Chapter 1: The Banished Battle God
Click click, tap tap…
A pair of nimble hands fluttered across the keyboard and mouse, producing rhythmic tapping sounds much like a lively symphony. The screen flashed with bright light and the opponent fell to the ground in a spray of blood.
"Hehe," Ye Qiu chuckled as he lifted his hand to take the cigarette dangling at the corner of his mouth. The silver-white smoke had already formed long tendrils hanging in the air, but Ye Qiu continued with his work, brandishing his mouse and striking his keyboard, not in the least bit distracted. The removed cigarette was quickly extinguished in an eccentrically-shaped ashtray on the table, and Ye Qiu's hand flew back to the keyboard. Right when he was about to say a few words to his opponent, the door of his room was suddenly pushed open with a bang.
Ye Qiu didn't turn his head, as though he had been waiting for this moment. He merely asked, "Here?"
"Here." Su Mucheng's reply was also simple.
"Then let's go!" Ye Qiu declined his opponent's request for another duel and gently removed the card from Glory's dedicated log-in device. He headed to the door, grabbing a jacket from a clothes hanger on his way out.
The night had already darkened considerably, but Club Excellent Era's lights were still bright. Ye Qiu and Su Mucheng left the room and walked all the way to the end of the corridor. Located here was a spacious conference room; at the entrance, digital display screens almost completely covered the walls. They showed the rankings of the "Glory Professional Alliance" and various technical statistics.
Ranking: Team Excellent Era, number 19 – second to last place.
For a trump card team that had once won three consecutive championship titles in the league, this score was particularly painful to the eyes. It hung brightly and glaringly on the wall, as if heartlessly mocking everyone.
But the atmosphere in the room wasn't heavy. On the contrary, it was somewhat lively. The members of Excellent Era were all gathered around one person as if they were stars surrounding the moon. Most of them didn't react to Ye Qiu's arrival, and the ones that did quickly swept over him with expressions of coldness and mockery.
"Ye Qiu, the club has already decided that the newly-transferred Sun Xiang will take over your position as captain. From now on, Sun Xiang will be in control of your account One Autumn Leaf." The club manager saw the arrival of Ye Qiu and immediately turned his head to speak. With no tact or prior warning, he notified him of this in an ice-cold manner, as if he were throwing away a ball of used toilet paper.
Su Mucheng opened her mouth to speak, but Ye Qiu lightly tugged at her sleeve. He smiled faintly and shook his head at her, indicating that he wasn't fazed.
"Brother Ye, I'm sorry, I took your position as soon as I arrived." The left-hand side of the conference table was the exclusive seat for Excellent Era's team captain. It should have been Ye Qiu's seat. But Sun Xiang casually sat there as he said these few words, barely sparing a glance for Ye Qiu. This was no longer ignorance; rather, it was a form of disregard. His gaze fell instead upon the body of Su Mucheng, who had arrived with Ye Qiu.
To be fair, Su Mucheng was indeed more attractive to the eye than Ye Qiu. She was known as the Glory Professional Alliance's number one beauty. If she were thrown into the show business, she would still be considered a rare beauty.
Even the Excellent Era members who saw her every day were still somewhat stunned when they saw Su Mucheng enter. But they quickly recovered, because today there was a more important person that deserved their attention.
"Haha, Brother Xiang, with those words, this position definitely suits you." Everyone promptly scrambled for their lines after Sun Xiang spoke.
"Right, some people are already old and outdated!"
"One Autumn Leaf should really be under Brother Xiang's command! Only he can show the true strength of the Battle God."
This was the subject of everyone's focus – Sun Xiang, a genius-level player of the new generation of the Glory Professional Alliance. When he joined the league last season, Sun Xiang won the Best Newcomer title with his MVP-like stats. This season, he led the mediocre Team Conquering Clouds to eighth place, and they had strong hopes of advancing to the playoffs. But during the mid-season transfer window, he transferred to the collapsing Excellent Era. It was entirely because, although Excellent Era's performance this season was terrible, they possessed a character who was regarded as the Battle God of Glory: Battle Mage One Autumn Leaf.
Sun Xiang was young and hadn't even been a part of the Alliance for two years, but these Excellent Era members shamelessly approached him, calling him their elder brother. It was clear that Sun Xiang would be the future leader of the team, and he comfortably accepted their flattery. It was a while before he was willing to spare a glance for Ye Qiu, his eyes filled with disdain.
"Ye Qiu, hand over One Autumn Leaf's account card to Sun Xiang!" the club manager said.
Even if Ye Qiu was unfazed before, at this moment, his heart couldn't help but ache. Ye Qiu, One Autumn Leaf, the relationship between these two names was obvious. This was the name created when he had first entered the online game world of Glory.
Ten years. This account had accompanied Ye Qiu for a full ten years. The newbie of back then had become the expert Glory Textbook; the insignificant Battle Mage had turned into the famed Battle God in Glory. But seven years ago, when he entered the professional circle, he signed a business contract with the club transferring to them all of the rights to One Autumn Leaf. Ye Qiu had long known that they would part ways one day, and now this day finally arrived.
Ye Qiu's fingers trembled just slightly. For a pro-player, steady hands were a must. This old veteran had an immense, unrivaled mental strength, but right now, his hands were trembling. To the side, Su Mucheng twisted her head. She did not want to see this scene, but she was powerless to help.
Under the gazes of everyone delighting in his misfortune, One Autumn Leaf, that silver-white account card, was handed over to Sun Xiang.
Sun Xiang's eyes lit up with greed and excitement. Excellent Era had been greatly plummeting these past two years, but he had willingly transferred here solely because they had this pinnacle account One Autumn Leaf. One Autumn Leaf's former owner Ye Qiu had not performed well these past few years, and he often broke out in arguments with the club. Sun Xiang had one hundred percent confidence in replacing him.
"Mine!" In the instant he grabbed the card, Sun Xiang felt a burst of excitement. But as he tried to pull away, he felt a trace of resistance from the card.
Sun Xiang felt Ye Qiu's reluctance and proudly chortled, "Let go, Brother Ye. Look at your hands, they're shaking like this! How could those hands show off the power of the Battle God? Better leave it to me! I'll let the title of Battle God once again resound through Glory. You? Retire!"
Up until now, Ye Qiu had mostly acted indifferent, aside from that reluctance when handing over the account card. But after saying this, Sun Xiang saw a sharp flash in Ye Qiu's eyes, and he discovered in shock that Ye Qiu's trembling hands suddenly steadied.
"Do you like this game?" Ye Qiu asked suddenly, looking straight at Sun Xiang.
"What?" Sun Xiang was startled.
"If you like it, then treat this all as glory, and not boasting."
"What did you say? What does this have to do with you?" Sun Xiang suddenly lost control. At this moment, without knowing why, he felt that he was a head shorter than Ye Qiu. He didn't want to lose to his opponent in attitude. He came here to replace Ye Qiu. He came here to take the Battle God One Autumn Leaf.
"Take care of it." Just when Sun Xiang wanted to muster his loftiness, Ye Qiu had already let go of the account card. He said this phrase faintly, and turned around to leave.
"Ye Qiu!" At this moment, the manager suddenly called out.
Ye Qiu stopped and tilted his head slightly to the side, listening as the manager said behind him, "The club doesn't have any suitable account cards to give you right now. For now, you can just stay as a training partner!"
Training partner… A person who had built a dynasty in the Alliance, an expert who had earned all of the individual honors of Glory, had actually fallen now to become a mere training partner.
Sun Xiang was very interested in this arrangement, immediately laughing out loud. "With Brother Ye's skill level, helping train won't be a problem. Only you deserve to be Glory Professional Alliance's number one training partner!"
"Ha ha." Ye Qiu actually laughed at that insult. He turned towards the manager. "Training partner? I don't think that's necessary. Cancel the contract!"
"Cancel the contract? Are you actively seeking to cancel the contract?" The manager looked as if he were in deep thought.
"Right. I request to cancel the contract."
"Don't be rash!" Su Mucheng immediately rushed over to stop Ye Qiu. The Alliance had its own rules. Except for special reasons during the contract period, anyone requesting to cancel a contract had to pay a penalty fee. Ye Qiu and Excellent Era still had another one and a half years in the contract. If he were to forcefully request a termination of the contract, then the loss would be huge. But more than that, Su Mucheng feared Ye Qiu's departure.
"The boss isn't here yet, wait for him to come before you continue speaking!" Su Mucheng hoped that Ye Qiu would calm down.
Ye Qiu had noticed the trace of ridicule at the corners of the manager's mouth long ago. He shook his head towards Su Mucheng and laughed bitterly. "Mucheng, don't you understand? My departure is the boss's goal. I no longer have any value to this club. I'm only a money sink."
"No way, how could you be a money sink? Your strength doesn't lose to anyone," Su Mucheng said.
"This isn't just an issue of strength. This is business," Ye Qiu said. "And me? I've never had any business value."
"You should have had value. You chose to give it up." The manager coldly interjected at this moment.
"Right, this is my choice," Ye Qiu said. The current Glory Professional Alliance was flourishing, sponsors flocking left and right. Celebrity players in Glory were naturally sought after for advertisements or endorsements. But even though Ye Qiu was the top-tier level player, he rejected all advertising offers. He even refused to take part in interviews or press conferences. He was like an ancient netizen, carefully concealing his true identity in virtual reality.
The club was extremely dissatisfied with this matter. In their eyes, he was a gold mountain right beside him, yet they couldn't dig out even the slightest amount of profit. They were only able to put up with him because his strength was tyrannical, helping the Club gain fame and glory. But as their achievements declined, everything was now in the past.
"The Alliance's commercialization allowed us to survive, but now…" Ye Qiu couldn't say anything further. He also didn't know whether this development was good or bad. The current Alliance was full of greed. Every Alliance boss's first consideration was how to exploit the team to make a profit. Harboring a love for gaming and tirelessly struggling for glory, Ye Qiu cherished his memories of the early days of the Alliance. But now, the Alliance only strived for profit.
Su Mucheng didn't say another word. She had walked alongside Ye Qiu on this same path; she too was a veteran who had witnessed all of this. Her eyes were brimming with tears. She knew that Ye Qiu truly wanted to leave, and blocking him would only make it more painful for him.
"Since it's like this, I…"
"No need." Ye Qiu smiled, interrupting Su Mucheng. He knew what she wanted to say, and so he said to her, "Don't worry, I haven't lost all hope yet. I'll be back."
"Not bad. That's the ambitious Ye Qiu I recognize. Then, let's talk about the penalty fee! Honestly speaking, since you've been with us for so many years and contributed so much, we won't push it. If you want to leave, then let's all sit down and talk about the details of cancelling the contract. How about it?"
"Tell it to me straight. What are the conditions?" Ye Qiu asked.
"The condition is simple: announce your retirement," the manager said.
"Retirement! You call that condition not pushing it?" Su Mucheng was furious. Ye Qiu was 25 years old this year. For pro players in competitive esports, this age was already considered old, and retiring at this age was not at all strange. But Ye Qiu already stated clearly that he didn't want to quit. The Excellent Era manager's condition of retirement was obviously directed against him.
Retired pro players of course were not qualified to participate in a tournament. Although they could return, the Glory Professional Alliance had a rule stating that a retired pro player could only return after a full year. This was to prevent the team-switching games played by people retiring one day and returning the next.
Ye Qiu was already at the twilight years of his career. Every day was precious, but now they wanted him to waste a year. After one year, even if he wanted to return again, he would be old and lacking a year of intense competition to maintain his skill level. Even if he had his former fame, it was highly uncertain that a team would still be willing to accept him. In addition, Ye Qiu had his fatal flaw: he refused all business-related activities.
It seemed like an unacceptable condition, but Ye Qiu simply nodded his head. "I agree."
"Are you crazy?" Su Mucheng exclaimed.
"I've worked so hard for so many years, what's so bad about a year of rest?" Ye Qiu smiled.
"What… what are you thinking?" Su Mucheng didn't understand.
"Nothing much." Ye Qiu turned his head. The manager had already handed over the documents. Ye Qiu took a glance at them and laughed a bit. They'd really prepared for this long ago! As he thought about this, Ye Qiu put the pen to the paper and quickly signed his name.
Just about to leave…
Ye Qiu took one final look at this place where he had spent seven years. He didn't say any polite farewells and silently turned around to leave.
"I'll send you off." Su Mucheng was the only one to follow behind him.
T/N: Ye Qiu literally translates to Autumn Leaf