A flight from Shanghai to Florida, with a transit in Chicago, took twenty hours in total. By the time they landed, Bu Nana nearly collapsed.
“Go and rest immediately, we will not arrange for any practice matches for you on the first day. All of you should go and rest now.” After collecting the luggage, He Xiaoxu looked at Qi Zui, the implications in his words clear. “Don’t fool around, and don’t prevent Youth from resting. Also, don’t disturb the other team members. Everyone has to go to sleep.”
Qi Zui’s entire body was aching as well, and he had no energy to be up to his usual tricks. Hearing what He Xiaoxu said, he only waved him off impatiently.
They arrived at the hotel the organisers had booked for them. After requesting room upgrades, they each dragged their luggage to their own rooms.
They needed to immediately get used to this place. It was not that easy to adjust to a full thirteen hours time difference. Having just spent a long, dark night on the plane, waiting for them upon landing was the start of another night. Everyone was in a state of being unable to fall asleep, and yet having to force themselves to do so. Every minute and second of the three days before the competition was very precious, and they couldn’t waste a single moment.
Forcing themselves to sleep for a few hours, the team just about managed to get over their jetlag. Getting out of bed, they had breakfast and did their makeup, waiting to record their pre-match video.
“I’ve just submitted the application for you. The organisers will not inform others, and for now, it’ll be a secret that you’ll be playing.” He Xiaoxu was so busy running around that it was as though his feet did not touch the ground at all. Grabbing a small snippet of time, he grumbled quietly to Qi Zui, “Of course, you’ll still need to record the pre-match video. Anyway, every member records the video alone, so you won’t be exposed.”
Bu Nana clicked his tongue. “How scheming.”
“Who isn’t?” There was a glint in He Xiaoxu’s eyes as his mind churned craftily. “This is psychological warfare. What would you know about it? When Qi Zui again steps onto the scene on the day of the match, wouldn’t their mental fortitude just crumble? Among that strong team of Caucasians that we had analysed previously, how many of them had been taught a lesson by Qi Zui? Dropping this surprise attack on them, do I even need to tell you what sort of effect it would have?”
Bu Nana raised his hand timidly. “Those times, when they were being taught a lesson, lao-Kai and I were part of it too…”
“Qi Zui’s reign of terror that struck awe and fear across North America was definitely the work of Drunk, and not us.” The enlightened young man, lao-Kai, patted Bu Nana and said kindly, “Pang, stay in your spot quietly, and stop trying to snatch the spotlight.”
He Xiaoxu’s words reminded Lai Hua, and he turned his head, speaking suddenly, “Qi Zui, later on, speak a little more during your recording. You’re allowed to mock them.”
The drowsy Qi Zui instantly snapped awake.
He Xiaoxu was hesitant. “Uhh… Can we do that?”
“Why not? Trash talk is trash talk. How can we be too nice? Have you seen how foreigners challenge each other?” Lai Hua came to a decision. “It’ll be all right as long as you don’t say any vulgarities.”
Qi Zui wanted to laugh, but suppressed it, and he deliberately put on a show of restraint, “That’s not very nice… The coach of the Avengers team had even given me special training in the past, and two members of the Free team had celebrated my birthday for me before, not to mention the domestic team, we enjoy such a good relationship…”
“Why are you still not understanding it?! No one is seeing you as their bro!” He Xiaoxu was very upset with how Qi Zui was not living up to his expectations. “Wake up!”
Qi Zui was unable to refuse, and he could only agree resignedly. “Then I’ll take up a bit more time then. Please… excuse me.”
Bu Nana stared at Qi Zui gloomily, warning him, “I’ve already prepared a ten thousand word script of trash talking, don’t eat into my precious time.”
“Why is this fatso still not going back to his spot on the sideline?” He Xiaoxu frowned. “Who drew such thick eyeliner on him? Smoky eyes? You’re planning on being a hooker? You’re killing me…Wash your makeup off and redo it.”
Hearing this, Bu Nana anxiously went to examine his makeup.
Lai Hua turned to look at Yu Yang, worried. “What about you, Youth? Have you thought about what you want to say?”
Yu Yang nodded. “Yes, I have one line.”
He Xiaoxu was angry enough to want to teach Yu Yang a lesson, but unfortunately, he was called away by the staff.
After a busy hour of makeup, everyone started officially filming their videos.
People either had very little things to say, or they already prepared a script, and the recording of the trash talk went very smoothly. In less than half an hour, everything was completed.
Yu Yang only had very light makeup on, but he was still rather uncomfortable with it. After he was done recording, he hurriedly washed it off. Qi Zui asked for a bottle of cleansing water from the makeup artist, washing his face with Yu Yang, then stood backstage.
When the rest of the team members came out, everyone headed back to the hotel. Resting for a while, they then hurried to the competition site to make an appearance.
“We’ll definitely won’t be able to arrange any practice matches today,” said Lai Hua. “It’s chaos here. How about tomorrow? Have a couple of practice matches to prevent yourself from getting rusty. Right, the organisers are treating you to a day at Universal Studios. Interested?”
“Probably not?”Xin Ba looked at everyone’s expression, speaking tentatively, “I’d rather find an internet cafe and train…”
“All right, we’ll go together after the competition ends.” Lai Hua nodded. “There’s not much time left. Training is of lesser importance, and making you guys participate in practice matches is just to continue keeping your hands agile. The main thing I want you guys to do is rest. These few nights, don’t stay up late. Early to bed, and early to rise.”
Internet-addicted young people were the most afraid of hearing these seven words, early to bed and early to rise.
As the team captain, Yu Yang naturally had to lead by example. Gritting his teeth, he nodded.
“Look at Youth,” said Lai Hua, pleased. “We’ll try our best to prepare Chinese meals for you, but if we can’t find them, we have no choice as well. Try your best to get used to it. All right, that’s it.”
In those three days, HOG continued their usual routine, their meals proper and regular. They were not picky with food, they did not risk their all while training, and even He Xiaoxu’s dark circles around his eyes had lightened quite a bit.
The first day of the world championship’s invitational tournament finally arrived.
The arrangement for HOG’s duo-team was the same as the one for the Asian’s invitational tournament. Bu Nana and lao-Kai formed a team, and Yu Yang and Xin Ba formed another.
The first day didn’t have much to do with Qi Zui, but he went to the competition site as well. However, it wasn’t Qi Zui who insisted on following the team, but He Xiaoxu who had learnt from his previous mistake, refusing at all cost to let Qi Zui remain alone in the hotel.
“What should be said to you guys has already been said. The doubles matches might not be very easy, but persist, persist, persist.” One by one, Lai Hua patted them on their shoulders, laying extra emphasis on Bu Nana and lao-Kai. “In the end, we didn’t actually give up on the doubles match, and it’s because of you two.”
Bu Nana chuckled, giving lao-Kai a fistbump.
Yu Yang stood by the side, looking up towards the other “coach”.
Qi Zui shot Yu Yang a smile without saying anything encouraging.
However, when the four people left the lounge, Qi Zui gave Yu Yang a sudden, gentle hug from the back.
Xin Ba smiled embarrassedly, while Bu Nana who was walking ahead turned around and glanced at them, before starting to tease them loudly.
Qi Zui bowed his head, pressing a kiss onto Yu Yang’s left shoulder then letting him go.
There was no need to say anything more.
Qi Zui sat carefreely in the lounge, watching his water dispenser with no worries at all.
The match was about to start, and on the screen in the lounge played the advertisements of various sponsors on loop. Qi Zui was looking down and playing on his phone, until He Xiaoxu asked, puzzled, “They’re playing our team video?”
Qi Zui lifted his head. They were actually playing HOG’s videos for the pre-match trash talk segment.
“How prestigious.” He Xiaoxu was quite happy about it, raising a brow. “Ah… Having two and a half star players, things are definitely different.”
Lai Hua did not understand. “Two and a half?”
“Qi Zui and Bu Nana,” said He Xiaoxu swiftly, “and the half is Yu Yang… Eh, stop talking. I don’t even know what they had recorded. No wait… They did remove Qi Zui’s portion, right?”
Lai Hua nodded. “Definitely.”
Qi Zui’s identity as a secret weapon was still hidden quite well. The organisers seemed to want to give everyone a “surprise” as well. Not only did they not announce it anywhere, they even temporarily left out his portion of the trash-talking video.
Lai Hua exclaimed, “In any case, he’s a man who conquered both the States and Europe for a number of years. There’s bound to be some respect for him.”
Qi Zui grinned.
First was Xin Ba.
Xin Ba was just like Yu Yang, appearing for the first time on such an international level. This was also his first time recording a video like this, and so he was somewhat nervous. He didn’t mock anyone, only blindly praising his team, then stammered as he suddenly said, “I- I want to say… Maybe, everyone’s starting point is different.”
“If that’s really the case, then I should be the one whose starting point is the furthest away.” Xin Ba looked at the camera, speaking slowly, “With regards to talent, one cannot be envious. My team is full of war-gods, and I’m not jealous… because later on, I discovered that the most terrifying thing wasn’t our different starting points.”
“What was terrifying was personally seeing the war-gods sleeping only a few hours a day, personally witnessing what they paid to take the crown. What leads people to despair has never been the things that have been innately lacking in us, but that despite already having fallen behind others, we’re still not as hardworking as them.” Xin Ba’s eyes shone. “What I can do is continuously work hard. Hard work can make up for my lack of talent. I will try my very best, and no longer drag the team down.”
The footage cut to Bu Nana.
It was the same camera angle, but in an instant, Bu Nana had filled up the entire screen. Lazily, he said, “I heard that there are people who think that our team can no longer make it anymore?”
“Now that Drunk, that old beast, has left, it’s true that we can’t really be careless anymore. After all, without a sniper, that’s normal.” Bu Nana raised his chin, challenging. “However, competing with the western teams in the international competition, shouldn’t it be a shoutout? Please excuse me… this boorish person sitting right here is good at nothing but that.”
The video now cut to lao-Kai.
“They said I’m an impostor, that I’m a burden, that I only know how to listen to commands, that I’m useless, that I’m a sycophant, that I relied on Drunk in the past, and that I’ll rely on Youth now…They said this, and they said that.” Lao-Kai looked at the camera and smiled. “Don’t tell me you believed all of that?”
The competition grounds fell into a moment of silence, before a cacophony of whistles and screams filled the air.
Now, the camera cut to Yu Yang.
Yu Yang was the captain, as well as a star player, so the camera would only focus on him more and not less. He didn’t say anything, and first, footage of his gameplay during the practice match came on. Then, the camera slowly zoomed in, and the young, terrifying nineteen years old captain was expressionless. When he looked into the camera, all the fans onsite started cheering.
“This is Youth revealing his face for the first time on an international level…” Looking at Yu Yang, whose good looks under the camera lights was comparable to superstars, He Xiaoxu was filled with emotions. “Back then, not being able to raise Qi Zui to where he is now has always been my regret. Today, I can finally fulfil my dreams… Finally, I’m going to be managing a superstar player right from where he started.”
Lai Hu was expressionless. “You don’t have to feel any regret. Our club’s operation team is currently working over time to prepare official reinforcement videos. I took a look at what they had, and remembered how it was like when Qi Zui had just joined the team… You should be happy that you weren’t managing him then.”
He Xiaoxu took a breath, nodding, “Fine then… Managing this old beast that had already gone through the test of time is already tiring enough. I won’t be able to govern a little beast that’s full of energy and vitality.”
Lai Hua looked at the young Yu Yang, thinking about those two highly talented young trainees back in the country. He suddenly felt as though he was looking at the circle of life, and on his face was a rare smidge of a smile. “So you should treasure Yu Yang.”
“I’ve always treasured him.” He Xiaoxu recalled how Yu Yang was like when he just joined the team, and he said softly, “I’ve said it long ago… Compared to all these young masters, I much prefer Youth.”
Lai Hua nodded. “I remember your critique about him… He’s someone that will still climb back out from the mud even if someone tramples on him.”
“I take back those words.” He Xiaoxu stuck his hands in his pocket, shaking his head. “He’s not a lump of earth that struggled out from the mud… These words are too much of an insult for him. He should be, be…”
He Xiaoxu was unable to come up with a suitable description for the moment.
Leaning back by the side, Qi Zui said lightly, “He’s a seed.”
A seed that didn’t fall on a good place for growth.
But a seed was a seed. Even if it were to fall onto a cliff, buried within the rocks, or thrown into a dry well, it was still a seed.
No matter how barren the earth was, as long as he was able to get just a glimmer of warmth, to snatch a burst of rain, to feel a ray of sun, once the spring breeze came, he would be able to strive and sprout through the ground.
The video played a few snippets of Yu Yang’s past matches, and some of his counterattacks were so excellent that people could not say anything bad about them. Applause came non-stop from the audience, and the foreigners who did not know about Youth due to him being new to the international scene all gradually started to exclaim over Yu Yang’s tenacity.
HOG’s final moment of pre-match trash-talking was at long last here. Just as Yu Yang said, he only had one line.
“The ones who currently rank higher than me, please watch out.”Yu Yang’s face was calm, and he enunciated, “I- will- fight- to- the- very- last- match- the- very- last- second.”