"You guys have a really… good relationship," Mu Yue remarked, a little shell-shocked as she watched Gu Wei calmly quit his group chat without any hint of a guilty conscience.
T.ATW was widely believed to be a very close-knit boy band. A part of their immense popularity stemmed from the close bonds the members seemed to share. Just a little while ago, Mu Yue had watched an interview with T.ATW in which they jokingly called themselves a bunch of fakers—
"We're super fake," the rapper Chi Yunkai said. "Whenever we feel like it, we'll kick the worst gamer in our group out of our group chat."
"When we're busy, we just each mind our own business," the center Fu Zhi said. "Really, we're not close at all."
"Gu Wei, how about you?' the interviewer asked. "You're the youngest in the group, and your gege all say your bonds are fake. What do you think of that?"
The Gu Wei in the video of the interview hummed thoughtfully. "I've already learned to see myself out of the group when I cause trouble. And when I say causing trouble, that includes, but isn't limited to, being dead weight to my teammates in video games."
"Good habit, I do the same thing," Shi Xinyan chimed in. "The trouble I cause includes, but isn't limited to, eating luosifen in the living room of our dorm."
The interviewer was speechless for a moment.
When she first watched that video, Mu Yue had thought they were kidding around for the sake of bringing some laughs to the interview. She never could have imagined that these guys had straightforwardly told the whole truth.
Mu Yue suddenly remembered Manager Zhao had arranged another interview for T.ATW, one that would be filmed in their dormitory. If they weren't careful, Mu Yue seriously feared the fragile public personas of these boys would be shattered to pieces.
Gu Wei was already so accustomed to his group's dynamics that he didn't know what was going through Mu Yue's mind at all. He was already looking forward to the release of the second installment of Escape Without a Trace, because it was a variety show he had filmed with Jiang Xun. Not only that, it would be the first time he appeared in period clothing.
The trailer wasn't long. It opened on a shot of the walls of the ancient palace city, then cut to footage of each guest entering their dressing room.
At that point, the trailer showed the captions:
Time rewinds… let us take a peek at what our guests looked like a long, long time ago!
A scene transition blurred the screen, and the footage that followed was a compilation of the guests having their photos taken after getting in costume. The editing was extremely detailed and well-done, with many special effects added in post-production.
Gu Wei was dressed in his light blue-green costume, tipping his head back to the sky as the wind rustled the flowering trees that surrounded him. Jiang Xun was wearing a set of black royal robes; he stood in the night as the camera panned over him, glancing into the lens and flashing a small, natural smile.
Then there were shots of Shi Xinyan, Bei Ke, and Qian Yining, who had yet again been forced into some convoluted costume.
All five of them were shown on screen for a moment before a bell sounded out, and the video cut over to a group of people dressed in strange white robes, meandering around the palace walls.
And after that, there were a few highlights the editors had chosen to feature in the trailer. Including the part with Gu Wei and Shi Xinyan wandering around, shouting insults about the director and their teammates into the night sky.
The captions said:
What are they looking for?
And that was where the trailer ended.
This short little trailer, not even two minutes in length, was enough to send the eagerly waiting fans of the show into a frenzy.
@Chocolate Cake: I just have to sing Gu Wei's praises right now, he looks amazing in period clothing! Film and TV casting directors can all pay a little more attention to our Weiwei. Just look at his face. What more is there to say?
@cathlinda: Those two from T.ATW are so funny, the show included that part on purpose, didn't they? I really want to know what the other three guys in their group are thinking after seeing this. They always call themselves a fake group.
@Little Hedgehog Grow Up Fast: Ahhh, holy shit, please release the full episode! Gu Wei and Jiang Xun look way too good in those costumes, I'm about to combust. Can Little Tao please send a solo shot of Weiwei? I want to make it my wallpaper.
@Little Hedgehog's Sunny Doll: These showrunners really know what they're doing. Sisters, get ready for the full episode. We're about to have some delicious new food.
A short while later, T.ATW's own center Fu Zhi sent out a new post.
@T.ATW-FuZhi: @EscapeWithoutATraceOfficial, @T.ATW-GuWei, @T.ATW-ShiXinyan, I heard you guys dissed us during this show. Come back here and get what's waiting for you. [smack.jpg]
The accompanying photo was a screenshot of the 'Little Losers Club Has A Bright Future' group chat, cropped around the notifications that Gu Wei and Shi Xinyan had abruptly fled the group.
As the most popular member of T.ATW, Fu Zhi had over twenty million followers on Weibo. He had been so busy with work these past few days that he hadn't posted anything new, so the fresh movement on his blog instantly garnered the attention of all his fans.
@Inner Peace: Hahahaha, I thought you guys were just messing around in your last interview, but maybe your bonds are actually pretty flimsy? Two of your members will leave the group chat at the drop of a hat. I really want to see this show, is it airing later tonight?
@I Want A Cat: Your group is way way way too cute, isn't it? Those two didn't forget to roast you even while filming a show on their own. This isn't a sign that they're fake, this is a sign of true friendship. Gu Wei and Shi Xinyan are really just adorable. Gege, I'm going to go watch this show, and maybe I'll become a fan of your group.
@Fu Zhi-gege Is Super Alpha: This variety show looks pretty good, I'm going to go check out the first part.
@Cabbage: Am I the only one who noticed them calling themselves the 'Little Losers Club'? You guys aren't losers at all, okay? I had no idea you were so close. I shouldn't have been so rude about Gu Wei in the past… I'll go check out this variety show now.
Luo Chenxuan and Chi Yunkai shared Fu Zhi's post to their own Weibo blogs, each echoing the phrase, 'Come back and get what's waiting for you.' With all three of them sharing that post, the popularity of Escape Without a Trace grew explosively. Before the second installment even aired, the show was sent straight into the top five of the trending topics list.
Gu Wei knew this was how Fu Zhi and the others intended to help the show gain more viewers. From the outside, T.ATW sometimes seemed like a group with members that just did their own thing. But in reality, when there was a need, they were always ready to help one another—
Some time ago, when Gu Wei's plagiarism scandal was hot news, their agency made the decision that none of the guys in the group were allowed to talk about it publicly. But one night, after a TV performance, they ran into Jiang Enyuan backstage.
Chi Yunkai and Shi Xinyan had lost it on the spot. They both lunged, totally ready to beat the shit out of him, but Fu Zhi stopped them just in time.
"Don't cause any trouble for Gu Wei," he stated calmly. He was a year or two older than the others, and he was always the most stable and rational one.
Gu Wei had also shaken his head, indicating to Chi Yunkai to let it go. But the next day, he learned that Jiang Enyuan had been locked in a bathroom that night. He'd almost missed his cue to get on stage, and his manager had scolded him harshly for his tardiness. When he did make it on stage, he looked like he wasn't in a good state at all.
"Did… you guys do that?" Gu Wei had asked, suspiciously eyeing the other four members of his group.
"Nope. Impossible. Never happened." The four of them all offered their denials of guilt at the same time. "Where's his proof? Does he have any video evidence?"
"You're all adults!" Gu Wei had exclaimed, caught between laughing and crying. "Can you not pick fights like elementary school students?"
Though Gu Wei had to say that, he felt a warmth spread through his chest. The others had all used their own ways to express their helplessness and frustration. That was the true spirit of their group. They could kid around with one another, and in times of need they would step forward and be there for one another.
Fu Zhi and the others were wildly successful in boosting the popularity of the upcoming variety show. Gu Wei and Shi Xinyan both saw their follower counts rising steadily, and in the comments section of the Escape Without a Trace trailer, everyone was eagerly waiting for the show to be broadcast on all major streaming sites at eight in the evening.
"Didi has been getting more and more popular," Mu Yue said. "Your follower count on Weibo is almost at twelve million, and I think your anti-fan count has gone way down."
Now that Mu Yue mentioned it, Gu Wei realized she was right. In the past, whenever he searched for his own name on Weibo, he would only see his most recent activity, followed by discussions of his supposed plagiarism scandal. But recently, those accusations and the word 'plagiarism' hadn't been mentioned in association with his name at all.
Those professional anti-fans who clocked in every day to defame him had also disappeared. Gu Wei's past was now only brought up once in a rare while by a stray passerby who liked to dig up rancid gossip from the trash.
Could his increase in popularity have had an effect like this? Gu Wei didn't really understand it, but to him the internet had suddenly become a much better place. He finally dared to occasionally scroll through the comments under his own Weibo posts now, and he could even respond to a few that looked interesting.
"Your little hedgehogs' defense squad has become much more professional lately. They're organized, and they're disciplined," Mu Yue said. "I was afraid they would receive some backlash if they were too aggressive about doing damage control for you, but it looks like they're doing just the right amount.
"And they seem to have a lot of resources to work with these days. They've been extremely diligent about promoting your posts, and they seem to have hired some hotshots to edit photos and videos for you. I did warn them not to spend too much money after you told me to pass along that message, but it seems they have a very high budget these days…
"Our didi is getting popular," Mu Yue finished proudly, "and no one can stop him."
"I'll work even harder," Gu Wei promised.
He would work hard enough that he would be popular all on his own, without needing to leech fame off anyone else. He wouldn't allow any more scandals to dirty his name. One day, when people heard his name, they would think of his work and not that dark period in his distant past.
All the buzz around the next installment of Escape Without a Trace seemed to make the team work faster. The night after the trailer was released, the full episode was officially broadcast as well. Not long after the episode aired, before Gu Wei even had a chance to watch it, he checked Weibo and saw that both the show and the 'FoodForXunWei' tag were trending again.
Gu Wei took a shower, then grabbed his tablet and got into bed to watch the new variety show.
The very first part, surprisingly enough, focused on Gu Wei's attempts to get into the palace. The footage showed him following the NPCs around and around, playing in fast forward with a caption on the screen that counted his laps—
…and another one.
They had even edited in Director Zhang's reaction.
"Each one of those actors is getting an extra one hundred yuan per lap," Director Zhang sobbed. "Gu Wei, enough is enough, isn't it?"
This was the first part where the comments really picked up speed—
[So this is what ate up their budget. Let's all light a candle for Director Zhang.]
[I feel bad for Gu Wei's feet, he really walked so much, hahahaha.]
[He found it, he found it! Feels like I'm the only one watching for the plot.]
The part where Gu Wei drew lots to choose a 'steed' and the part where Jiang Xun did the same were played side-by-side, so the audience got to see the two of them walk away at the same time. One with a majestic horse, and one with an alpaca.
[Jiang Xun knows how to ride a horse? And he's really good at it! Has he taken lessons?]
[This director is pretty thoughtful. Weiwei's little hedgehogs want to thank Director Zhang on Weiwei's behalf for giving him an alpaca. Weiwei doesn't know how to ride a horse, it's good the director considered that.]
[Shi Xinyan lolololol being chased by a horde of ghosts, poor thing! Everyone else is looking for clues, and he's running a marathon.]
[Shi Xinyan and Gu Wei met up! Time for a little T.ATW reunion, hahahahaha.]
[Ah, it's coming, it's coming! The famous celebrity hit list.]
The screen quickly filled up with comments echoing those words as the scene from the trailer began to play. Gu Wei and Shi Xinyan, emboldened by the silence around them and feeling bored as they looked for clues, started to roast the director and their bandmates one by one.
Gu Wei was pretty sure that… last line of his would have been cut out in post-production. Director Zhang was a smart guy. Surely he knew what could be broadcast and what couldn't be broadcast. He definitely knew—
On screen, Shi Xinyan shouted, "Chi Yunkai is hella dumb!"
Gu Wei was next: "Director Zhang is super mean!"
"Fu Zhi likes underground electronica!"
"Luo Chenxuan steals my snacks!"
The viewers were laughing themselves silly over the 'celebrity hit list' scene.
[Next time let's ask Fu Zhi-gege to sing Yelang Disco for us.]
[Fu Zhi, show us your dance moves!]
[Chi Yunkai, Shi Xinyan called you hella dumb.]
[Luo Chenxuan, don't steal Gu Wei's snacks. Mama will buy you all the snacks you want!]
At this point, Gu Wei was starting to relax. The famous 'celebrity hit list' scene would surely end now. Director Zhang was a smart man, Director Zhang was a reasonable man, Director Zhang…
But the scene didn't end there. Shi Xinyan started talking about having to wash dishes on the last installment, and next to him, Gu Wei opened his mouth and—
A long, loud beep sounded out.
That line hadn't been cut out in post-production. It had simply been bleeped.
Immediately afterwards, the camera cut to a shot of Jiang Xun mere seconds before Gu Wei's voice would ring out.
Jiang Xun had just gotten his horse. He lifted his head to the sky as, from a great distance away, Gu Wei's voice would pierce through the night.
And once again, a prolonged beep.
The cameramen had perfectly captured a shot of Jiang Xun's confused expression. His brows were slightly furrowed, and the editors had even added a string of question marks above his head in post.
The viewers were unable to hold back their reaction.
[HAHAHAHAHA WHAT DID HE SAY??? Why won't they let us hear it!!! Can we pay to hear it??? Take all my money!!!]
[Director Zhang, how much to unlock the audio? Just name your price, we know you don't have any money left.]
[Yes, exactly, name your price.]
[Nobody stop me, I'm going to send Director Zhang money right now.]
[Someone go ask Shi Xinyan, he must know what Gu Wei said!]