Rise

Chapter 290: Liar, Liar Pants on Fire

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Just because An Xin wasn’t at the cybercafe for practice that didn’t mean Team Shanghai could afford it to slack off. Zeng Rui decided on a strategy and the four members sat down behind their computers. But they all knew something integral was missing. The glue that kept the parts together. An Xin knew where to gank, and arrived exactly when she needed to. She was the helping hand in many teamfights, always with a calm and confident smile. Now they had to play with a complete stranger who most likely didn’t have any of these qualities.

Junglers were the metronomes of their teams. And Team Shanghai looked lost without their Jungler. Zeng Rui worried about An Xin’s health. Not just for her wellbeing, but also for the effect her absence had on the team’s preparations going into the next round of the Winter Collegiate Cup. It was similar for Tang Bingyao and Zhang Hao, who were comparing every move of the replacement Jungler with An Xin. And this stranger in their Jungle wasn’t anything like An Xin. He lacked the pressure, the awareness… he lacked everything that made a Jungler good.

There was only one player on Team Shanghai that didn’t seem all too caught up in An Xin’s absence. Lin Feng. He was playing out of his mind. Team Shanghai went into five matches and came out victorious each time, and all because of him. His Zed, Lissandra, Orianna, Fizz, and Twisted Fate all achieved the Legendary status. He stomped on the mid lane and then roamed across Summoner’s Rift. The lanes that were losing suddenly found themselves with a few kills and breathing room. Double and triple kills were the norm for Lin Feng, one penta kill even blasting across Summoners Rift! Lin Feng was singlehandedly winning the games. He didn’t even need his teammates.

Zhang Hao threw his hands up in the air after the fifth victory. “F.u.c.k!” he exclaimed. “I played like shit again! F.u.c.k!” He grimaced before turning to Lin Feng and saying, “Damn dude. You’re playing out of your f.u.c.k.i.n.g mind today! These games are all about you carrying us. F.u.c.k I’m bad!”

“Hehe, thanks!” Lin Feng replied, scratching the back of his head. These guys were just Master on the Ionia server. This isn’t enough to challenge me. It’s nothing like the games from last night…

Zeng Rui stared at Lin Feng and shook his head. He’s insane today! Every time I thought he couldn’t possibly carry any harder, he just had to prove me wrong. What got into him? It was… The thundering dumbass carried every single game! I played ok. Just. O. K. And he carried so hard! He is so much better than the rest of us… He plays so aggressively, but it always works. And he knows it will. He turned to look at the empty chair, the one An Xin was supposed to be sitting in, and grimaced. This reminds me of what you told me, BunBun. He’s only getting back in form. He’ll only get better. He forced himself to relax his shoulder and take a deep, long breath. At this pace, the thundering dumbass is going to be too good for any of us… I’ll be useless to him. No. I won’t let that happen. I need to work harder. He chewed on his lips and mumbled under his breath, “I hope you’re okay. We need you.” He then looked back at Lin Feng, who was grinning and his usual jovial self. He doesn’t look worried at all. Is BunBun not all that sick? I really hope I’m worrying for nothing.

Lin Feng laughed with Zhang Hao and Tang Bingyao, he chatted a bit with Zeng Rui, and the team had a long discussion about how to move forward. But he didn’t particularly care, because it wouldn’t change anything for him. They were going to win the Winter Collegiate Cup. That was where his line of thought ended and he started thinking about his other goals. Ones that put actual pressure on him, like reaching the Top 5 on the Korean ladder. The pressure is actually helping me! One was right! I really had to push myself a bit more! This university tournament wasn’t enough. How I played last night. And even today! It’s One’s push that got me into the right frame of mind! And I’m already feeling better! This is so much easier! But I can’t slip up. I can’t become lazy or complacent again. Realistic and hardworking. If I get distracted, I’ll be right back where I started. That’s why… He glanced at An Xin’s empty chair. That’s why I can’t let it bother me that you’re not here. I want you to be here. I need you here! But I also need to play. I need to win and get better!

Lin Feng walked home together with Tang Bingyao after practice. He lagged a little behind her, watching as she carefully stepped over the cracks in the pavement. Why isn’t she hopping? And why is she so quiet and looking at the ground? Is it because she wasn’t playing her usual game today? Maybe I should tell her that we won anyway, so it’s fine? Would that help…?

Tang Bingyao suddenly stopped walking, causing Lin Feng to almost walk into her. She turned her head and looked at him, then asked, “Why were you playing so well today?”

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“Hu-what?” Lin Feng replied, surprised. He scratched the back of his head and continued, “Oh, well, that’s because I was always good at the game.”

Tang Bingyao shook her head and said, “That’s not what I meant.” She chewed on her lips, briefly considering how to rephrase the question, and then asked, “Everyone is worried about BunBun. It reflected in our gameplay. But you didn’t play any worse. You played better than usual. Are you not worried about her…?” Her eyes went wide when she heard how her question came out and she shook her head. I didn’t mean it like that! I didn’t mean to make it sound like I’m accusing him of not caring! That’s not what I’m doing! I’m just… I don’t know! Please don’t be mad! “I… I didn’t mea—”

“No, it’s not that,” Lin Feng interrupted. He looked down at the pavement and breathed in deeply, grimacing. “I’m worried. I’m worried about BunBun.”

Tang Bingyao tilted her head and asked, “Then why ar—”

Lin Feng cut Tang Bingyao off with a wave of his hand and said, “But BunBun’s health and League practice are two separate things. I’m worried about her, but that doesn’t mean I should drop everything else and stop functioning. I need to focus on what’s right in front of me. At the training, that was League. If I can’t even do that, I’ll just end up disappointing myself and everyone I care about. Including BunBun.”

“Mhm, I get that,” Tang Bingyao said, nodding. I know that’s the rational approach. But that doesn’t help with this sick feeling in my stomach! How do you ignore that? Do you not feel it? It’s pushing up to my throat and I can’t do or think! “Mhmm, I get that. I do. But…” She chewed on her lips and tried to find the words.

Lin Feng smiled and assured, “BunBun is a lot tougher than you’re giving her credit for. Don’t worry about her. She’s always been super healthy! You won’t get her down and you never have to worry about her! She’ll be here smiling and happy and playing the game with us again in no time!” Keep smiling. Show her that you’re confident. Don’t let her know that you worry. BunBun, please tell me you’re alright. Tell me I’m wrong and that you’re healthy!

“Mhm, ok,” Tang Bingyao replied.

Lin Feng looked at her and then at the strangers passing by. My gameplay today was just a result of what happened the other night. The muscle memory was always there. I was really good back then. I just had to find that state again. One helped me with that. The extra pressure is helping me get back in that state of mind that helped me get to the world finals four years ago. They just don’t know that I was always this good, so it looks more impressive. But it’s normal, for me anyway. He chewed on his lips and started walking again, staring off into the distance. But why do I keep telling everyone that BunBun is super healthy? Has she always been? I… Dammit why can’t I remember this!? I should remember this. It’s about BunBun! I need to be there for her! Just like she’s always there for me.

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Lin Feng shook his head and felt the knot in his stomach tightening. You’ve always been there for me! Always. From the moment we first met, you had my back. You stood up for me when I didn’t. You helped me through everything. I could always come to you. You can’t be sick. It’s just not possible. It’s not. Please don’t be sick. You can’t be sick! I want you to be here! I want to see your smile and help me out when I don’t understand something! He closed his eyes and was surprised to feel something wet at the corner of his eyes. He breathed in deeply. You have to be alright, BunBun. No matter what, you have to be alright! You just have to be! You are! You always are! You’re always super healthy! Yeah! He exhaled and looked over his shoulder at Tang Bingyao. He said, “BunBun is always healthy! She’ll be fine! You don’t have to worry about her! She’ll be okay!”

Lin Feng arrived home just as Su Xue put the steaming dishes for dinner on the table. She dragged him to sit down and try out her latest attempts at a delicious meal. But he wasn’t feeling it. He played with his chopsticks and took a couple of small bites. Why do I think BunBun is always fine? That’s wrong, isn’t it? She’s always there for me, but… There was something. Why can’t I remember it? What was it? He placed down his bowl and chopsticks and knocked himself on his head a couple of times. “Remember it. Stupid brain, remember it,” he mumbled.

Su Xue watched Lin Feng hitting himself and raised her eyebrows. What’s got him down tonight? My food isn’t that bad, is it? No it’s not! And he eats anything. Her eyes suddenly went wide. Please don’t let it be another episode… She looked at Lin Feng and asked, “What’s wrong tonight? Is my food that bad?”

Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and said, “No, the food is good. It’s just… I feel like I’m forgetting something. Or can’t remember it? A memory from years ago…”

“Oh,” Su Xue muttered. She looked at him and joked, “Isn’t that normal for you? You forget everything! I had to glue the house keys to your forehead! You’re the goldfish!”

Lin Feng shook his head slowly and mumbled, “No, no. I think it was something important.” He got up from his seat and said, “Let me help you clean this up.” He didn’t wait for her answer as he gathered the bowls and brought them to the kitchen. Then he wandered off to his bedroom and let himself fall down on his bed. What was it? Why can’t I remember what it was?

Lin Feng lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling, feeling the touch of his phone in his hand. I should remember what it was. She always has my back. It’s the least… He grimaced. It’s not coming back. I’m just going to call her! He brought the phone in front of his face and dialed An Xin’s number. Then he placed the phone to his ear and waited for the call to connect.

“Hello?” An Xin asked.

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Lin Feng hadn’t realised how tense he’d been all day, until his body relaxed when he heard her voice. She sounds fine! See? She’s fine! There’s nothing to worry about! She’s always healthy! “Hey, BunBun! It’s me! Lin Feng!” he replied.

An Xin giggled and said, “Of course it’s you! I could see when you called! Did anyone ever tell you how dumb you can be? But what’s up?”

Lin Feng scratched his forehead and answered, “Well, nothing I guess… You weren’t at school or practice today and everyone was worried. They wanted to know if you were okay, but didn’t want to bother you at home…”

“It’s fine! I’m fine. Don’t worry,” An Xin said. She briefly hesitated before explaining, “I was just feeling a little under the weather. You know how my mom and dad get. They overreacted when I told them and they had me stay home. I wanted to come to school in like the third period, but they made me stay home. Apparently they even called the school to request sick leave…”

“Oh! Yeah, the teacher told us! So that’s really all there is?” Lin Feng asked, pushing back his worries with a grin. His voice grew excited with each next word. “So nothing is wrong? You’re fine? You’re really fine! Everything is ok! You’re always healthy!”

An Xin giggled and replied, “Yep! I’m in perfect health! I might be back in school tomorrow already! And if I don’t, I’ll be at practice. Talking about practice, how did that go without me?”

“I did super well!” Lin Feng exclaimed, excited. An Xin had successfully diverted the topic. Lin Feng droned on about how he’d carried the games and how the random Jungler was a terrible player. Then he briefly talked about how the others played and finally he told her about how they were in Group A and how they had to play against Zhejiang University in one of the next few rounds.

“Zhejiang, huh?” An Xin remarked. “We’ll have our work cut out for us then. Zeng Rui thinks we’re playing them in the quarterfinals?”

“Yeah! That’s what he said!” Lin Feng replied. He grinned and continued, “It’s going to be easy! We’re going to stomp them and qualify for the main tournament! We just have to win the quarterfinals! There are no semis or finals! Top 4 go to Nationals! AndAndAnd I’ve gotten a lot better too!”

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An Xin smiled and said, “Oh? Is that so? You sound really confident.” She giggled and continued, “If you don’t go Legendary next game, you’ll have to treat me to dinner as punishment!”

“It’s a deal!” Lin Feng exclaimed, patting his shoulder. “Oh! Did I tell you about my call with One yet? I don’t think I did. Hmm… Right! So One called me the other day and I answered. He made me play in Korean solo queue on his old account! I have to climb all the way to the Top 5 on it! Cool, right!?”

An Xin asked in surprise, “He wants you to climb to the Top 5 on the Korean solo queue ladder?”

“That’s what I just said, yeah!” Lin Feng replied, laughing. He then added, “But he gave me CN•HOOK2! I can’t just get to the Top 5. That’s not good enough! I have to get Top 3 or first place! I have to make One proud!”

An Xin smiled and remarked, “You sound more and more confident with every word. How far do you think your ego can inflate?”

Lin Feng completely misheard An Xin. How far to him meant how far up the ranked ladder. He pumped his fist in the air and said, “I’m going to hit the Top 5 easy! One asked me to do it and I won’t let him down! I’m going to hit the Top 5 and then continue for the Top 3 and first place!” He suddenly stopped rambling and added, “Right! One told me that Five really misses you. Asked if you could give her a call sometime.”

“Five?” An Xin asked in surprise. “I haven’t talked to her in so long. Yeah. I’ll call her. Of course! Just send me her number and I’ll give her a call tonight!” She then changed the topic back to League of Legends and advised, “You’ve got the right mind. But you need to focus on the meta Champions! Fizz, LeBlanc and Twisted Fate are all the rage right now. And Anivia is also popping back up again. Pick or ban them. You shouldn’t give them to the opponent, even if you want to practice against those Champions. You have to play this seriously, or you’re going to end up doing stupid things!”

Lin Feng listened to An Xin giving him advice, nodding along to everything she said. I know all of this! I could be playing ranked now! BunBun is fine! I don’t need to worry about her! She’s helping me again. This is how it should be! Everything is alright! Everything is… She changed the topic. He scrunched his nose and ruffled his hair. Why did she…? Something is wrong.

An Xin hadn’t stopped talking. “The Korean pros usually get on after 10 P.M. That’s when they get home from practice with the team. You should play before then to have an ea—”

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“BunBun,” Lin Feng interrupted.

An Xin paused and asked, “Yeah?”

“You’re not lying, right?” Lin Feng asked. “You’re really alright? You’re not lying to me, are you? Is everything okay? Are you doing ok? Is there anything going on I should know about? Please tell me! I want to help you!”

The line went silent. An Xin didn’t have a reply prepared for this question

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