Qiong Lin had been busy buzzing around ever since he woke up early that morning. Confirm everything was ready at the venue. Make sure everyone’s nametags were sorted properly in their own groups. Speaking of the nametags, they were actually just a piece of sticky note with the player’s game ID and the headshot of their avatars printed on it. Then, the players can just stick their nametags at their chest or at their arm. It would make it so much easier for everyone to get to know each other.
As time ticked closer to the appointed time, Heretic Demons guild members started flocking in from all places. They stuck their nametags on and rushed into the field. The instant they stepped past the doors, they were shocked by the signs on the floor. They looked identical to the signs they’d use at the Zhang Village to direct players to the different portals at the airport. Instinctively, a lot of them started to follow the arrows to their own subsidiary guilds’ spots.
Soon, the majority of the guild members snapped back to their senses. This wasn’t a Guild War. Their goal today was the Guild Leader! Thus, they all ran towards the main guild’s section to take a look instead. In a blink, the spot designated for the main guild was crowded. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they searched, they couldn’t find anyone with the name “HereticKing” on them.
Still, all that looking around led to many players finding familiar names in the crowd. Soon, they charged towards them. Squad leaders for the different Jobs, guild leaders, the grinding party leaders, all of them were quickly surrounded. Everyone was chattering happily away. No one even noticed QiYao when he led XiaoYu into the stadium.
The two of them had arrived way before. They’d merely been resting in a break room. To XiaoYu, the ride over had been as breezy as riding on clouds. However, he learned his lesson from yesterday. He kept his eyes closed the moment he stepped out the door. It was so much less traumatic because of that. That meant he didn’t have to endure the embarrassing process of being carried around by QiYao. Alright, he’ll admit it. He did get carried for just a bit, just.
The gathering spots for the main guild and the subsidiary guilds were at different areas of the stadium. The two men quickly split up and XiaoYu successfully merged into the crowd and waddled over to his designated area. There were too many people around though so he didn’t spot any familiar names.
Contrary to the peaceful journey XiaoYu had, QiYao was very unlucky. Before he even got close to the main guild’s section, someone in the crowd shouted, “It’s Chief!”, and silence dominated the hundred-or-so-square-metres-large stadium. Countless eyes started darting around in search of the man, only to end up staring up at the large screen stationed high above their heads. They gasped. The drone hovering in the air had caught QiYao’s figure in its camera.
Most VR players would improve their looks in one way or another to make up for whatever they lack in real life. Who would’ve thought their great Guild Leader did the opposite? The face on the screen was much more handsome than a celebrity. Those who hoped to pounce on their leader deflated with their courage fleeing at that sight.
“Everyone, our mighty boss is here! A round of applause!” shouted Qiong from among the crowd. He climbed up onto the big stage they’d hired, grabbed the microphone and did his best as an MC.
At first, the crowded was stunned silent. They then erupted into cheers. They were so excited that one could’ve mistaken them for fans welcoming their favourite celebrity to the stage.
“Ahem. I’m sure Chief also felt everyone’s love. Well then, I formally welcome everyone to the Heretic Demons Gathering! It has begun!”
“I’ll make this short. First, let’s watch a short – ugh, or as I should say, long – clip. There was so many submissions. Everyone, thank you for being so kind as to provide me with them. A friendly warning. Please don’t drink anything while watching this video. Those who have issues standing might want to sit down for this.”
Under the confused gazes from most of the crowd, the large screen switched to a familiar sight – the official trailer for Asgard Online. It was just over a minute but it made them recall the sights they saw when they were first introduced to the world of AO. The picture after the trailer petrified everyone present, even QiYao was startled.
In the picture were HereticKing and I_Am_A_Poor_Man out in the wild and in newbie gear, that seemed rather hilarious now that they looked at them. The former was drinking some milk with a blank face. He clearly didn’t realise he was being photographed. As for the other, he had a somewhat evil smirk on while a hand is held up in a V sign.
This was taken not long after they’d started playing. Most of the Heretic Demons members had never seen their leaders as tender and naive as they were over a year ago. Their awe-inspiring Chief actually were once as weak as they were too. One could actually be so very photogenic while drinking milk. Everyone immediately realised another side to the great player they worship. He could be cute and friendly too.
Picture after picture flashed by. Familiar faces began to slowly appear before the crowd’s eyes. They were always wearing cheap, ratty gear with ever-so normal weapons and not a single shine in sight. Sometimes they’d be facing off a monster, sometimes they would be resting.
Clearing the fields of mobs, attacking bosses in groups, the joy of finding gear or a card at the end of a battle, the corpses that litter the ground when a party wipe happens, the moment the main guild and the subsidiary guilds were created, the mass partying-up for major events, marching around on their night patrols…the different people featured in the picture and videos slowly grew before the crowd’s eyes. They saw what they used to look like. A tranquil peace gradually enveloped the gigantic stadium, leaving only the music from AO ringing through the air.
The sight of the familiar faces of their leaders as fresh new players made them laugh, but those smiles soon turned wistful and nostalgic. Hearts were touched. Every player had once gone through that. A simple picture might dust off the memories hidden away in their minds.
The Search for Yesterday’s Memories.
If one had to give the first half of the video a theme, that would be it. The following section was vastly different.
The figures crowding around the Zhang Village. Players shaking hands and bumping fists. The unrestrained anticipation and excitement in their eyes. Party leaders raising their flags up high in search of party members in the sea of players. Healers solemnly standing at their stations in the airport. The guild witnessed those sights once more. To XiaoYu’s surprise, he and his tiny cat showed up in the video too, even for a brief moment. In the shot, the little cat was rubbing against his neck with a tilted head in an affectionate gesture while he was looking down at it with a doting gaze. The sight warmed XiaoYu’s heart. He must get Big Brother Lin to send him a copy of that moment.
The camera panned towards the various battlefields they fought in. Blood-red wings mixed with the logos of other guilds. Them laying siege on the fortresses, breaking through the fortress defences, counterattacking, clearing the fortresses of remaining monsters, witnessing server-wide announcements ring out about a fortress being conquered…Most of the people present were the heroes of these scenes. Even mere audience members who hadn’t participated in any of those moments felt their blood rushing through their bodies.
The last scene in the video was focused on the square in the middle of Prole. There, five flags were flying in the air. These represented the guilds whom the fortresses belonged to and three of them featured their beloved red wings.
The Glory of Building Tomorrow.
The video lasted well over an hour. From an outsider’s perspective, the fancy display of skills and light flashing around was very boring. To every single Heretic Demons member in the stadium, all of that was just part of the pride and happiness that only they could understand.
“It’s free time next. You guys can do anything, cards, just chat, sing and even have a real-life PvP match. Just follow the signs here. We’ll gather back here at five later. Many more activities to come tonight! Dismissed!”
For a brief second everyone just remained where they were. Their minds still occupied by the video they’d watched. It was only when the video started to play again on the screen did voices start to rise in chatter.
“Chief is so cute with overalls one!”
“I’ve even forgot I wore that wood armour before. That was so thick.”
“I’ve tried catching that fox cub before. I never caught one unfortunately.”
“Haha. I was part of that corpse pile on the street. Who knew that the Centipede King would go berserk?”
“I was the one who found that scarf. What a pity it broke at +7.”
“At least half of that sprite guild were killed by my group.”
The video was well-received. Qiong who had jumped down off the stage after his announcement was very satisfied with the reaction. He had asked so many people to help him. He requested to have every single guild member who would be attending the gathering appear at least once. However, he didn’t think he would find a picture of him and Chief when they were at the Newbie Village. It seemed like his habit of just recording and taking screenshots at all times was very handy.
“You took quite a lot of photos while I wasn’t paying attention,” QiYao nonchalantly remarked.
“I’m innocent. Most of them were found by the others. You’re more popular after all.”
“Oh? The one from the Newbie Village too?”
“Ha…Ha…I’m sorry.” T-T
“Send me the photo of XiaoYu to me later.”
“You think that was a good one too, right?”
“Chief, give me an autograph!”
“Chief, I want a selfie with you!”
The members who’d been watching at a distance due to the special Boss aura QiYao exuded mustered up their courage and crowded over after having seen him looking so very cute in the video. Qiong took the chance and escaped but he was soon swarmed as well.
“Poor_Man, can you send me this video later?”
“What are you planning with fanning everyone’s passion through this, you brat?”
“Yeah! I nearly cried!”
“Did Enlighten send you that picture of the party-wipe? Aah! I’ll get him for this. My heroic image!”
Everywhere, everyone was chattering excitedly with each other. XiaoYu even found a few familiar figures…well, actually, he was found. It’s because his face was exactly the same as his in-game avatar’s, which meant it was the best sign to advertise with. Occasionally, someone would say, “Ah, you’re LuckyCat. You look just the same.” Then, the heads around XiaoYu would snap to look at him. Well, he and QiYao had been acting so obvious that quite a lot of the Heretic Demons members were still thinking, “Is he the legendary Mrs Guild Leader? -o-”.
In twos and threes, the players soon wandered off to the numerous entertainment rooms available in the stadium to continue their mingling. XiaoYu was also dragged to sing some songs by a few passionate women in his subsidiary guild. Later on, his grinding party came and borrowed him for a few rounds of card games. While he was in the toilet, he met Below_The_Moon (Xue KaiYue) who’d escape his own flock using the toilet as an excuse. Then, he was pulled along to a PvP match. Of course, that’s not a real-life PvP match. It was a match on a computer. It was proclaimed to be to train XiaoYu’s reflexes and skills. XiaoYu was kept dizzyingly busy, but he was very happy with it.
At five, the eager crowd gathered at the stadium’s centre field once more. There were many long tables set up this time. It wasn’t realistic to have everyone sit in the usual round tables so tonight’s dinner was a self-serve buffet.
While enjoying the delicious food available, there were lucky draws with prizes ranging from in-game items to real-life merchandise. (The merchandise was gotten through the tricks of a certain someone calling the game publishers. Of course, they were happy to provide with such a different way of generating publicity.)
The lucky draw winners would be selected through the camera randomly locking onto someone. It could be anyone, from the guild leaders to the average member. They even had someone who was wolfing food down when they were selected. The winner was so excited that he rushed up stage with a big plate of food. Everyone had burst out laughing then.
Naturally, the most welcomed guest to draw the next winner would be QiYao. Qiong even gave him the special authority to draw a few more. No one would say no to that. Everyone stretched their neck high, hoping to be drawn.
“MildlyMorose.” The screen zoomed in on the paper held in QiYao’s hands. It had both the player’s ID and their avatar headshot printed on it. That way, they can avoid mixing up players with similar names.
“Yay! I love you, Chief!” A petite little girl from one of the subsidiary guilds hopped up and down in happiness. It made those around her even more jealous.
“UnhappyBreakup.” From the avatar, it should be a guy.
“Mmmgh!” sounded a strange noise from the crowd. The drone immediately zoomed in on the source.
“Hahahaha!” Everyone broke out in laughter at the scene shown on the screen. The guy had been stuffing his mouth full of meat and hadn’t had the time to swallow the food down for the draw. He was waving a chicken leg up in the air while dancing madly on the spot to indicate the winner was him.
“…” Once the two’s prizes were handed out, QiYao continued to pull out the next paper slip. When he saw the name written on the paper, he was stunned, but the corners of his lips lifted into a noticeable smile. Warmth filled his eyes.
“!!!” QiYao hadn’t announce the winner and he’d yet to show it to the camera. All everyone off-stage could do was be shocked at how QiYao’s eyes seemed as though they were looking at his lover. Just what name was it? Who was so charming as to make the ever-poker-face Chief be so gentle? Was it himself? It didn’t look like it.
QiYao looked up and immediately picked out XiaoYu from the crowd. The smile in his eyes grew and he showed the paper to the camera.
The other camera followed QiYao’s gaze before locking onto XiaoYu whose nametag read “LuckyCat”. He had just shoved a forkful of cake into his mouth. When he felt eyes boring into him, he looked up, startled eyes wide and blinking with his fork still in his mouth.
“Congratulations, LuckyCat. Please head on stage” Qiong had known who QiYao had drawn just from the smile on his face. He had to admit, love was so strong and powerful that even the gods would help lovers out. Ah, they had a merchandise here that would be perfect for XiaoYu. Qiong had planned on keeping it to give it to XiaoYu later. He’ll go look for it now.
Under numerous curious stares, XiaoYu slowly walked up to the stage. At the same time, he tried his best to secretly chew and swallow the cake in his mouth. Once on stage, he just stood there. He didn’t know where he should stand. All he could do was seek help from QiYao with his eyes. The other smilingly pulled him over to his side.
When Qiong ran back out from backstage, he was nearly forced to retreat from the pink bubbles floating onstage. Just what were these two doing? Why are they holding hands and shooting glances at each other? Can’t they tell everyone else’s jaws were already glued to the floor?
Qiong handed over the prize he found to QiYao while continuing to grumble and whine internally. The latter then handed it over to XiaoYu. When XiaoYu’s eyes landed on his prize, his eyes twinkled and shined. It was a black cat sprawled out with a red ribbon tied to its tail. This was a cute head accessory found in-game that could only be crafted through collecting different equipment. It’s called the Lazy Kitten. As the whole crafting process was rather troublesome and the materials needed for it were quite hard to collect, XiaoYu had never tried to get one.
“Thank you,” said XiaoYu.
“No need for thanks,” replied QiYao.
Alright, alright. Qiong felt like his eyes were going blind from the dazzling display of love before him. If these two kept going like that, they wouldn’t need to continue with the activities planned for later.
“We still have plenty of prizes left. Don’t worried, dear friends who have yet to win a prize. Next up, let’s welcome the leader of Suicide Squad, Egg_Tart,” Qiong announced.
The event went on until late at night. By the time the two arrived home, XiaoYu overcame his nervousness from being in a car, and recovered some strength to wash up and prepare for bed, time had already ticked past twelve.
“Did you have fun today?” asked QiYao.
“Yes. I’m so happy,” XiaoYu replied, still hugging to his beloved lazy kitten.
“That’s good.” It seemed like the decision to get XiaoYu to attend the gathering was correct.
“Thank you…” XiaoYu leaned his head on QiYao’s chest and rubbed his head against the other like a little cat.
“What is it?” What surprised QiYao was not XiaoYu’s proactiveness, it was the rather strange tone he used.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to have someone else be with me on my birthday.” And there were so many people today. This was something XiaoYu who’d spent his 19th birthday all alone, with his parents having just passed away, would never have imagined.
QiYao was shocked. He quickly looked up at the clock. It was already past midnight. “Yesterday was your birthday! Why didn’t you tell me?” he gasped.
“You didn’t ask…”
“Erm…Sorry, XiaoYu. I didn’t prepare any gifts for you.”
“I already have the best present I could wish for.” XiaoYu held up the kitten up and shook it. “I’m so very happy. Thank you, Yao.”
“While it’s a little late, happy birthday, XiaoYu.” QiYao held XiaoYu in a tight hug. Unfortunately, this year’s birthday was past, but QiYao had already sworn he would never ever miss it again. From now on, he’ll be spending XiaoYu’s birthday with him.
“Mn.” XiaoYu hugged the other man back. He really, truly did felt like he was very fortunate to have this.