Chapter 173 - Ache with the Pulse of Remembered Song

Autumn in Shanghai, The leaves were turning yellow and there was a faint chill in the air. A cool, gentle breeze kicked up across the treetops. It curled through the leaves and danced along the air, growing stronger and stronger, before blowing across a school rooftop as a strong gust. An Xin looked at Lin Feng. She’d been with Lin Feng since they were young. They’d grown up together, through the good and the bad. She knew that he was Maple. She knew of how he found his joy and happiness in life, and how he shared that with those around him. But she also knew his demons, and how he would withdraw into himself to deal with them. How he never asked for help from anyone when things got difficult. She looked at him, worried, and said, “I know about Tian Tian, Lin Feng. I do. And I know about Rake and what happened back then. It’s not your fault.” She waited for a response, only to see him hang his head lower in defeat. “It’s not your fault.” She took one step forward and repeated again, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

Lin Feng stared at the ground of the roof, though it was hard to see through the tears in his eyes. He blinked, one large droplet falling to the ground. It splashed apart. He sniffed back the tears. “It’s not your fault.” She said it again. He felt a lump in his throat and he bit on his lips. B-but… He sunk through his knees and took a deep, long breath. Then he swallowed and wiped his eyes clean with the sleeve of his jacket. He didn’t look up at An Xin, still staring to the ground, but he did start talking, slowly at first.

“T-that day, Fatty called me. R-right after the... the game. H-he was crying. He was crying, Bunbun. T-then he started apologizing… saying how useless he was… He… he said how he broke his promise to me…” Lin Feng wiped the tears from his eyes again and sniffed his nose empty. He bit his lips, fighting back everything that he’d kept in for so long. “I-i didn’t know what to say. He did amazing. He did so much better than I could’ve ever expected. They were up against SSK. It was lost before it even started… But… but he tried his best. He did so well. And then he called, crying… I didn’t care that he lost. I tried to tell him that I only cared that he did his best!!”

Lin Feng closed his eyes and turned his head away from An Xin. He scratched his forehead, his mouth moving without making a sound. Then he sniffed and continued, “F-fatty kept repeating how he failed everyone. He said it was all his fault. He… He…” Lin Feng tried to get the words over his lips, but they wouldn’t come. He sniffed and took several hasted breaths, then said, “He said that he let me down. H-he said… that he let me down. He didn’t. I tried to tell him that he didn’t let me down, that it wasn’t his fault. That I knew! He can’t do it all on his own, no one can. And I told him that I knew he did his best!”

Lin Feng shook his head and grinned, self-deprecatingly. “After the call with Fatty, I went and rewatched the games. I was just curious to know what might’ve happened if I was up there, playing alongside him. Like back then… I watched the game like six times in a row… I asked myself how I would’ve played the game if I was KG’s Midlaner. How would I have played against Rake? I wouldn’t, Bunbun. That’s the answer. I wouldn’t, because I would’ve never gotten that far into the tournament. KG’s Midlaner is better than I am right now. I wouldn’t have made a difference. No. That’s not quite right. I would’ve made the game even harder for Fatty… Doesn’t that make me useless? It does… I’m useless. Useless…” Lin Feng stared at the ground, anger at his own inability masking the pain, making the tears disappear. “It’s not even that I can’t help Fatty. I can’t even help my friends at school. A stupid high school League tournament and I can’t carry them to a win. A stupid school tournament! I’ve played at Worlds, and look at me now. I’m losing in a high school tournament. I’ve been trying to think of ways to carry the game. But I can’t think of any. However I look at it, I can’t win. I’m not good enough... See? I told you that I’m useless. I can’t do anything right…”

Lin Feng pushed himself to stand up and looked at An Xin. There were streaks of tears on his face, and his nose was runny. He smiled, bitterly, and said, “See? I told you that I’m useless. I’m useless. Absolutely useless…”

An Xin stared at Lin Feng, listening to his words. Her eyes went from concern to anger, but Lin Feng was so consumed in his own misery that he failed to notice. He continued, “Let’s not talk about Worlds anymore, or Rake. It’s pointless. I can’t even win some stupid high school tournament. Why am I even trying to become the best player in the world? I’m useless—OW!” Lin Feng rubbed his cheek, fresh tears in his eyes. “Ow!” he said, again. “What the fuck.” He looked up at An Xin, confused, and asked, “What was that for?”

An Xin glared at Lin Feng and said, “Well, someone has to knock some sense into you! Idiot. Useless? How dare you call yourself useless? You were the best Midlaner in China! You carried your team to the Finals of Worlds. The Finals! That’s not what constitutes useless. You are not useless.”

“You’re right. I was…” Lin Feng mumbled.

An Xin looked at Lin Feng, waited a moment, and then said with crystal clear pronunciation, “You’re going to zip your mouth and keep it zipped until I’m done talking. Understood?”

Lin Feng’s eyes widened. He nodded, slowly, very slowly, and kept his mouth shut.

“Who told you that you have to solo-carry the game in this high school tournament?” An Xin asked, pausing for a brief moment. Then she continued, “League of Legends is a team game. It is and always has been a team game. Your whole team is trying their best. All in their own role. Why do you keep thinking that you have to shoulder everything yourself? Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. You’ve hit a wall. Shit, that happens. You take a step back, evaluate, then go around it. Or tear it down. But that’s not what you’re doing, is it? You see that wall and you, for some godforsaken reason, feel the urge to ram your head into it, repeatedly. It’s what you did back then. It’s what you’re doing right now again. It’s idiotic and a terrible habit.”

Lin Feng let his head hang low. Lower. He swallowed and opened his mouth, uncertain. A short hesitation, then he mumbled, barely audible, “But I—”

“No buts. Zip it,” An Xin said, striking Lin Feng on his cheek again with her flat palm. It left a clear, red mark and Lin Feng yelped in pain, but she didn’t seem to care. She looked at him, waiting for him to shut up, then continued, “What? Think you’re so big and strong? Think putting all the pressure on yourself makes you look cool? It doesn’t. It looks pathetic. Those friends of yours in class, did you see them? Did you see how they looked at you? They were worried. I could tell. Everyone can. They are worried about you and they want to help you. You’re not alone. Stop shutting everyone out. Let people in, Lin Feng. All they want to do is help you.”

Lin Feng waited for An Xin to continue talking. She didn’t. She kept her mouth closed and looked at him. She just looked at him. Then she raised her arms. His eyes went wide. He’d seen this before. He then closed his eyes, turning his cheek towards her, ready for another slap. I’ve probably deserved it… But the slap he was expecting didn’t come. Huh? The scent of Jasmine suddenly became very strong. He opened his eyes just as An Xin wrapped her arms around him and took him in her embrace. She hugged him tightly, his muscles tensing in reflex. Then they relaxed. He relaxed. He hugged An Xin, tightly, burying his head in her neck.

“You big idiot. I know you’re in pain,” An Xin whispered into Lin Feng’s ear. “You can’t do everything yourself. You’re only human. If you keep going like this, you’ll only end up hurting yourself and everyone you care about.” An Xin paused, waited, hesitated, then ruffled Lin Feng’s hair. She smiled a smile that sounded through in her voice. “Besides, don’t you still have me?”

Those words thundered in Lin Feng’s mind. “Don’t you still have me?” He smiled. For a single moment in time, the pain disappeared. There was no anxiety, no disappointment in himself, no frustration at his own inability. There was only the warm embrace of his best friend. He hugged her as tightly as he could. He breathed in through his nose and realized the Jasmine scent came from her. Then he closed his eyes and breathed out. Feeling her soft hair brush against his face, he asked, “Bunbun?”

“Yeah?” An Xin replied.

Lin Feng let go of her and looked her in the eyes, an innocent curiosity in his own. He scratched the back of his head and asked, “Did you put on some pounds?”

An Xin’s face dropped. Her eyes went wide and her hand moved on instinct. She slapped Lin Feng harder than she ever had, and then she hit him. Again. The second time her fist connected with his chest, causing him to stumble backwards. “You asshole! Do you want to die? I lost weight! Alright? Fucking unbelievable.” She threw her hands up in the air and then turned around and walked away.

An Xin didn’t stay mad for long. Lin Feng caught up to her halfway down the first flight of stairs, and after a few words of apology from him, she asked him about the High School 13 versus Shanghai International series. He told her that they had two Master rank players and three in high Diamond. Then he went on about how they came in second last year and that their style heavily leaned on the early game. She quietly listened. When he’d given her the general idea of the situation, she nodded and said, “Ok. I think I got it.”

“Oh, right,” Lin Feng said. “They’re also pretty full of themselves.”

“That’s fine. That just makes it so much more satisfying to defeat them. I already can’t wait to see their expressions,” An Xin said, smirking. Then she turned to Lin Feng and asked, “I heard our team practices right after school?”

“Yeah, we do,” Lin Feng nodded, missing out on one small, but very big detail. Then it hit him. He paused and asked, “Wait. What do you mean, ours?”

“Didn’t Ren Rou tell you? I already joined the team,” An Xin said, matter-of-factly. She looked over towards Lin Feng, who didn’t directly reply, and asked, “What? You’re not happy?”

Lin Feng quickly shook his head and said, “No, no no! I was just surprised. I’m very happy.”

“That’s what I thought,” An Xin said. She then jabbed her chest and said, smiling brightly, “Don’t forget, you might be better at the game, but I’m still the best when it comes to making strategies and shotcalling!”


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littleshanks's Thoughts

Dev Thought: Hey guys! No murder mystery tonight. This is a heavy chapter, and an important one where we get a huge glimpse into Lin Feng's past. And how Tian Tian's story and his story connects. It didn't seem particularly well-thought out to mix the murder mystery in with all of that. Especially not the installment we had planned for today.

Personally though? I think the parallels are interesting here. Lin Feng is upset about how Fatty is upset and trying to say that Fatty can't do it on his own... while persisting and attempting to do it all on his own with the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. Two characters who think essentially the same way, making different choices but eventually ending up in the same place after years. This happens in real life more often than you'd think too. There are people out there who take the weight of the world on their shoulders and try to keep moving forward while it crushes them. Step after step for years. Until it finally does crush them, and they recede for a bit to reset mental and heal up. And then they somehow end up in a position where they take all the weight that crushed them onto their shoulders again, hoping that it'll be different this time. But it never is.

Just something to think about, I guess.