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Autumn foretells the coming of winter

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He is single-minded when he flees. Grabbing the packed luggage—completely disregarding that he is ruining his brother's plans—Ye Xiu leaves the home that will never indulge his dreams. And how he dreamed… The main focus of his mind is his passion, the glory of video games. But there is a small part of him, just a miniscule drop in the back of his mind, that dreams of the name etched on his wrist. Just a passing notion flashes by.

What if this was his chance to meet them?

So he leaps and takes a chance. Brushing this thought off, he figures that if they meet along the way, then so be it. Killing two birds with one stone, or rather, three birds. Pursuing his dream, finding his soulmate, and also getting away from his family for the first time. It is the same family that he is leaving his brother behind to deal with.

Before he leaves, that last thought glances by his mind, lingers, and is promptly ignored. After all, Ye Xiu is pursuing his dream wholeheartedly, and one day, someday, he will return. Assuaging his doubts, he will handle any ramifications then. And, maybe Ye Qiu will finally forgive him.

(But Ye Xiu wouldn't actually return completely, even a decade later. His future has always been with Glory, Lord Grim, and engraved with Su Muqiu.)

Since he was a child, Ye Xiu has been fond of the name on his left wrist—蘇沐秋 is written in sharp strokes of hànzì. His soulmate's handwriting is rather horrid in fact, and the densely packed lines are barely distinguishable from each other. But he doesn't care because it's destiny, one which would whisk him far away.

秋, qiu, the same character is in his brother's name. It means autumn, the season of endings, when leaves die and wilt away, when nature puts a hold on living. But Ye Xiu ponders it in a lighter tone. It is the season to shed one's rotting skin, prepare for rebirth, to herald a new dawn.

(And like the new dawn, Ye Xiu's would be under the alias Ye Qiu and using the Battle God, One Autumn Leaf.)

Ye Qiu is the baby of the family. As his older brother, Ye Xiu is obligated to care for him, but he abandons him instead. Ye Xiu did it for his twin's own good. When he leaves, he has every intention to return one day. Though shirking responsibility, Ye Xiu is still unable to throw away his past. If Ye Qiu had left, like a bird finally escaped from a quarry about to collapse, would he ever be sated by freedom?

Maybe not.

Undoubtedly, that upstanding and well-to-do family will draw Ye Xiu back eventually. But that is the key word— eventually means later. So while the time is ripe, he intends to live as he wants, no holds or restrictions to restrain him.

Glory. He yearns for it, and has every intention to make it his.

(He never imagined he would do so alone. Becoming the first champion was bittersweet. When he lost the fourth season, all he could think was: "If he had been here, what would have happened?")

They meet in an internet café. It is such an everyday, mundane place. How could such a fateful meeting occur in such an ordinary place?

He's hungry, practically starving. Running away on a whim, his lack of forethought and planning comes back to bite him. Good thing for him, Lady Luck seems to be on his side. An eager boy, who looks just a bit older than him, challenges him quite voraciously to battle. Ye Xiu has always been known as an opportunist, and he grasps this one, asking for a meal in return if he wins (which he does).

And thus is the start of a beautiful friendship.

"What's your name? I'm Su Muqiu." The boy with sunshine in his hair greets him.

Ye Xiu's mouth gapes open, realization dawning on him. "...Ye Xiu."

And the other boy gasps in return, then grabs his stomach in unabashed laughter. It is so infectious, Ye Xiu feels his mouth upturn and his eyes crinkle. The two boys find themselves walking side by side to Su Muqiu's home. Their shoulders may brush a few times on the way, but neither of them say anything.

Later, Su Muqiu shows his wrist. In a handwriting he knows too well, Ye Xiu sees 叶修, his own name. The strokes are even and neat, product of a strict family—exactly as taught, holding little personality.

Su Muqiu sees his own name and is not surprised by its illegibility.

(That name, in the same scrawl, is immutable.)

They are the strongest pair in Glory, a Sharpshooter and Battle Mage duo who fight side-by-side. Regarded as top-tier and indomitable foes, they keep to themselves in-game. But in front of two monitors, the two siblings and the homeless youth they welcomed into their lives form a quirky bunch.

They are a struggling, mismatched family. After all, how can two teenage boys ever hope to take care of themselves and a little girl alone? But they make do and survive, somehow still enjoying their lives. So what if meals consist of instant noodle cups bought with the money they can scrounge up? Su Mucheng doesn't mind. Just seeing her brother and Ye Xiu, who is much more than his best friend, happy is enough for her.

As the two boys play Glory, Su Mucheng sits scrunched in a tiny ball, humming softly. Today has been a good one—her brother had somehow found some leftover cupcakes. Though it was partially smashed and crooked, her bit was mouthwatering and sweet.

Watching from behind them, she is fascinated by the dynamic of her brother and Ye Xiu. They are lovesick fools, constantly sharing similar smirks and quirking their eyebrows at the same time. Firing off a finishing shot, Su Muqiu whips his head around to Ye Xiu, "Let's run through the dungeon again!" His voice is filled with excitement as if he hasn't been playing for hours straight. He is as fresh-faced as the first day he began playing Glory.

In turn, Ye Xiu holds out his palm as if asking for a handshake. "And payment?" he replies like clockwork, a laugh hides close behind his grin. There is a distinctly "Ye Xiu" sarcastic intonation in his voice.

Ye Xiu always does this. It is meant as a joke, a reference back to their first meeting, and he never actually expects anything in return. But this time is different. Su Muqiu lets out a long sigh and forfeits his dessert (but his smile belies he is not actually annoyed). The cupcake is relatively untouched. Su Mucheng sees Ye Xiu's empty plate and assumes he must have finished his already.

And so, the pair continues playing into the night. Su Mucheng giggles and pretends not to notice that Ye Xiu only takes a bite of the dessert, and then pushes it toward her brother. She pretends not to notice Su Muqiu do the same, and gradually the two boys eat it together. But what she doesn't notice is that there had only been two cupcakes in the first case.

(Years later, she realizes what they sacrificed for her. When Ye Xiu plays late into the night, holed away in the Excellent Era building, she brings him green tea. Sometimes, she brings a second cup, but there is no longer someone to drink it.)

In all honesty, Su Muqiu is useless at everything but video games. While he could easily organize a gambling den or make a whopping profit in Glory, he is hopelessly, helplessly, irreparably horrendous at cooking.

But perhaps this flaw isn't so bad in the first place. Su Mucheng is out, and, since he's alone, Su Muqiu fancies that he may have improved his culinary abilities (despite having never practiced since the last mishap). Just this once, he wants to make a meal for Ye Xiu (they have been eating instant noodle cup cuisine almost every day). Not a good plan.

This is how Ye Xiu finds the kitchen: stovetop in flames, refrigerator door dangerously falling off its hinges (no one dared to ask how it happened), and a loud, incessant alarm blaring. In the center of it all: Su Muqiu with some substance (probably noodles) tangled in a knot on his head, trying to disguise itself as hair. There is a pouty scowl on his face, and his arms fidget restlessly.

In Ye Xiu's opinion, Su Muqiu looks irresistibly delicious. 

Predictably, one thing leads to another, and their lips are on each other. Both of these boys have limited skills; neither of them know how to kiss. But who cares?

It's absolutely messy—teeth clacking against teeth, chest pressing on chest, arms snaking around each other. There’s a flurry of sounds escaping mouths, fingers edging closer, grasping at holds. The stove fire had been put out, yet the room seems to be getting hotter and hotter.

"Ouch!" Blood dribbles slightly from Ye Xiu's mouth. However, he doesn't draw back, rather he pushes forward. Though he is having trouble smiling while he is “preoccupied,” the corners of his mouth curl upward. The kitchen is still in dire straits, and the noodles in Su Muqiu's hair make Ye Xiu's hands a bit greasy. But again, who cares?

A slightly sheepish "sorry" flits about the room and is promptly drowned out by a moan. 

The sound echoes between the walls, reverberates in the chambers of Ye Xiu's heart. He feels so drunk (but he doesn't even drink), and disgustingly infatuated (much like a lovesick teenager).

(No matter how many years pass, he is still in love. The tattoo always reminds him of that fact.)

They swear to remain together, and from this, they choose Excellent Era. Tao Xuan is a friend, and speaks kindly to them. So, the choice is obvious.

They whisper promises. Dancing Rain and One Autumn Leaf will go down in history (which is true, but not in the way they wanted). They're soulmates, meant to be, a fated pair, a perfect match. A perfect match cruelly torn apart.

They are tied together by autumn, brought together by Glory, entangled together by their tattoos. Usually, the imaginary thread between them is short, no need to stretch when the gap is only inches. It only extends every now and then. That disastrous day, the thread breaks, torn apart by a car barreling on. A harsh cut in the thread rips it in two; one side frays and falls limply to the ground, the other disintegrates into dust. The broken edge (and broken heart) cannot be mended when one half is missing.

They is now only him. Su Muqiu had everything going for him, an entire future to look forward to. He could have been a champion. He could have been renowned throughout all of Glory. He could have—Ye Xiu is consumed by these thoughts. What-ifs and wishes do nothing to ease the pain. 

(The pain is pervasive and persistent. It is cruel, determined, stubborn, and Will. Not. Leave. )

The Excellent Era captain shifts his eyes to linger on his wrist. There is a faded name in familiar scrawl, a phantom of his past. Just looking at it makes his heart ache. In the first few years after the accident, Ye Xiu had constant bouts when he would stare off, a crushing weight plowing through his body, mind, and heart. In the aftershock, he had immersed himself, running straight forward and stubbornly like a bull, toward reaching the summit of Glory. His one and only goal was (and still is) achieving their dream.

About three years later, Dancing Rain rejoins One Autumn Leaf. The person who controls the Launcher is too short and too young, but she had the same eyes—bright and eager ones, which always draw him in. Suffering loves company, and the pair share the crippling pain of who they lost.

So, they move forward with their lives. They dominate together, and their shared past means they know each other like the back of their thumbs.

(Dancing Rain and One Autumn Leaf were always destined to be the best duo in Glory history.)

Lord Grim is infamous now, but the one controlling the character is different. The weapon he wields is a remnant of the past. Ye Xiu gazes at it in the equipment editor. It is a formless weapon, and it has no definite shape, and it is like a swiss army knife with all its forms, and it is one of a kind, and it is made by him, and it is the last thing left of him.

Re-equipping the umbrella, he enters the game again. Since he has no class, Lord Grim looks like a mashed up stew. A little of this, a little of that, the equipment is for function, not fashion. Looking at Lord Grim’s wrist, Ye Xiu knows better, but a small part of him wants to see 叶修 written there. After all, the account was made by Su Muqiu. However, as expected, the game character is not his soulmate, and there is nothing to see.

His quiet contemplation is broken by a chain of messages scrolling down his screen. Another wild boss has spawned in the Heavenly Domain, and he has every intention of stealing it. Gathering his teammates, he makes his way to the location. Already, the Four Guild Alliance has surrounded the boss.

Ah, and there it is, as expected. Blue River makes that same look of exasperation when he arrives. "And there goes the boss…" 

Ye Xiu chuckles at his desperation and that same grin—the one which honestly deserves a smack—adorns his face. "Thanks for finding it for me." At the same time, he types this in the world chat.

A stream of replies spam him, many throwing obscenities and some congratulating him (these are mostly from members of the Four Guild Alliance).

Ye Xiu simply saunters off and takes the boss. The materials he makes off with are for research: to improve the Myriad Manifestation Umbrella requires resources. No matter the time or effort, he will grow stronger and stronger, and someday, there will not be a Glory player in existence who does not recognize the name Lord Grim. 

By now, the guild leaders have learned not to underestimate Ye Xiu's team. Though each member wears battered and cheap equipment, they are not to be trifled with—Tang Rou, persistent and stubborn to a fault, doesn't know the meaning of failure; Bao Rongxing, carefree and free spirited, never hesitates an instant; Qiao Yifan, by finally gaining confidence, supports the team with his intuition; and Su Mucheng, strong beyond her years, has always been able to predict Ye Xiu.

Eventually, their group grows even more. A washed-up veteran, a pragmatist with hidden talent, a scholar who can't seem to coordinate his hands with his mind, a professional specializing in dirty tactics who becomes Ye Xiu's right-hand man, and a player coerced into joining make up the rest of the new team.

Their ragtag group is unstoppable; they take the server and Alliance by storm. As Lord Grim's notoriety grows, Ye Xiu is filled with some sort of fulfillment. He is one inch forward and one step closer to reaching his goal.

(The team is big enough for one more, but the spot remains empty.)

A different set of hands should be controlling Lord Grim. Su Muqiu should have wrecked havoc in the professional scene. He should have been the greatest player in all of Glory. But fate was sadistic and cruel...

When Ye Xiu's team wins and the reigning dynasty has fallen, the uproar and cacophony of screams are deafening. It is the likes of which the Glory Professional Alliance thought impossible. Crowds surge and pulse with shouts; the lights of the stadium hang the stars in the sky. 

Ye Xiu carves a special place in history for Lord Grim. Regaled as being the first true Unspecialized, the account has a nearly perfect win record. Though only one win shy, that one win leaves ample room for Lord Grim to be displaced one day. This was Ye Xiu's intention from the very start. Someday another will rise, better, stronger, and just as in love with Glory as Ye Xiu.

And maybe one day, in some hypothetical future, two siblings will shake the game once more. The elder will be a golden-faced boy, and he will dedicate his entire being to the game. His younger sister will be steadfast, and she will earnestly follow in his footsteps. This boy—his name is not Su Muqiu—will beat that record. When that time comes, Lord Grim will lose his throne, but history cannot be altered, and the first Unspecialized is never forgotten.

(Yet the name Su Muqiu lives on in only two hearts.)

Despite its modest size, the small grave in Nanshan Public Cemetery is well-cared for, and a small bouquet rests on it. He had always cherished his freedom—from the orphanage, being with his sister, living as he wanted—and the Birds of Paradise encapsulate this. They are a colorful myriad of whites, and blues, and yellows; they are freedom. 

It is mind-numbing and choking to remember that his life was too short-lived. Only eighteen years… 

Though the name on his wrist has faded by now, Ye Xiu still traces over it with black ink. No matter how much he smudges (from his shaking hands) and smears it, he can still read the name carved on his skin and heart.

(Ten years later, the pain is bearable. As life moves on, so do the two soulmates, and one day, they can see each other again.)