Chapter 5: Friends from the Start, Opponents for Life (4)
The path between the Line Canyon city and the leveling areas and dungeons was frequented by many players. So, even though not many heard the words that Desert Dust spoke, just the sight of the names “Desert Dust” and “One Autumn Leaf” together was enough to make passersby stop in their tracks. Thanks to their perfect win records, these names were famous, and no one would object to calling them the top experts. But everyone was even more curious as to which of them was stronger.
And so, on the road outside of the city, when these two characters met, all of the players who recognized those names stopped in their tracks.
Ye Xiu didn’t refuse Desert Dust’s invitation. Even Su Muqiu, who typically only cared about the equipment editor and not victory, began to display a deep excitement.
One Autumn Leaf, Desert Dust.
No one knew then that this meeting would mark the start of over a decade of competition and rivalry between these two characters, these two players.
In this moment, everyone was only curious as to which of the two was about to lose his perfect record.
The battle would take place on the side of the path. As more and more players passed by, those at the back found their view blocked by the crowd, and so they scrambled for higher ground by climbing atop nearby rocks and trees.
The two experts hadn’t wanted to cause a traffic jam, but now, even though they had relocated to the side of the road, congestion was unavoidable.
“Let’s begin!” Desert Dust didn’t say anything more, and rushed forward with a shout.
Ye Xiu answered with his actions. Desert Dust was fast with the attack, but his One Autumn Leaf was faster to meet it.
Two straight-line attacks, accurately crashing into each other.
Who was stronger? Who was weaker?
The spectators couldn’t even see the results of this clash before the two characters turned and began moving in parallel.
One Autumn Leaf’s spear swung upward, a level 30 Orange weapon, bladed at both ends, flashing like a Blade Master’s lightsaber. This weapon was a prize for earning a certain number of points in the Arena, and every day countless Battle Mages salivated over this glorious prize – very few were able to reach the requirements necessary for unlocking it.
Desert Dust’s weapon wasn’t any less prestigious. Having won more battles, he had even more Arena points than One Autumn Leaf. Thus, while One Autumn Leaf only had two pieces of Orange equipment, Desert Dust actually had three, including an Orange weapon – Raging Lava!
Desert Dust’s gauntlets were wreathed in flames.
With this attack, the flames seemed to blaze even brighter.
Clash, another clash.
These two players were the highest of experts, and yet at this moment seemed not to understand technique and adaptation. They were like two newbies, simply throwing attacks at each other’s bodies.
But this time, Sky Strike had a clear priority disadvantage to Collapsing Fist. When Desert Dust’s fist hit One Autumn Leaf’s spear, One Autumn Leaf’s body began to shake – Collapsing Fist had clear priority over Sky Strike.
All the spectators thought this was the case. Desert Dust didn’t disappoint, quickly following up with his attacks.
Is it, though? The spectating Su Muqiu chuckled to himself. Sky Strike and Collapsing Fist, there was a clear difference in power. How could Ye Xiu ignore that fact? Would he miss something as important as that? Everyone who thinks that this is a chance for Desert Dust, aren’t they looking down on the abilities of an expert?
This wasn’t a chance. Or rather, this was a chance, but it was Ye Xiu’s chance, because he purposely exposed this flaw to the opponent.
A shaking body seemed to be the result of the inability to properly counter the Collapsing Fist. But this apparent helplessness and loss of control allowed One Autumn Leaf to cleanly dodge Desert Dust’s follow-up Whirlwind Kick. Immediately after, a gleam of light flew out from behind One Autumn Leaf.
A Chaser resulting from the clash between Dragon Tooth and Dashing Jab. Unlike most other Battle Mages, he didn’t fire this Chaser immediately, but instead waited until this critical moment, when everyone thought that Desert Dust had the upper hand, to suddenly counterattack.
Light blocked Desert Dust’s field of vision. It wasn’t just an attack on the character, it was more of a disruption to the human controller. The spectators couldn’t grasp this point; only Su Muqiu, who often sparred with Ye Xiu, understood.
And Desert Dust was currently experiencing this himself. But even so, he didn’t retreat, or even falter.
The Whirlwind Kick attack was dodged.
His vision was blocked by the light of the Chaser.
One Autumn Leaf was already launching another attack.
But none of this affected Desert Dust’s actions. He wasn’t panicked or hesitant in the slightest. He simply swung his fists as always. As a level 32 character, he only had access to a limited number of skills, so this swinging of his fist was just a simple, direct punch.
But this punch was faster than a special skill, and was as accurate as ever even with blocked vision.
The punch passed the Neutral Chaser – the light damaged Desert Dust, but his movement was unaffected. This ordinary punch connected with One Autumn Leaf’s head.
Bang! A dull sound.
A normal attack couldn’t deal much damage, but this punch successfully disrupted One Autumn Leaf’s rhythm. The spectators were shocked – they weren’t able to follow the intricacies of the situation, so all they saw was that Desert Dust seized the opportunity and gained the upper hand. It made sense that the 4012-win Desert Dust would be slightly stronger than the 3686-win One Autumn Leaf.
Su Muqiu was shocked as well, but for a slightly different reason. He knew that Ye Xiu was luring Desert Dust into attacking, but he hadn’t thought that this opponent would use such a brute-force method to directly destroy Ye Xiu’s plan.
Desert Dust, like Su Muqiu, had clearly also seen through One Autumn Leaf’s “chance.” But he didn’t retreat because of it, didn’t even display a half-second of wavering – he simply resolutely charged forward.
He knew it was a trap, but jumped in anyway. It seemed to be a dumb move. But this Striker, with his courage and determination alone, used this dumb method to slaughter open a path.
Now, Ye Xiu was no longer purposefully retreating or leaving openings. Desert Dust was truly gaining the upper hand, with a relentless stream of attacks. Unlike most others who faced off against an expert like Ye Xiu, Desert Dust didn’t play conservatively. He continued to unleash a barrage of attacks, each more ferocious than the last.
As expected of the perfect-record expert! He truly is powerful!
Seeing the attitudes of these experts, Su Muqiu felt himself getting fired up as well. Up until now, he had been focused on getting revenue from games; if there was no money to be earned from the outcome of a PK, he wasn’t really interested. But in this moment, he suddenly felt the impulse to put aside all else in the pursuit of victory.
Initially, he didn’t really care about the outcome of this match, and even somewhat wanted to see what Ye Xiu was like after a loss. But now, he fiercely hoped for Ye Xiu’s victory. The feeling of having a mutual enemy was exceptionally clear.
He turned his head to look at Ye Xiu sitting beside him. He had never seen Ye Xiu this focused before, and yet he was clearly excited as well.
These were truly two perfectly-matched rivals.
One match wouldn’t say much. Su Muqiu suddenly had this premonition, that these two would meet in many more battles to come, each experiencing their share of victories and defeats, fighting until the end.
But who would win the first match? Who would take the lead?
Su Muqiu’s eyes lit up.
As someone who relied on games for income, he was excellent at discovering bugs and loopholes, which often led to considerable revenue breakthrough. Having developed this habit, even his fighting style became very cost-efficient.
Use the smallest cost to get the biggest reward, this was the principle he lived by.
He liked bugs, he was good at finding bugs, he was good at using bugs.
And in that moment, he discovered a bug, and instinctively controlled his Autumn Tree to raise his guns.
But although this conditioned reflex was there, he ultimately did not fire the shot.
Because Ye Xiu’s reaction was faster, and had a more accurate grasp of the timing.
Falling Flower Palm!
The palm flashed forward, toward a tiny gap in Desert Dust’s stream of attacks, a flaw that simply didn’t exist in the eyes of everyone around them.
Su Muqiu saw it.
And when he saw it, Ye Xiu had already started moving, One Autumn Leaf had already interrupted Desert Dust’s attack.
Before Desert Dust was sent flying by this Falling Flower Palm, One Autumn Leaf had already waved this Shadow Cloak to trap him in the air, and then immediately followed up with sprinkling a Disperse Powder.
One Autumn Leaf began to counterattack.
Like Desert Dust, Ye Xiu didn’t restrict himself to Battle Mage skills. At level 32, this would limit a player severely, so everyone would learn a few skills of other classes to bolster their movepool.
Battle Mages were a Mage subclass, and the difference between the various Mage subclasses was quite large. Because of this, Ye Xiu had a wider selection of skills he could learn compared to most players. Even skills that seemed completely unrelated to the fighting style of a Battle Mage could still be used and chained to great effect.
A Summoner’s monster appeared on the battlefield.
An Elementalist’s flames burned on Desert Dust’s body.
The spectators almost forgot what class One Autumn Leaf was in. Only when Chasers were fired did they remember – right, this was a Battle Mage.
The spectators discussed eagerly amongst themselves. Earlier they had thought Desert Dust was quite fierce, and 4012 wins was better than 3686. But now, they were beginning to favor One Autumn Leaf.
One Autumn Leaf’s attacks continued uninterrupted. But gradually, the situation began to change yet again. Initially, Desert Dust had been suppressed, but he was now slowly evening the playing field.
One Autumn Leaf was attacking, but so was Desert Dust.
No longer was one party attacking while the other defended. Now, they were both using everything they had to attack.
“What a tough guy!” exclaimed Su Muqiu. Desert Dust’s stubborn playstyle was much different from his own, and normally Su Muqiu would have disdained the inelegance of it. But in a way, this strength and stubbornness was inspiring, such that even though Su Muqiu didn’t agree with this way of fighting, it earned his respect and belief.
The health of both parties was falling in tandem. Neither demonstrated a clear advantage; it seemed that victory would be decided in the falling moments.
Even after a lengthy period of fighting, Desert Dust’s momentum hadn’t wavered one bit. Collapsing Fist, the strongest skill of a Striker at this level, tore towards One Autumn Leaf.
The match would be decided with this attack!
Everyone could see, One Autumn Leaf didn’t have enough health left to live through this Collapsing Fist. Desert Dust ignored all else, didn’t dodge, didn’t pause, just kept moving forward. And One Autumn Leaf’s spear was still extended from a previous attack and couldn’t be brought up to block in time; Falling Flower Palm was in cooldown; his Chasers had all been used up.
No path of retreat, no way to dodge, One Autumn Leaf seemed to be in dire straits. But just at that moment, Desert Dust suddenly jumped.
A jump that seemed to be for no reason at all, but soon enough everyone saw, it wasn’t that Desert Dust wanted to jump, but that he had suffered an attack.
A Summoner’s knock-up skill abruptly came from the ground. Desert Dust couldn’t defend against this, and was lifted into the air.
But he only needed one punch!
Thorn changed Desert Dust’s body position but didn’t interrupt his attack, so the punch continued toward One Autumn Leaf.
But One Autumn Leaf had already knelt down and performed a marvelous coordination of the knock-up effect of that Thorn skill, quickly increasing the distance between the two characters. His spear was pulled back before shooting out once again like a stinger.
A spear is long, an arm is short.
Even though Desert Dust began his attack earlier, One Autumn Leaf’s attack landed first. Suspended in the air like that, after eating several attacks from the spear, Desert Dust clearly had no more hope for victory. His fists lowered helplessly.
Victory and defeat were decided!
But One Autumn Leaf didn’t stop. An Ice Chaser shot out and struck Desert Dust.
With this hit, Desert Dust’s health dropped to zero, and his body and some of his equipment fell to the ground.
The spectators paused in confusion before remembering – this duel wasn’t in the Arena, this was a PK in the wild. If you died in the wild, you’d lose some experience, and some of your equipment would drop as well.
The chance of dropping equipment wasn’t too high, but Desert Dust’s was unlucky – not only did he drop equipment, everyone saw clearly that what had dropped was his weapon – the Orange-level gauntlets, Raging Lava.
Wealth moved people, and in this game, what moved people the most was equipment.
In a flash, everyone forgot about that intense battle and their feelings of admiration at these two experts.
Orange equipment that could only be obtained with points in the Arena!
Immediately, some players charged forward to grab that equipment, even ignoring One Autumn Leaf. Obviously, One Autumn Leaf was closest to the fallen Desert Dust and the dropped gauntlets, but he barely had any health left. Thus, despite One Autumn Leaf’s demonstrated skill, no one viewed him as a threat in this state.
Long-ranged attacks flew toward One Autumn Leaf; the attackers seemed to reach a tacit understanding to take him out first before squabbling for the equipment. But as they soon discovered, One Autumn Leaf wasn’t the only opponent they had to deal with.
“Despicable! Absolutely despicable!!” An indignant shout burst forth from the crowd. A Qi Master charged forth, running toward One Autumn Leaf’s side while manipulating qi energy.
The Qi Master stopped and activated the defensive skill to cover One Autumn Leaf. This skill created a bubble that could block all incoming attacks.
“Ah!” But the Qi Master hardly had time to relax, for One Autumn Leaf had already charged out of the protection and through the space where attacks were flying everywhere.
“Hey you…” the Qi Master shouted. After Qi Guard was cast, it couldn’t be moved. One Autumn Leaf ran outside the shield – did he not see this skill had been cast? But the Qi Master’s shout died in his throat. One Autumn Leaf sprinted toward the fallen Desert Dust, snatched the fallen gauntlets, spun around, and a few steps later was back in the safety of the Qi Guard.
“Thanks,” the Qi Master heard One Autumn Leaf say to him. But the Qi Master’s attention was grabbed by a Sharpshooter standing a distance away, wielding dual pistols. Even though his equipment was terrible, the Qi Master had clearly seen, just now, that this Sharpshooter had used his attacks to deflect and interrupt the various incoming attacks from the other players, allowing One Autumn Leaf to avoid taking damage and grab the gauntlets.
“Another expert…” The Qi Master stared at Autumn Tree for a while longer. Meanwhile, the spectators, seeing that the orange equipment had already been claimed, could only disperse in disappointment.
By this time, Ye Xiu had already directed One Autumn Leaf to drink a potion to restore his health, so he no longer feared any further attacks. He walked toward the Qi Master.
“Thanks for just now.” Ye Xiu expressed his gratitude again.
The Qi Master laughed. “Haha, it was nothing,” he said, glancing at Autumn Tree. In his heart, he knew that his Qi Guard hadn’t really helped much. One Autumn Leaf returning here after grabbing the equipment was simply allowing the Qi Master to save face; he would have been fine without it.
“Do you want these gauntlets?” Ye Xiu asked him.
“Huh? Me? I don’t want them, aren’t you going to return them to that guy?”
“I’ll ask,” Ye Xiu said.
Two seconds later, the Qi Master saw in the world chat:
“Desert Dust do you still want those gauntlets you dropped or not?” – One Autumn Leaf.
The world chat exploded.
One Autumn Leaf, Desert Dust, two perfect-record experts! And now One Autumn Leaf was calling out Desert Dust, what was going on? Dropped gauntlets, what was that about?
“No.” In the midst of speculation, Desert Dust’s message was short, but it was seen by many, including Ye Xiu.
“He doesn’t want it, you should just take it!” Ye Xiu offered to the Qi Master once again.
“I’ll stick to my gloves,” the Qi Master still refused.
“Then give it to me!” By this time, Su Muqiu’s Autumn Tree had made his way over. His voice carried not only through the game but also in real life, as he twisted his head to say these words at his friend playing next to him.
This was Orange equipment!
As research material, Orange equipment was too difficult to get. Even though Su Muqiu had borrowed some of Ye Xiu’s Orange equipment to investigate, he could never do any real testing on them – after all, they weren’t his, and he didn’t want to mess them up by accident. That was a line he wouldn’t cross. If he was going to test on those, it would have to wait until Ye Xiu discarded them for better equipment.
“Take it!” Just like that, the orange equipment that so many players dreamed of was just casually tossed to Su Muqiu to become experiment material.
The Qi Master spoke up suddenly. “By the way, just now, you didn’t have to fire that last Ice Chaser at him to kill him, did you?”
“No, it was necessary,” Ye Xiu said. “Otherwise I would’ve been the one killed.”
“That guy hadn’t given up. He was about to unleash an Eagle Stamp. If I hadn’t launched that Chaser, or even if I’d launched it too slow, then I would’ve died.”
“So that’s how it is…” The Qi Master nodded. “Thank you for the lesson.”
Ye Xiu laughed. “Add me as a friend, then we can play together later.”
“Alright, in the future, let’s meet up.”
And so, on this day, at the same time, Ye Xiu met two people who would play significant roles in his life as a Glory player. The one who would become his strongest rival for countless years, and the one who would become his strongest helper, supporting him to the summit of Glory in the first three years of his professional career.