly shooting the shit now. Some of them, who'd grown especially bored, had even started trying to guess what Team DG were talking about based on Qian Bao's facial expressions.
She shot Lu Zhe a remorseful look and said, "Captain, I forgot to relay your sweet story of youth to my fans."
Lu Zhe mulled it over for a few seconds, then turned to Qian Bao with a faint frown. With a magnanimous, forgiving tone, he answered:
"That's fine. Just be careful in your next life."
Qian Bao blinked.
"Only you, Captain Lu," she muttered, shaking her head. "You dirty dog."
Seeing that they were about to start up another round of bickering, Big-Mouthed Zhou suddenly slapped a hand to his own forehead. "Tsk! I almost forgot to tell you. I have news—
"The schedule for the summer tournament is out. Our first match will be on June 3rd, against HCG. Our second will be on June 7th, against LAG. Each match will be a best-of-three. We'll play each team in our division twice, and each outside team once.
"The league has already sent out the official schedule. Take a look when you get a chance, and share the team's official announcement on Weibo.
"In July, we'll have regular season matches and cross-regional matches at the same time, so make sure you stay in shape. Get some exercise when you're able, don't eat so much takeout. Don't get a cold or a fever or a stomachache as soon as our tournament season restarts."
Hearing all those typical warnings from Big-Mouthed Zhou, Old Wo and Er-Hua responded in unison, "We knoooooow."
Qian Bao continued her stream and mentioned the tournament schedule to her fans. The bullet comments filled up with exuberant glee.
However, Big-Mouthed Zhou still had his gaze fixed on Lu Zhe. After a long while, he decided he couldn't set his worries aside. He patted the back of Lu Zhe's chair and said, "This won't do. Captain Lu, step outside with me for a moment."
Coach Fang arrived just then with a few of their team analysts. Seeing that Big-Mouthed Zhou was about to single Lu Zhe out and drag him away, Coach Fang dutifully reminded, "Practice is about to start. If you have something to say, say it fast."
Big-Mouthed Zhou waved his acknowledgement. "I know. I just need to give him a warning."
Lu Zhe followed Big-Mouthed Zhou down the hall, heading towards the manager's office.
Once Lu Zhe was standing in front of the white desk in that office, Big-Mouthed Zhou fetched him a cup of water. When he returned from the water dispenser, there was an inexplicably heavy look on his face.
He pressed the cup of water into Lu Zhe's hand and lifted his head to look up at the young man who was a good bit taller than him. He wore a serious, solemn gaze.
Lu Zhe accepted the cup. His crow-feather lashes swept down, half-obscuring his dark eyes as he looked into the plastic cup in his hand. Before Manager Zhou could continue, Lu Zhe suddenly interrupted:
"I know what you want to say. DG bought him to get results, to win. Not to stir up some nonsense relationship scandal."
Manager Zhou's words had been stolen right out of his mouth, but he wasn't the slightest bit angry. In fact, he looked grateful that Lu Zhe had spoken up. "As long as you understand, that's good. I'm not out to interfere with your search for a partner, but you know what our industry is like. Results are paramount. If you win, you can do anything you want. If you lose…"
If they lost, Shen Qiao was the one that would shoulder the blame and bear the brunt of the hate.
Fans would compare his results to the results DG had gotten while playing with Fish. All their faults and mistakes would be pinned on Shen Qiao. They would deem Shen Qiao unworthy of playing for DG, and they would relentlessly mock and scorn him while demanding his retirement.
It was easy to extrapolate this future from the words Manager Zhou left unspoken. Lu Zhe's eyes darkened.
He gulped down the cup of warm water and crumpled the plastic cup in his hand. When he lifted his gaze to Manager Zhou again, the typical smile on his face had disappeared. His expression was still mild, but solemn.
Slowly, he stated, "I understand."
Team DG had won last year's world championships. If they'd maintained their condition and level of play from that time, they shouldn't have lost in this year's spring tournament.
Unfortunately, no one could have anticipated Fish's health problems. Their team had, regretfully, ground to a halt at the semifinals.
Their fans were eager to see Team DG return to the peak of the league.
The summer tournament was their chance.
If Lu Zhe couldn't lead their team to glory, their newest member Shen Qiao would become the target of their fans' ire. Fans who'd showered Team DG with love wouldn't hesitate to drown Shen Qiao in their rage and loathing.
"DG needs a championship win, and Qiaoqiao needs one too—don't worry. I won't affect his condition for now."
Once Lu Zhe said all that, Manager Zhou instantly felt more at ease.
Manager Zhou nodded his approval like his head just couldn't stop bobbling. He glanced at the notepad on his desk before saying, "Alright, good. Go to practice now. Oh, but one more thing—tell Wolfy that his team uniform might not be ready anytime soon. We're in talks to change our sponsors right now. Once we get all that hashed out, we'll have new uniforms for all five of you."
Lu Zhe nodded. "Sure."
After uttering his agreement, Lu Zhe turned to leave. He tossed the plastic cup in his hand into the trash by the door on his way out.
Just then, from behind him, Big-Mouthed Zhou suddenly spoke up again:
"Hey, off the record, I just want to say—"
Ten minutes later. Training room.
Coach Fang held a log of their team's records and addressed the five players: "Your solo play has been fine as of late, but your teamwork still needs improvement. I've scheduled a practice match against WTG for tonight at nine. They're getting ready for their mid-season invitational right now, so they're bound to be in peak condition. Exciting, isn't it?"
Upon hearing the name WTG, Qian Bao did indeed perk up.
When they lost in the semifinals of the spring tournament, they'd lost to WTG. This practice match was a small way for them to take revenge.
An inscrutable smile touched the corners of Lu Zhe's eyes. He asked Coach Fang, "Best-of-one?"
Coach Fang nodded, flashing a subtle smirk. "One match will decide it all. You like that?"
Lu Zhe let out a soft laugh. "If I remember correctly, they'll be going up against a North American team in the first round of their invitational. That team has a playstyle that's fairly similar to ours. They take their time to develop individually in the early stages, then group up in the jungle to advance—does WTG intend to use us to sharpen their blade?"
Coach Fang shook his head and corrected, "If we perform well, we'll be helping them sharpen their blade. If we perform poorly, we'll only be keeping them warmed up and in the groove before their official match."
Hearing that, all five players straightened up. A readiness to fight filled their eyes. They listened intently to the training plan Coach Fang laid out for them.
"Let's start with the bottom lane. Old Wo, Er-Hua. You two have been pretty aggressive lately. No matter what formation you come up against, you charge in for the kill. Yesterday afternoon, your showing was even more baffling. Er-Hua went in for the kill, and Old Wo hung back to defend the tower. Are you two thinking about swapping positions or what?"
Old Wo nonchalantly brushed a hand over his nose. Er-Hua looked up at the ceiling.
Coach Fang flashed them each a very professional and very fake smile. "Tell me. What other nice surprises do you have in store for me today?"
The two of them obediently shook their heads and did their very best to school their expressions into masks that said one thing: We understand. We'll behave.
Coach Fang continued, "I'm not against you going for player kills early in the game, but pay attention to your formation. If you can't finish an opponent, make a decisive retreat. Don't give the enemy jungler the opportunity to gank."
Once he was finished with them, he turned to Qian Bao and talked to her for a while about the new champions she'd been practicing as of late. Then, he turned to Shen Qiao—
"…Wolfy, learn to exercise caution in the early stages. When we play for real, the enemy will definitely try to gank you first. Later, I'll have the jungler of our practice team target you in the top lane more often. Lu Zhe, today, don't go up to help."
Shen Qiao nodded. "Okay."
Lu Zhe looked at him with a smile in his eyes and asked, "Will I see Wolfy go 1v2 today?"
Shen Qiao picked up his copy of the day's training schedule, then said to Lu Zhe, "You'll see me go 1v5 today. After 3:30, I'm scheduled for ARAM training."
Lu Zhe could tell, as soon as he heard that, that Coach Fang was earnestly taking measures to improve Shen Qiao's survivability in the top lane.
If Shen Qiao could maintain his unique and aggressive style of play while improving his ability to survive against two or more enemies, he wouldn't be so easily slain by the enemy jungler in an official match even if Lu Zhe didn't go up to the top lane to save him. At the same time, Shen Qiao would also grow more accustomed to patching himself up under pressure.
"Lu Zhe, your training is the same as always. Follow the schedule until 4:00 PM, then do as you please."
Once Coach Fang finished speaking, no one expressed any dissent.
Lu Zhe was the gold standard of all junglers in the LPL. Even if he were to be put in charge of the entirety of his own training schedule, the quality of his training wouldn't suffer.
Because he was a man who was forever worthy of his teammates' trust.
Coach Fang left them with one last remark:
"Tonight at seven, we'll review WTG's previous games to get familiar with their style before our practice match at nine."
The light outside the window gradually dipped towards the horizon.
At some point, the blazing red-gold glow of sunset started to soften. The last warm rays of daylight trickled in through the windows in the hall, spilling over the door to the training room.
The door was suddenly pulled open by someone from inside—
Er-Hua stretched and said to his teammates, "I'll go scout out what the cafeteria's serving for dinner tonight."
"Sure, sure. Eunuch Hua will taste test everything for poison, and we'll follow right behind," Old Wo said without lifting his head. He was engrossed in his game on the KR server.
Er-Hua laughed and swore at him. Qian Bao passed him at the door, making her way upstairs two steps at a time to grab a relaxing shower.
Lu Zhe asked Shen Qiao, "Tonight won't be your first practice match, but WTG is a little stronger than BLX. And it'll be a best-of-one. Are you nervous?"
Shen Qiao had just finished an ARAM match. He was still reviewing his own stats, and he gave his answer without looking away from his screen: "No."
Lu Zhe nodded subtly and didn't say anything else.
When Shen Xiao got up from his seat, Lu Zhe casually suggested going downstairs to grab dinner.
The two walked out of the training room, one after the other. Blocky swaths of sunlight spilled in through the uniform windows lining the hallway. Shen Qiao gazed at the glow that was cast upon Lu Zhe's back. For some indiscernible reason, an urge rose up within him—
He took a step forward and said to Lu Zhe, "I suddenly feel a little nervous."
Lu Zhe was just about to turn around, but the person behind him had already taken that big step up. A slightly itchy, tingly sensation ghosted over the nape of his neck, right where his glands were located.
Shen Qiao drew close and took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of Lu Zhe's cedarwood pheromones. Then he stepped back again, like absolutely nothing had happened at all. He stuck one hand in his pocket and looked at Lu Zhe with a light in his eyes, like twin stars of mirth were twinkling in his pupils.
With just a tiny bit of an edge to his smirk, he said, "Mm. Now I feel better again."
Lu Zhe was silent.
He took a deep, long breath. A storm brewed in his dark pupils, threatening to rage out of control at any second. Calmly, unhurriedly, he parted his lips and spoke:
"Did I forget to tell you?
"Teasing me before a game is an easy way to get burned."
Qiaoqiao, you can't do that! Boys need to be a little more reserved!