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Ye Xiu took one look at the invitation, sleek black with the Glory logo embossed in gold, and flatly declared, “I’m not going.”

Frankly, Team Happy wasn’t ever that good at hiding things. She observed how they exchanged glances – most of them looking at Chen Guo, Chen Guo looking at Su Mucheng, Su Mucheng continuing to smile – and it was pretty clear to Ye Xiu that they’d discussed this beforehand, and this was a pre-coordinated effort between all of them in order to help pressure her into going, by force of majority, or something.

In the end, it was Steamed Bun who blurted out first, “But why not, Boss? It’ll be so much fun!”

“Your ‘boss,’” Ye Xiu said, turning back to the computer, “does not do parties. You all go have fun, I’m staying home and playing Glory, maybe get some wild bosses while everyone is busy.”

In her mind, that was that. But of course, it wasn’t really.

Ye Xiu could always hope that the Glory Pro Alliance would leave her be when it came to anything outside of the game, but this party or ball or dance or whatever was a private special event that they were organizing specifically for the pros. And she, with all of her accolades and accomplishments, was an special guest. Which meant that they apparently weren’t taking no for an answer from her.

“It’s so pointless, can’t I mysteriously fall sick or something?” Ye Xiu complained, flopped across her bed, when Su Mucheng broke this bad news to her later.

“They’re expecting you to try and wiggle out,” said Su Mucheng, sitting beside her. She gave Ye Xiu a comforting pat on the knee.

“But what are they going to do? It’s not like they can drag me there.”

“It’s the Alliance, they have a lot of power.” Su Mucheng sighed sympathetically, in that way that Ye Xiu knew didn’t actually have that much sympathy behind it.

She probably thought it was good for Ye Xiu. It probably was good for her, in all honesty, but the thought of having to dress up, go out, put on a nice face and interact with so many people…

“Don’t you want to see everyone all pretty?” Su Mucheng continued.

“I can just see the pictures afterward.”

“But it’s not the same, and you know it,” said Su Mucheng. “Besides, no media, it’ll just be the pros, people you know.” She nudged her. “Think about it, all these gamer shut-ins at a fancy formal. It’ll be hilarious, you could tease them for days.”

…Actually, Ye Xiu had to admit that that was a pretty good argument. Most of the other people being friends (friends? sure) automatically meant that the whole experience would probably be much better than those stuffy networking functions she’d had to attend when she was young. And it wasn’t like the other pros would be more comfortable than her in this kind of environment.

Su Mucheng was taking her silence for tacit agreement. “I’ll help you pick a dress and get your hair and makeup done and everything, too! You’ll look so good.” She was practically sparkling. Getting involved with the sponsorship side of the Alliance meant that she had a much better sense of these things, even if she’d grown up an orphan.

Ye Xiu eyed her. “…I’m really not getting out of this, huh.”

“Nope!”

“……Fine.”

Su Mucheng grinned, and Ye Xiu maybe felt a twinge of apprehension. Just a little.

 

Chen Guo, as a non pro player, unfortunately wasn’t invited to go. She hardly seemed to show any regret at this, though, instead channeling all of her energy into making Ye Xiu, as she put it, as stunningly beautiful as humanly possible. “This is part of the battle, too,” she said solemnly, as she pulled up a whole folder of images for Ye Xiu to look at. “We want to throw them off their game. Here, look at these dresses first.”

Ye Xiu wasn’t really sure what to say. “This is all a bit too much, isn’t it?”

“Of course not,” said Chen Guo. “You’re just saying that because if you had the option you’d show up in sweatpants.”

Well, not no. Dresses were pretty, sure, but they were a huge inconvenience to actually have to wear. But that aside, Ye Xiu could tell just from looking at the images that these were especially fancy and therefore expensive dresses she was looking at, the kind that you’d wear maybe once in your lifetime. “I know we have money now, but we’re not exactly made of money…” she said.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Su Mucheng, smiling. “The dress and everything will pay for itself and more.” She waggled her phone in a way that was thoroughly unreassuring to Ye Xiu.

Ye Xiu sighed and continued to browse, as the other Happy girls watched and chimed in with their thoughts. Tang Rou was overall quieter than the other two, but still very much invested in the proceedings as she offered bits of insight. Right, Tang Rou’s family was rich. And she played piano at a very high level, right? So she was probably even more used to dressing up like this for performances and whatnot.

“This one,” Ye Xiu finally said. Chen Guo lit up immediately, gushing with praise; Tang Rou nodded in approval; Su Mucheng looked at it, looked at Ye Xiu, and smiled quietly.

It was beautiful, of course, but so were the others. This one stood out because of what it stood for.

 

Windy Rain: Wait mumu, you said ye xiu was coming too?

Firebird Messenger: she is??

Firebird Messenger: wait duh of course shes gotta

Firebird Messenger: wait holy shit shes gonna look amazing

Red Leaves: excited to see the goddess!

Dancing Rain: yup! ^^ tho it took some convincing

Windy Rain: Since we’re all sharing dresses here, will you show us hers?

Dancing Rain: ah, it’s a surprise. but i promise there’s no overlap!

Firebird Messenger: ahaha i cant wait for the guys to lose their shit when they see her

Dancing Rain: ;D

 

The pros arrived at the venue by team, naturally. The place was a comfortable size for the two hundred or so guests that would be here, all decorated with tastefully ornate furnishings, gold accenting that reflected the soft glow of the chandeliers.

There was a small commotion every time a new team arrived, but when Team Happy walked inside, it really did feel like everyone turned to look, like a dramatic moment in a movie.

Ye Xiu, of course, was at the front, and all eyes were upon the Goddess of Glory as she entered. The black dress hugged the curves of her body that were normally hidden under the loose team uniform; illusion mesh helped strike the balance of being restrictively covering and revealing too much; but what really stood out was the red-orange-yellow-gold embroidery that twisted around her body, coiling tongues of flame that started from her shoulder and extended across her torso, down to her hips and splaying across her legs, glittering under the lights as she walked. Her black hair was twisted up into an elaborate knot atop her head, revealing the clean jut of her collarbone; makeup winged her eyes and painted her lips scarlet.

None of the pros had ever seen her like this before, yet she didn’t look out of her depth at all. She radiated power as she walked forward, steps steady upon heels that clicked against the ground.

Someone whispered a “holy fuck.” It was unclear who, but there was more than one murmur of agreement.

It was easy to forget, sometimes, that the number one of this male-dominated circle was female. It would be harder to forget after tonight. 

Jiang Botao of all people approached first, Zhou Zekai at his elbow. Samsara’s men, whether consciously or not, seemed to be embracing the penguin imagery that was occasionally associated with them – clean black and white, bowties at their necks. “You look stunning tonight, Senior,” Jiang Botao said to her. “I like the phoenix.”

For the embroidery upon her dress was not mere flame patterning; it was a phoenix that wrapped Ye Xiu in its embrace, a thing of beauty and grace and strength. Wings of Glory claiming Ye Xiu as their own.

“Pretty,” Zhou Zekai added.

“It’s very fitting.” Jiang Botao nodded to the side, where Sun Xiang was openly gaping, slack-jawed, from several paces away. “A good thing you didn’t choose to wear dragons. I suspect adding that symbolism may have made him faint altogether.”

Ye Xiu had to grin at that. To be honest, she was more self-conscious about this than the others probably thought, but the direction the conversation took helped her feel as natural as the image she put on.

It was good to be here with people she knew.

Unbidden, she thought of what Su Mucheng had said as they’d been getting ready for this event. “We’ll make them swoon over you,” the younger woman had told her, only half-jokingly.

“What if I don’t want to be swooned over?”

“Then just open your mouth and they’ll remember why they hate you.”

“Ah.”

It was great advice, because if she didn’t know what to do, this was at least something as easy as breathing. After drifting away from the Samsara pros, she scanned the crowd for faces she knew a little better, appreciating the sight of her friends (friends!) in such sharp and well-fitting clothing, and spotted the Blossom Duo near the side of the room.

“So fashionable today, Lele,” Ye Xiu commented, as she made her way over to them. Did they finally make up after all that trauma and drama or whatever happened between them? She sure hoped so. Zhang Jiale was wearing an almost blindingly pink dress shirt; Sun Zheping in a more subdued gray with a gold tie.

“Out of everyone here,” Ye Xiu continued nonchalantly, privately amused at how Zhang Jiale automatically seemed to brace himself, “I would rank you at a… hm… a solid second place. Maybe Big Sun can let you borrow his tie, because that’s the only gold you’ll ever…”

It was all Sun Zheping could do to hold his partner back. “I don’t care if she’s a girl,” Zhang Jiale yelled, almost comically, “I’m gonna punch her in the face!”

“Toodles,” Ye Xiu said, and turned around and almost crashed right into a very large chest.

“Old Han,” she said, frowning and looking up at the face that was still half a head taller than hers, “I know you’re used to glaring people out of your way, but still, have some awareness.”

“Stop antagonizing my teammate,” said Han Wenqing.

“Why, I would never,” said Ye Xiu. Behind Han Wenqing, she noticed Fang Rui and Lin Jingyan standing together; the latter was currently desperately trying and failing to hide his laughter behind a glass. At least one of the Tyranny generals appreciated her wit.

Han Wenqing didn’t dignify that with a response, and instead simply said, “Dance with me?”

Ye Xiu lifted an eyebrow. “My first dance of the night, you know,” she said. “Very special. I hope you realize how much of an honor that is.”

Han Wenqing snorted at that, and held out his hand. Ye Xiu appraised him, and then laid her hand atop his.

“Then,” he said, when their hands touched, “I will be sure to treat you as my glory.”

This time, Ye Xiu really did let out a laugh, as she allowed her oldest rival to lead her to the dance floor.

 

“Did you have fun?” Su Mucheng prodded her, when they were back at their hotel. She was currently browsing the numerous photos she’d taken on her phone, picking out ones to share with the others.

Ye Xiu paused in the arduous process that was detangling her hair, and glanced over. “…Yeah,” she said finally, huffing a quiet laugh, “yeah, it was fun.”