Shen Qiao was smiling like a little kid who'd just pulled off a mischievous prank. When he heard Lu Zhe's threat, he wasn't the slightest bit flustered. He only stuck one hand into his pants pocket and slowly responded:
"Hm? Teasing you?"
Shen Qiao echoed the dangerous word Lu Zhe had chosen.
Then he stepped forward again. He left the shadows by the wall and moved into the sunlight. The curve of his lips didn't change at all, but the light would make anyone think he was smiling a little more brilliantly. Perhaps that was because the rays of the setting sun flooded into his eyes, filling them with a brighter light.
Those light brown eyes were suddenly gilded with gold, like the golden cat's eye marbles Lu Zhe had played with as a child. Those eyes, in that moment, were inexplicably captivating.
Shen Qiao's provocations may have been a little over the top. He noticed that the pheromones which Lu Zhe had kept tightly controlled since his return… were suddenly becoming a little more intense.
The spike in that scent made his breathing slow, of its own volition. Subconsciously, his muscles gradually grew taut.
But his mouth didn't change its tune:
"You pig. What kind of talk is that?
"I was just taking Captain Lu's earlier suggestion and earnestly getting ready to quit smoking. Don't overthink it."
The corners of Lu Zhe's eyes crinkled as the smile on his lips spread to his gaze. That smile climbed like a soft, young vine of grape ivy, growing and stretching upwards towards the early spring sun.
"Really?" Lu Zhe retorted ambiguously.
Immediately afterwards, he meaningfully cautioned, "Don't forget. You were the one who invited me to help."
Shen Qiao tensed at those words.
He got the feeling that he was a lamb who'd willingly delivered itself into the tiger's den.
Without pursuing that line of conversation any further, Lu Zhe suppressed his pheromones once more. The thin yet intense layer of cedarwood that had scented the air disappeared, and Lu Zhe turned. He took the lead and continued down the hall, as though he weren't the one who'd had his glands… bothered, at a close distance, just a moment ago.
"Let's go," he said. "If we wait any longer, the cafeteria will run out of everything good."
Shen Qiao watched his retreating back for a moment, lifting his brows. He briefly wondered if he'd misinterpreted something just now, but reassured himself with a quirk of his lips a moment later.
He caught up in long strides.
Danger was good. It was exhilarating.
Just the thought of facing Lu Zhe in these battles of body and mind, every single day, was enough to make every cell in Shen Qiao's body quiver and tremble with anticipation. A fierce desire for victory had been ignited within his soul. Every fiber of his being looked forward to the next time he would clash with this worthy opponent.
After dinner, every member of Team DG went through their usual pre-game rituals until the clock slowly ticked onto 8:45 PM.
One by one, the members of DG logged into the private server and checked their equipment.
Old Wo was unperturbed by the tension; he was looking forward to an exciting match. He spoke into his mic, egging Lu Zhe on: "Daddy Lu, how about you give Daddy Er a pep talk to boost his morale and help him lead us to a vengeful victory?"
Qian Bao was very much on board. "I'm recording!"
Er-Hua chimed in, "It'll make a great video for WeChat and Weibo!"
Coach Fang had just unwrapped the free lollipop he'd gotten when he stepped out for cigarettes earlier. When he heard those words from the team, he'd just popped the sucker into his mouth. His jaw spasmed so hard that he nearly shattered his molars.
After rolling his eyes, Coach Fang muttered with the lollipop in his mouth: "One day, I'm going to have to talk to the higher-ups—the next time they recruit players, they'd better not pick them up off the streets of the red light district."
A ripple of a reaction passed through Shen Qiao's eyes as he listened to all this. He glanced over at Lu Zhe, almost subconsciously, as though also waiting for him to say something to the team.
Lu Zhe lightly cleared his throat. A smile softened his deceptively warm voice as it flowed through everyone's headsets: "Are you all… expecting me to say something salacious for free?"
The group let out a collective yelp and hastily started to shake their heads and hands in denial.
"I'm not," Old Wo said.
"Me neither," Er-Hua said.
"Don't talk nonsense," Qian Bao chided.
They all looked at Lu Zhe with shades of admiration in their eyes. They couldn't explain it. Lu Zhe obviously hadn't said much of anything, and yet they could practically detect the ominous scent of exhaust fumes in the air.
That was why Lu Zhe was their daddy.
While DG joked and bantered, WTG's five members also got online.
There wasn't any one outstanding player on WTG. Their individual abilities were all somewhat average, but their coach had a deep and comprehensive understanding of the playstyles and abilities of all other domestic teams. They could gain an advantage as early as the bans and picks stage. Then, they would take a 'slow and steady wins the race' approach during the game. They played as though they were forming a snowball, building it up bit by bit until they established dominance and surged forward to pressure their opponents, eventually securing their victory.
If Team DG was a sharp blade, then Team WTG was like a spiderweb. At first glance, they seemed soft and delicate, without much attack power. But they had the ability to force unwitting opponents into dire straits, without their notice.
Shen Qiao's addition to Team DG undoubtedly made the edge of DG's blade even sharper. That day's practice match was the perfect chance to see which of their teams had the power to come out on top.
"Let's ban Syndra first—"
With one order, Lu Zhe sealed off the road to WTG's best champion.
Their opponents gave as good as they got; they banned Qiyana.
Qian Bao snorted through her nose. "Trash champion. I haven't played her in ages."
Old Wo laughed and asked, "Is that how you treat your ex-wife?"
After saying that, he saw Lu Zhe eliminate Gragas with their second ban. He got serious and suggested, "Let's use our third ban on Kai'Sa. They love playing Kai'Sa on the bottom lane."
Qian Bao nodded her agreement. Soon after that, WTG swiftly banned Pantheon and Xayah in quick succession.
"Huh?" Er-Hua was baffled. "They left Elise unchecked."
Because DG got the first pick, Lu Zhe could lock in that champion right away if he needed to make a strong choice.
But Lu Zhe simply hummed and said, "No rush. Qian Bao has been practicing as Nautilus in the mid lane recently, right? We'll take Nautilus first."
After Qian Bao gave her approval, Shen Qiao locked in Nautilus.
Their opponents took Varus and Ryze.
Then, after DG took Lee Sin and Sivir, WTG claimed Tahm Kench. Each team proceeded to ban two more champions, after which WTG managed to take Elise as their jungler.
Er-Hua tsked. "Emperor Zhe, their jungler seems to be provoking you, huh?"
Lu Zhe smiled and answered, "If they were too kind to us, wouldn't you guys feel guilty for wiping out their team with a pentakill later?"
While Qian Bao gave that declaration a round of applause, Old Wo asked Shen Qiao, "Wolfy, who are you going to use in the top lane?"
Shen Qiao glanced at the enemy team's line-up before he answered, "Gangplank."
"Then I'll take Thresh?" Er-Hua proposed.
No one had any objections to that team composition. After they swapped their champions with one another, DG wound up with Gangplank, Lee Sin, Nautilus, Sivir, and Thresh.
Their opponents: Ryze, Elise, Pyke, Varus, and Tahm Kench.
Based on their team compositions alone, WTG had the upper hand. But in order to assert their dominance, they would have to exercise their full potential. Their margin for error was slim.
The match began.
Lu Zhe bought his usual weapon and potions. He hit tab when he had a second to spare, glancing at the opposing mid laner's boots. Qian Bao spoke up through their voice channel at just that time: "Their mid laner is on the hunt. He'll move faster than me."
"Demolish him," Lu Zhe said, unflustered. "Then it won't matter how fast he moves."
Qian Bao nodded. "I like the sound of that."
Once the five of them geared up and set out, Lu Zhe glanced at the map and issued a reminder: "Pay attention to their wards. They like to set them up at Level 1."
Shen Qiao crossed through the jungle to get into position in the top lane. After lurking in the underbrush by the river for a while, Lu Zhe made his way up to join him with his blind monk. The two of them made their way towards the jungle across the river, but before they could take two steps, Shen Qiao spotted something and spoke up.
"Hm?" His voice was spirited with interest. "Lu Zhe, here's an assist for you."
Hearing that voice, Lu Zhe laughed softly and felt a warm wave of indulgence wash over him. "Coming."
Lee Sin and Gangplank charged. The two of them took turns targeting Ryze with their Q. Although they didn't manage to get the kill in the end, they sent Ryze fleeing back to the enemy's outer turret at half health. The duo of Shen Qiao and Lu Zhe rode their wave of momentum forward, barging into the enemy jungle to claim a red buff.
Very quickly, WTG realized their top laner had been ganked by two people. The other four players on their side marched into DG's jungle to claim their red buff in exchange.
Each side stole the other's red buff. Overall, DG came out with a small advantage.
Shen Qiao returned to the top lane while Lu Zhe continued to run rampant in the enemy jungle. The enemy Elise played the perfect copycat; after snatching up the red buff in DG's jungle, she also stuck around like the cat that had caught the canary. But, soon enough, Er-Hua approached with Thresh and had a row with her—
"Oi!" Er-Hua chided. "Mind your manners, little spider."
While he shooed Elise out of their jungle, Er-Hua grabbed one of her krugs and claimed some gold before happily heading back to his lane to support Old Wo.
Shen Qiao was practically all-powerful in the top lane.
Since Lu Zhe was farming krugs in the nearby jungle, hanging close to the enemy's outer turret and making himself available to assist at any time, Shen Qiao boldly led the attack against the enemy tower and blitzed in to beat Ryze into the ground.
Lu Zhe hit Level 3 and decided to skulk around in the underbrush near the tower for a while.
Qian Bao used her champion's tankiness to her advantage; she was able to push forward more boldly than the enemy Pyke. After wiping out a wave of minions, she giddily called out to Lu Zhe: "How about we group up and take the top lane?"
As soon as she spoke, she started moving Nautilus across the river to swagger over to the top lane.
"Wait," Lu Zhe quickly warned. "The enemy still has minions up here."
He thought for a moment, then smiled and asked Shen Qiao, "Qiaoqiao, since I've lurked around to support you for so long, won't you reward me with a few minions?"
Shen Qiao affected an extraordinarily generous tone and said, "Sure."
They were clearly in the middle of a serious, intense battle. But Lu Zhe couldn't stop the corners of his lips from tugging up and up, into a wild grin.
Lu Zhe's blind monk burst out from the underbrush and cut in behind Ryze. He'd just felled two little minions when he suddenly noticed the enemy Pyke teleporting up—
"I'm coming too!" Qian Bao called out. She couldn't be bothered to trudge her way over and teleported straight up!
In the blink of an eye, DG's mid laner, top laner, and jungler were facing off against WTG's mid laner and top laner in front of WTG's outer turret. Lu Zhe waited for everyone to get into position, but Qian Bao didn't hesitate to ignite the enemy Ryze!
Then, Shen Qiao instantly charged in to collect Ryze's head!
Once she saw him take the kill, Qian Bao went out of her way to stop by the tower for a while, giving it a few good whacks on Shen Qiao's behalf.
Lu Zhe swiftly gave chase to Pyke, who wanted to flee. His first attack was evaded, and he and his teammates pursued their prey away from the tower. In the end, they still lost Pyke in the jungle.
But that was fine. Shen Qiao had claimed first blood, establishing their advantage. This round was a clear win for them.
Qian Bao returned to the middle lane, and Lu Zhe returned to Team DG's jungle. Before he took his leave, he grinned and asked Shen Qiao, "Don't you think it was worth it to feed me those two minions?"
Shen Qiao cleared his throat, but in the end he didn't say a word. After a long while, he simply typed out a few letters in their team's chat channel:
Lu Zhe didn't hear a response from him. He glanced at the chat, then smiled again and asked:
"Qiaoqiao, what do these letters of yours mean? I don't really understand."
Shen Qiao didn't buy that bullshit for a second. He lazily retorted, "What do you think they mean?"
"Then… I'll start guessing?" Lu Zhe suggested.
Shen Qiao hummed disinterestedly, but then—suddenly got a bad feeling.
Lu Zhe's voice sounded out again, uttering one word at a time:
"Nèi… shè… dào… dǐ?"2
Through their headsets, the other three members of their team spluttered in unison.
Shen Qiao was silent.
1. 'nsdd' is shorthand for 你说的对 (nǐ shuō de duì), which means 'you're correct'. It's very commonly seen, so there's precisely a 0% chance that Lu Zhe doesn't know what it means. He's just pretending because…
2. Lu Zhe's extremely bad faith guess, 内射到底 (nèi shè dào dǐ), is also four characters that start with 'nsdd'. But it basically means 'come deep inside me'.
What are you all staring at?! Quick, take notes!