"Why do I have to cut them out?!" Director Zhang demanded, his temper on the verge of boiling over.
Because they're not suitable for children, Gu Wei thought privately.
"Because we can't feed our shippers too much," Jiang Xun explained like it should have been obvious. "If they eat too many sweets, they'll develop a heart condition."
"You know too much!" Director Zhang huffed. "How does an esports player know so much about our entertainment industry? Alright, cut this last line out too."
But if they cut any more than that, they wouldn't have enough to broadcast. Director Zhang's heart ached at the loss of such valuable footage.
The show continued with the background actors playing out the next scene they had been assigned. It was starting to feel a little like the guests were attending an interactive dinner theater performance. Shi Xinyan and Bei Ke were both enthralled by the performance, but the other two guests, on the other side of the table, were notably more distracted.
Finally, the princess consort around whom this story revolved was carried into the main hall in a palanquin. The curtains of the palanquin were lifted aside, revealing the guest who had been missing all this time: Qian Yining.
"Director Zhang, you're picking on me again!" Qian Yining groused, scowling fiercely.
"You look good," Shi Xinyan called out, delighting in the misfortune of others. "Director Zhang was pretty nice to you. Look at me, I'm stuck being a court eunuch."
"Question," Gu Wei said. He had been getting more and more confused as he took in the details of the plot. "If the emperor is married to the royal consort, then the prince… who are you married to?"
Gu Wei turned to Jiang Xun, and Jiang Xun, unthinkingly, blurted out, "You, of course."
"I…" Gu Wei was speechless. He couldn't even try to form a coherent sentence.
Now that the consort had appeared, everyone's roles were exposed. Bei Ke, revealed to be the 'sweeper', lunged for the small sachet Shi Xinyan carried. Shi Xinyan dodged aside and started running towards Qian Yining.
Every guest had their own mission, causing the hall to descend into chaos. Of course, that was exactly what the director wanted. In the process of scrambling around, each trying to accomplish their own task, the guests were sure to create a ton of hilarious moments.
For example, as soon as Qian Yining tried to step out of the palanquin, she tripped over the long and elaborate train of her formal robes.
For example, Shi Xinyan had pulled a broom out of seemingly nowhere and was brandishing it at Bei Ke now, warning him to stay away.
"Gu Wei, stop Jiang Xun!" Shi Xinyan called out. "I'll take care of this!"
Gu Wei didn't even stop to think before pouncing on Jiang Xun, but it seemed Jiang Xun had been expecting that since long ago. He reacted quickly and easily caught Gu Wei's wrist in midair.
"I knew you were lying to me," Jiang Xun said. He reached out to snatch away the string of bells Gu Wei carried, but Gu Wei ducked out of the way just in time.
In that moment, Gu Wei spotted an unfamiliar bracelet around Jiang Xun's wrist. He instantly reached out to grab it.
Qian Yining had no idea how she was supposed to win or lose the game. She frantically ran around the main hall, trying to avoid everyone while simultaneously trying to get out of her heavy and complicated robes.
"Qian Yining, the pictures! Look at the pictures!"
"Gu Wei and Jiang Xun are really getting serious about stealing each other's tokens!"
"Jiang Xun! Where do you think your hands are going?! We're still recording!"
"Shi Xinyan, put down the broom! This is a variety show, not a brawl!"
The crew members in the surveillance room were laughing themselves into stitches as chaos continued to run rampant through the main hall. Finally, Gu Wei and Jiang Xun fell into the pool at the same time, and Shi Xinyan dropped his sachet into a wine goblet.
It was Bei Ke's victory.
Qian Yining, who had been missing in action the whole time, was still warily running circles around the hall, avoiding all the other guests.
"Are you cold?" Jiang Xun asked as the two of them, drenched from head to toe, climbed out of the pool.
Gu Wei shook his head. His gaze traveled over to the curtains behind the throne. "I think there's a light coming from over there."
Jiang Xun gestured for all the other guests to quiet down, before he silently mouthed: Surveillance room.
The five guests all exchanged a look and instantly came to a mutual understanding. The three guests who had remained dry leapt into the pool and submerged themselves until they were also completely soaked. Then, all five guests rushed towards those curtains at the same time.
"Okay, that's a wrap on…" Director Zhang didn't get a chance to finish that sentence.
His five guests, dripping from head to toe, burst into the surveillance room and leapt on him, each giving him an extremely wet hug.
And so, the second installment of Escape Without a Trace, ended with Director Zhang swearing furiously—
"Did none of you understand the poignant and bittersweet love story I set up?! I'm already so old, and you're making me take a cold shower?!"
"It's a symbol of gratitude, director," Jiang Xun said as he took a towel and started to help Gu Wei dry off.
"Gratitude?" Director Zhang snapped. "Drenching me in water is a symbol of gratitude? What have I done to earn that 'gratitude'?"
"It's my thanks for letting us talk about 'tying the knot' last time."
At the end of the day, Director Zhang had to admit the recording had been a smashing success. He was just a little cold.
"Get over here, let's take a commemorative video!" Shi Xinyan called out. The guests had all gotten along so well that they were reluctant to part ways already. Shi Xinyan got out his own phone to shoot a video for them.
The guests all crowded together and did a little meme dance that had recently become popular. They'd completely shed their 'cool' and 'stoic' public personas in favor of having a good time, and Director Zhang wasn't shy about sending the camera crews back out to get some extra footage.
They passed the whole night like that. Soon, the sky to the east showed hints of daybreak. The guests' clothes began to dry.
"Weiwei, look over here." Jiang Xun held up his own phone.
Gu Wei was watching some of the videos Shi Xinyan had just taken. He looked up and turned around, smiling brightly. His expression was truly picture perfect.
The sun was rising behind Jiang Xun, the light scattering around him. Gu Wei beamed at the camera and said, "Jiang Xun, watch me!"
Seconds later, Shi Xinyan and Qian Yining both let out matching cries of shock and alarm.
Gu Wei had just performed a flawless forward cartwheel, touching both hands lightly to the floor as he swept his legs overhead and stuck a perfect landing. He was still wearing those blue-green robes, which fluttered beautifully as he gracefully flipped through the air. When he straightened, he flashed Jiang Xun a proud grin.
Shi Xinyan often trained with Gu Wei, so after his initial surprise, he only thought Gu Wei's flip looked great. The other guests, however, were shocked to the core.
"Too cool!" Qian Yining gasped. "No wonder you're the lead dancer."
Jiang Xun silently saved the video and loaded up an app on his phone, quickly replacing the audio with a piece of background music. He titled the clip 'A Very Impressive Kid', then uploaded it right away.
Finally, the guests said their goodbyes to one another and climbed into the cars sent by their various agencies.
Shi Xinyan had another job to get to, so he left first. Gu Wei left with Jiang Xun, heading off to the hotel Mu Yue had arranged for them in advance.
The process of changing out of their costumes and taking a shower took the two of them another two hours. By the time they got back to the hotel to rest, it was well and truly morning.
"I'm suddenly not sleepy anymore," Gu Wei said, gazing up at the ceiling in their room.
Even though he'd worked through the night, now that he was lying down in bed, he felt strangely energetic.
"Me neither," Jiang Xun said. He was checking on the short video clip he'd uploaded earlier. In just a few short hours, the video had accumulated nearly ten thousand likes. The number of comments was steadily rising as well.
[WOW, isn't that just too cool? The little gege's front flip is super on point! I've been studying dance for three years, and even I can't pull that off.]
[Holy crap, what did I just stumble upon?]
[The video is too short, it's not enough! Please share a little more? I'll like it, I'll share it, anything you want!]
[Is this the little gege's first video? Please tell me who that is! How much for his Wechat contact info?]
Using the new account he'd just created, with a name that was still just jumbled letters and numbers, Jiang Xun responded to the most recent comment: You can send money, but no WeChat.
Although Gu Wei wasn't an A-list celebrity, he was still fairly popular. The video was shared and spread around quickly, and eventually people began to recognize him.
[Doesn't this look a little bit like Gu Wei?]
[Now that you mention it, I think it is! But I don't think Gu Wei has done anything in period clothing before?]
[He has, he has! He's recording the second part of 'Escape Without a Trace', and I heard that was all going to be done in period costumes.]
[I'll repost this on Weibo. I think I suddenly get why people find Gu Wei attractive.]
[Do it! If this is Gu Wei, I'll become his fan.]
Just a few minutes later, someone uploaded the video clip to Weibo. Though it was a weekday morning, when everyone should have been at work, Weibo swiftly picked up the post and spread it around.
@Little Hedgehog's Sunny Doll: @T.ATW-GuWei, Weiwei, this is you, isn't it? We little hedgehogs would never misidentify you.
@fire: This is Gu Wei? Impressive! Who's he talking to in this video? He looks so happy.
The official Escape Without a Trace account seized the opportunity to share that short clip to their own page as well.
@EscapeWithoutATraceOfficial: We wanted to wait a few days before releasing the news, but it looks like someone has already leaked the big surprise! It's true, folks. The next installment is completely filmed in period clothing. Everyone, look forward to watching the broadcast with Little Tao!
At the same time, the official account also posted the short clip of the five guests playing around, doing a meme dance.
Gu Wei, still lying down, just so happened to see the clip of himself when he started scrolling through Weibo.
"Wow, Jiang Xun, you uploaded it?"
Gu Wei had just gotten caught up in the moment back then, and he'd wanted to show off for Jiang Xun a little. He didn't think that move would be seen by everyone online so quickly. He had only thought about how fun it would be to show off for Jiang Xun, not about whether or not it would look good on camera.
But the move had come out looking really good.
Underneath the posts from the official Escape Without a Trace account, Gu Wei's little hedgehogs were out in full force, jubilantly gushing over the new content. Gu Wei had done pretty well in his variety shows recently, and the incident with He Cheng's stalkers had also caused him to gain more fans. His follower count was growing steadily these days, and it seemed he would soon break out of the ranks of C-list celebrities.
T.ATW was a top boy band, but on an individual level, only Fu Zhi and Luo Chenxuan could be considered A-listers. The other three still hovered around the rank of C-listers, despite their manager's efforts to increase their fan count.
Between all the rainbows farts from the little hedgehogs, a few other comments were wedged in below those posts—
@When Is New Year's This Year: The audio in the video has been replaced by background music, but look at Gu Wei's mouth. Doesn't he look like he's calling out 'Jiang Xun'? Did they take this while recording their variety show? Didi practically has stars in his eyes! Can I just say… #FoodForXunWei
@Hermit Crab: I don't want to start shit, but… I gotta. @JiangEnyuan, how about you show us a cartwheel like this? Ever since Jiang Ying called him out, I've been feeling like something's not right. Why don't we rehash that plagiarism thing one more time?
@Did You Study Today: @Hermit Crab, let's not stir up any trouble for Gu Wei.
@air: Can the show hurry up and come out already? We can't wait to watch!
Gu Wei and Jiang Xun both gave the official posts a like, one after the other.
"Does D City have any specialties?" Gu Wei asked, setting aside his cell phone. "I want to buy some souvenirs tomorrow, for Auntie Song and Jiang Ying."
"Sure." Jiang Xun had been thinking of doing the same thing. "Jiang Ying asked us to bring him some of the regional desserts from around here."
Just as Gu Wei mentioned Jiang Ying, he noticed a new message from his nemesis on his phone.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: [clip]
[Big-Clawed Crab]: WOW, youcanreallydance.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Is that cartwheel hard? I want to learn.
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: It's not hard.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Then teach me next time! I want to be praised by strangers too.
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: 'kay!
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Pssst, have you slept with my brother yet?
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: Nope!
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: CuteBlush.jpg x5
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Well, hurry up.