Happy New Year! Please enjoy this penultimate chapter of Summer Days of Blue Rain, and leave a comment if you like it!

The dinner scene is original (mentioned in the prequel but not explicitly shown); the rest is based off parts from chapter 6 of the prequel.

Today, there were many empty seats in Blue Rain's audience section.

It was no secret that Blue Rain's performance had been slipping all season. The reason, too, was clear –everyone grew old eventually, and Blue Rain's ace player was no exception. With the last match of the regular season, Team Blue Rain had just barely clawed their way into eighth place, securing for themselves a spot in the playoffs. But because of the way the playoff bracket was seeded, their opponent for the first round was the team that had finished the regular season in first place.

Team Excellent Era. Champions of Season 1.

Despite the dazzling skill of the newly-joined Hundred Blossoms, and the steadfast strong performance of Tyranny, Excellent Era had led the League rankings for the entirety of Season 2. And now, these powerhouse champions were to be the opponents of the struggling Blue Rain in the very first round of the playoffs.

Even the most loyal of fans spoke of a Blue Rain victory like a miracle.

Each playoff match consisted of two games, one home and one away. Blue Rain's home game a few days ago had ended in their brutal loss. And though it was still technically possible for them to win enough points in this away game to defeat Excellent Era, for most people, Season 2 had ended as far as Blue Rain was concerned.

But, even if many seats were empty, there were still some loyal Blue Rain supporters here today to watch their away game against Excellent Era.

"Ye Qiu is nothing!" A sudden yell came from the Blue Rain audience section, prompting confused looks from other fans. The statement was so ridiculously brash that even as devoted Blue Rain fans, they couldn't throw their support behind it. When they saw who it was from, though, they smiled. It was just a kid, and you really had to admire this kid's bravery and passion.

They'd seen this kid at Blue Rain's home game, too. Apparently he was from the training camp, the self-proclaimed future ace of Blue Rain – a ridiculous and silly claim, but the fans couldn't dislike him. After all, they were Blue Rain's fans, and they couldn't dislike anyone who had such raw passion for their team.

Sitting next to him was another, much quieter youth, whom they had also seen at the home game. Today, as he wrote in his notebook, he appeared even more focused on the battle than he had during the first game. Whispers said that he was also from Blue Rain's training camp.

He was probably scared that Blue Rain would be eliminated today. The fans couldn't help but feel a little pity for this silent youth. If not for fear of disturbing him, some might have even gone up to offer a few words of comfort.

Huang Shaotian, of course, couldn't care less about what the people around him thought about his yelling. "It's just some stupid Battle Mage, so what? Slaughter him! Defeat Excellent Era!" The last part was almost a scream.

Eventually, though, he did take a pause, and turned to the boy beside him. "Oi, what do you think about this?"

Yu Wenzhou's breath still caught every time Huang Shaotian just casually asked for his opinion, but he was slowly getting used to it. "There is a chance," he replied steadily. "There is always a chance. Until the battle ends, nothing is for certain."

He fell into silence as he studied his notebook. He was, despite his calm response, anxiously scanning his notes on past battles. There had to be something useful, some kind of clue toward a strategy that Blue Rain could leverage toward a victory. Though he might not be as outwardly passionate as Huang Shaotian, he still didn't want to see his team lose.

He flipped through page after page of writing, but came out of it empty-handed. The current disparity between Excellent Era and Blue Rain was so large, he concluded, that only conceivable way they could win would be for Excellent Era to blunder. Despite his achievements, Ye Qiu was still human, and no human was infallible. Indeed, Yu Wenzhou's notebook contained thorough analysis of the errors he had noticed while watching their matches.

But Ye Qiu was very skilled at detecting his own and his team's mistakes. Before his opponent could take advantage of an opening caused by a mistake, he already would have already rushed to cover it. Many times, the opponent didn't even have the chance to see the opening in the first place.

His technique. His awareness. His experience. His reaction. His handspeed. The more Yu Wenzhou studied Ye Qiu, the more frightening this player seemed. If the evidence hadn't been right in front of him, Yu Wenzhou wouldn't have believed that such a perfect player could even exist.

He glanced at Huang Shaotian. The boy had stopped yelling, but all his emotion was right there in his posture – his clenched fists, his gritted teeth, his fierce eyes. No matter what anyone else said, he still believed in Blue Rain. He refused to give up hope.

"But it would be very, very difficult," Yu Wenzhou finished quietly, turning back to the match. That was an understatement, really – the chances of Excellent Era committing a game-costing mistake were effectively zero.

There would be no miracle for Blue Rain that day.

Blue Rain lost, and it wasn't pretty. All four of the first-round playoff games took place at the same time, and this one had finished the fastest.

The Excellent Era fans' celebrations were rather subdued. All analyses had predicted their victory, so there wasn't much reason to be especially excited. Similarly, although Blue Rain's fans were disappointed, they had expected this outcome.

But that talkative youth still refused to give it a rest. "Useless old bastard!" he was yelling. "Couldn't even beat Ye Qiu, what the hell are you doing?"

What an obnoxious brat. The fans within earshot suddenly found him less cute than before. True, Blue Rain had lost by a large margin, but the team members had fought to their fullest. Especially Captain Wei Chen, who, despite his worsening condition, had brought out his full strength in this battle.

Blue Rain had put in the effort, the opponent was simply too strong! To blame the hardworking players like this, it was frankly disrespectful.

"Kid, don't go talking nonsense," someone said, finally fed up. Others spoke up as well.

"Captain Wei Chen's performance was already very good."

"It's thanks to his leadership that no one underestimates Blue Rain. Excellent Era had to struggle to defeat him today."

"There's always next season!"

The youth finally fell silent, and some of the fans wondered if they had been too harsh on him. He was, after all, just a kid.

None of the fans had really grasped the essence of why Huang Shaotian was so upset.

Obviously, he knew that Ye Qiu and Excellent Era were strong. The task that Old Wei had before him was an impossible one. Still, despite logic telling him otherwise, he had hoped to see him succeed.

Because he knew that this might be Old Wei's last time onstage.

Blue Rain would have a next season. But a few days ago, Huang Shaotian had ducked behind a doorway and overheard the horrid truth from the quiet voices of the club managers – Wei Chen was making preparations for retirement after this season.

He hadn't wanted to accept it, but this was the reality. This battle had been Old Wei's last shot at victory, and so, Huang Shaotian had hoped beyond hope that he would win. But in the end, he had only been met with a crushing defeat.

The unfairness of it all stung Huang Shaotian. Yes, this was the competitive scene, with winners and losers. But Old Wei… he deserved a better ending than this.

Huang Shaotian insulted Wei Chen regularly, but that was just his way of showing affection to the old man. He was very much aware that if Old Wei hadn't discovered his potential in-game and personally invited him to the training camp, he wouldn't be where he was today.

Huang Shaotian knew that he could be annoying with his talkative habits, but through it all, Old Wei had been there for him. Between all his responsibilities as Blue Rain's captain, Old Wei had always found time to joke with him, listen to his chatter, offer him advice and gruff encouragement. No one had ever cared for him or helped him to the same extent that this man had, and Huang Shaotian, in his heart, was grateful beyond what words could express.

He watched as Blue Rain's players walked onstage to thank the crowd. Captain Wei Chen was among them, but he was walking slower than the others, inadvertently widening the gap between himself and the rest of the team. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts.

Once he stood onstage, Wei Chen reached into his pocket and lit a cigarette, taking a drag. Immediately, he was surrounded by security guards. Upon refusing to extinguish the cigarette, he was respectfully but firmly escorted off the stage. Surrounded by the guards, he raised a hand and waved cheerfully at Blue Rain's audience section before vanishing into the player-only areas.

It was a comical scene, and the spectators were all laughing. Huang Shaotian cracked a smile, too, but the tears that were now spilling down his cheeks told the real story of his emotions.

After Team Blue Rain returned home, Captain Wei Chen took them all out to dinner, to one of their favorite restaurants, which served all the classic dishes of City G. Even aside from the incredible quality of food, it was really quite a nice place – mahogany furniture, gold-colored tablecloths, decorative embellishments, warm lighting.

They got a private room in the back. The atmosphere was somewhat somber at first, which was natural, given their recent, stinging loss. But with all the good food and drink, and in the presence of friends, the mood gradually lightened until everyone was laughing and joking around.

"-remember when we beat Tiny Herb though, that was epic-"

"-can you imagine? Forty-seven seconds-"

"-they fucking wrecked you in that match, you better not let that happen again-"

"-that 1v3 though-"

"-god I wish I'd seen the look on his face-"

"-I swear next season will be better-"

"-who knows what'll happen-"

"-next season."

And Wei Chen downed drink after drink, and laughed right along with them. Sitting next to him, several times Fang Shijing looked like he wanted to say something, but he appeared to change his mind each time, with a helpless smile and a shake of his head.

Steadily, as the night wore on, the dishes were emptied and cleared. As everyone continued chatting, Wei Chen quietly paid the bill in full, then cleared his throat.

"Everyone…" He hadn't said much thus far, hadn't made a speech or anything to them, so at his voice, the table immediately quieted down.

They all turned expectant gazes on him, and Wei Chen, unexpectedly, felt himself freeze.

He hadn't even officially announced his retirement to them yet. How was he supposed to go about it? Damn it, there was so much to say to these people, his family.

Goodbye. Thank you for letting me lead you, thank you for all your hard work. I'm happy I was able to fight by your sides. May you bring Blue Rain to glory.

But the words caught in his throat, and none of that found its way to his lips. In the end, all he said were two words.

"I'm leaving."

With that, he shouldered his bag and left the restaurant.

He had already made his preparations with the Blue Rain managers – they had invited him to stay on as a coach, which he had declined; he refused to feel like a useless, washed-up old fool. He had cleared his few belongings from his room and left behind Swoksaar's account card. All that was left to do was depart, cleanly and completely.

And he… he was never good with farewells.

At long last, the Season 2 finals arrived – Excellent Era versus Tyranny.

Many Blue Rain members had already gone home after their team's elimination, but those that remained travelled together to watch the finals in person. After all, a proplayer was a Glory fan at heart, and the season finals were a must-watch for any Glory fan.

But amongst the raucous audience of Excellent Era's and Tyranny's respective fans, there was a bubble of silence where Blue Rain was sitting. Even the ever-talkative Huang Shaotian watched the match in silence, with an obvious air of melancholy that even the riveting action onscreen couldn't shake.

Fang Shijing sat next to him. Seeing the youth's morose countenance, he felt another stab of dissatisfaction at Wei Chen. This guy…

When Wei Chen had made that announcement at the dinner, "I'm leaving," the team members had, at first, thought that he just meant leaving the dinner to go home. It had taken Fang Shijing a full thirty seconds after the door had closed to realize that, wait, that wasn't what his friend meant, was it – there was no way he would just – but he would, wouldn't he?

By the time he had frantically rushed outside – to chase him, yell at him, he didn't even know – Wei Chen had completely vanished. Evaporated, like rainwater on a warm summer day.

The confused team members clamored for an explanation after Fang Shijing returned inside, and he could only say, "I think… that was his way of announcing his retirement." Confusion turned to shock, and then grief.

By the time Blue Rain made the official public announcement about their captain's retirement, said captain was already long gone. And Fang Shijing had desperately tried to get into contact with him, to try and talk some sense into him, but to no avail.

QQ messages? Unopened.

Phone calls? Straight to voicemail.

Emails? Ignored.

And his Glory account card, the means by which Fang Shijing had first met him, had been left behind to the club. If Wei Chen continued playing Glory, it would no longer be under the name "Swoksaar."

Damn it, Wei Chen! It's just retirement! Do you really need to be like this?

And a quieter, more bitter voice: We were friends for how many years? And you just abandon us like that? …Abandon me?

It hurt, because they were friends. But because they were friends, Fang Shijing understood why Wei Chen acted this way. He loved Blue Rain too much. He had to cut off all contact, or else he feared his resolution would waver and he would go back on the decision that he had hardened his heart to make.

But – even so! How Fang Shijing wished he could grab his friend by the shoulders and shake him until he saw reason.

So what if you change your mind?

So what if you go back on your decision?

It's just retirement! Do you really need to be like this?

Upon thinking of the pain Wei Chen must have felt in making this ruthless decision, Fang Shijing felt his heart hurt as well. As for the rest of the team, they had reacted to the news with sadness, but most of them had since taken it in stride. They all knew Wei Chen's declining condition, and his retirement didn't come as a great shock. Blue Rain would continue on.

But Huang Shaotian… He had spent several days raging, and at the end of that period, he sunk into this rare, depressive silence, from which he still hadn't emerged. Fang Shijing worried about him, worried about his mental state, but didn't know what he should do or say to help.

Besides, Fang Shijing had plenty of other things to worry about, and he once again cursed Wei Chen for simply vanishing into the night. The old captain had, before his abrupt departure, left a letter with the club, and the club was respecting his final wishes. This included making Fang Shijing Blue Rain's new captain, giving him all the associated responsibilities. As for Blue Rain's roster next season, Wei Chen wrote to allow Fang Shijing to "decide, as appropriate."

Vague phrasing, but the meaning was clear. Should he allow these two kids to register for battle next season?

Fang Shijing grimaced. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to decide? Wei Chen…

"Shaotian!" Finally, he opened his mouth to get the youth's attention. But at this moment, Huang Shaotian suddenly jumped up. Ignoring the looks of everyone around him, he stood upright on his seat and stabbed a finger at the battle below.

"Old man!" he hollered. "You can go die in peace! I swear, I will take revenge for you!"

With that, he hopped back into his seat as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. "Study closely," he told Yu Wenzhou, who was sitting on his other side. "Figure out how to kill them."

Yu Wenzhou only shook his head. "Not enough strength. Without solving that basic problem, no amount of study will do anything."

"Who are you saying doesn't have enough strength?"

"You. Me." As he spoke, Yu Wenzhou glanced at Fang Shijing.

"Hey, don't look at me," said Fang Shijing, putting his hands in the air. "The future depends on you."

"Exactly. It has to be in the future," said Yu Wenzhou.

"…The future…" Huang Shaotian murmured. He really wasn't as arrogant as his trash-talk made him seem. After all, he had lost to Wei Chen in practice matches countless times, and, in turn, seen Wei Chen harshly defeated in these professional battles.

Not strong enough.

This was the unforgiving truth, dangling in front of him. Ever since that Excellent Era versus Hundred Blossoms match and Yu Wenzhou's pointed commentary, he'd seen this truth over and over again. Huang Shaotian stood out in a crowd of rookies, true. But he knew he was far from ready to stand on that stage and fight on equal footing with gods.

"One year," he said, suddenly.

"What?" Over the roaring of the crowd, Fang Shijing missed Huang Shaotian's uncharacteristically quiet statement.

"Give me one more year to train." The youth glared at the stage below, at the two powerhouses currently in the thick of battle, at the two gods in the midst of it all. Excellent Era and Tyranny. One Autumn Leaf and Desert Dust. "After a year, we'll fight. Then we'll see who comes out the victor."

Fang Shijing paused, then nodded. "Alright, one year." He looked at Huang Shaotian, then looked at Yu Wenzhou. After one year, where would these two youths lead Blue Rain?

He hoped that Wei Chen, no matter where he was, would be watching.