For a moment, the two people at either end of that phone call both felt a little awkward.
Jiang Ying decided to do his utmost to break the awkward silence. In order to avoid a repeat of the minor disaster that had just occurred, he carefully said, "Class Monitor, I…"
"I'm a sexless ice prince?" Qi Zhu interrupted.
Jiang Ying turned around and glared at the 'Gossip Buddy' that was still reciting its encyclopedic knowledge of Qi Zhu. "No, don't worry about it. Buddy's just spewing some nonsense, your… bodily functions… are totally normal."
It was fine for Jiang Ying to say something like 'sexless ice god' behind Qi Zhu's back, but having the words repeated to the person in question wasn't great.
"Oh, so you know?" Qi Zhu's voice seemed to rise, just a little.
Jiang Ying was silent.
"If you have nothing to say, I'm hanging up now," Jiang Ying said, absent-mindedly ending the call as soon as he finished speaking.
On his computer, a QQ notification began to flash. It was the default penguin avatar; Qi Zhu had sent him a message.
[Class Monitor]: [poke poke]
[Class Monitor]: You're the one who called me.
Jiang Ying stared.
He had originally wanted to ask if Qi Zhu was going to their class reunion. But after their conversation took a weird detour, he'd forgotten about the whole thing.
Qi Zhu was a busy person, and he didn't seem to enjoy lively events. He probably wouldn't go to the reunion. Still, Jiang Ying pulled up the information for the reunion and forwarded it to Qi Zhu.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: [poke poke]
[Big-Clawed Crab]: [forwarded message]
[Class Monitor]: Oh.
Judging by that answer—bland with a little disdain, cold with a little indifference—Qi Zhu probably had no interest in attending.
It was late, but most people in the modern era needed to mess around on their cell phones for a while before going to sleep. Jiang Ying lay on his side in bed and opened up an app called 'Fight!' on his phone.
The loading screen displayed the word 'Fight!' in gaudy, cursive letters. Then the home screen of the app appeared.
Three years ago, 'Fight!' launched as an app dedicated to fighting. Arguing. Squabbling. It had instantly captured everyone's attention. Opponents of a similar rank were randomly matched up and given a topic to fight about. After fighting, players could easily cut ties and disband. No audio, no video. Only texting was allowed.
'Fight!' enforced just a few rules. No threatening each other's parents, and no threatening each other's lives. Everything else was fair play. All combatants got a chance to show off their argumentative powers.
When the app first launched, it had enjoyed a period of wild popularity. But people began to abandon the game over time, either because they got bored or got busy or just sucked too hard. The only people who still used the app were ones who had nothing better to do or ones who were true champions of fighting.
Jiang Ying was one such champion.
After loading up the app, Jiang Ying was greeted by two options: 'Subject Fight' and 'Freestyle Fight'. The freestyle fights were practically a no-holds-barred warzone. The subject fights were much more like genuine debates. The people who chose that option tended to be more civil and harmonious, and the questions were typically basic things like 'Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?' and 'Cats or dogs?'
Jiang Ying usually duked it out in freestyle fights, but he suddenly noticed that a new 'Entertainment Industry' category had been added to the subject fights side of the interface. Out of curiosity, he gave that one a shot.
Many players would avoid entertainment industry fights like the plague, but to Jiang Ying this was a golden opportunity.
The app began to count down to the start of the match. Soon, Jiang Ying's traditional pre-bedtime fight officially began. He had already started getting drowsy before loading up the game, but when the randomly selected question for debate appeared on the screen, it snapped him back to full alertness. The randomly selected question involved, of all things, a person he knew—
Is Qi Zhu actually popular or not?
Jiang Ying had selected 'Either Stance' before he was assigned a topic, and the system had randomly assigned him to argue 'Yes'. He felt that put him at a bit of a disadvantage. With a question like this, he probably would have done a better job of arguing for the other side.
He had collected so much, so much, dirt on Qi Zhu. And all that would have to go to waste if he had to try to praise the guy.
But the match had already commenced, and Jiang Ying wasn't the type to admit defeat.
The app set each player on a timer. If a player was silent for twenty seconds, or if they didn't say anything relevant to the topic for twenty seconds, they would be deemed the loser.
Jiang Ying's ID in this app was [Boss Crab], and his opponent was [ACD].
[ACD]: Hurry up, let's get this over with. I'm going to bed after we fight.
[ACD]: You're not a fan of this guy, are you?
[Boss Crab]: Nope. Fight on.
[ACD]: Okay, good. I picked 'Either Stance' too. Let me start us off by asking…
[ACD]: Who the hell is Qi Zhu? I've never even heard of him, so how could he be popular?
[Boss Crab]: ???
[Boss Crab]: You don't even know who Qi Zhu is? I'm sorry, do you even have paved roads where you live? Do you even get 2G internet in the cave you call a home? Have you ever heard of Weibo? Have you ever seen a trending topic in your life?
[Boss Crab]: He's honest, he's attractive, he's a good actor, and his filmography is impressive as hell. The blockbusters that were released on New Year's Eve for the past two years? He was in both. Have you never seen a New Year's film?
[Boss Crab]: Fine, let's say you don't know him. Qi Zhu is legit popular, and I'll tell you why.
[ACD]: But he…
[Boss Crab]: From the very start, Qi Zhu never set out to be internet-famous. He made a name for himself with his acting skills. So don't even try to lump him in with the average net star.
[Boss Crab]: His dad is a big-name director in the industry, but he never relied on his father to get him a role. You know how he became popular? He was noticed when he was playing some random extra. Netizens could all tell he had the soul of an actor in his eyes. From there, he worked his way up step by step.
Jiang Ying typed at the speed of light. In just a few seconds, he had listed out all the roles Qi Zhu had taken since his debut. He included the names of the dramas and movies, alongside the names of Qi Zhu's characters. He included the ratings and notable reviews each work had received, as well as the awards Qi Zhu had won. All the evidence was laid out right there.
[Boss Crab]: In conclusion, Qi Zhu is the real deal.
[ACD]: …you call yourself 'not a fan'???
[System Notification]: 'ACD' has left the match. 'Boss Crab' is the winner.
"I'm not a fan. You just type too slow," Jiang Ying muttered to himself. Satisfied with his victory, he exited the app and fell asleep.
Jiang Ying slept until noon. When he woke, his phone had received countless texts from various banks and insurance companies, wishing him a happy birthday. Squeezed in between those automated messages were some greetings from friends and family members as well.
At exactly noon, Qi Zhu sent Jiang Ying a QQ message. It included a few of the app's default emojis: a cake, a rose, and a person in a green shirt holding their arms out for a hug.
Seeing that little green dude, Jiang Ying inexplicably smiled.
This guy didn't even know how to use reaction memes. Qi Zhu was truly way too dull.
Assistant Chen had a great deal of experience in his field. He was very familiar with Jiang Ying's daily schedule. Not long after Jiang Ying woke, Assistant Chen's call lit up his phone.
"I emailed you… a certain script?" Assistant Chen began with some trepidation. He didn't know if Jiang Ying had ultimately agreed to audition for the role.
"I got it. I'll check out the original novel today too. At least then I won't lose too much face," Jiang Ying said. "But my acting sucks, so don't get your hopes up. And, honestly, I'm not even that interested in acting."
Assistant Chen, receiving a positive answer, happily hung up.
It was only after he'd downloaded the script that Jiang Ying realized he was trending again. But this time it was just because it was his birthday.
Weibo had automatically posted a little announcement of his birthday to his account. The day was already pretty special, so in addition to fans wishing him a happy birthday, many passersby wandered through his blog to check out the commotion as well.
@JiangYingKANI Global Defense Squad: #TheGooseIsLoose# Gege, happy birthday.
@Sweet Peach Oolong Tea: We got our gege trending just for celebrating a birthday. Share some exclusive content to reward us, please~
@321: That's just because it's too rare for people to have a birthday on this date, isn't it? Hahaha.
@Didididada: Passerby, just checking out what the fuss is all about. Jiang Ying was really born on February 29th? Doesn't that mean he only gets to celebrate his birthday once every four years?
@Buttered Crab: Yeah, so just look at our awesome gege. He's helping his fans save money, see? Other celebrities need their fans to throw them birthday bashes once a year, but with Jiang Ying? Once every four years.
The matter of Jiang Ying cussing out a paparazzo had already been suppressed by his agency. Only a few people were still discussing it. Jiang Ying knew he could probably pull in some new fans if he posted a selfie on his birthday, so he logged into his main and sent something out into the sea of birthday wishes.
@JiangYingKANI: Thanks to all my shadows for the birthday wishes, let's all have a good day together. HonkingLaugh.jpg
The accompanying picture was a selfie Jiang Ying had taken right after getting out of bed. It just so happened to catch the stuffed penguin that still sat on one of his pillows. His hair was still messy from sleep, with a few stray tufts sticking up here and there. He showed off his sharp little canines when he smiled, and it was undeniable that he looked much, much cuter than usual.
@Starry Sky: I want to put him in my pocket, this picture is too cute! Gege is usually so handsome and cool, but today he's just adorable.
@RiceKANI: As a mom fan, I'm getting worried. Who could ever be good enough for our Shadow?
@JiangYingKANI replying to RiceKANI: I'm a happy bachelor.
There was another trending topic that quickly caught Jiang Ying's attention. One relating to the app 'Fight!', which he had just used last night. This topic was even hotter than the one about his own birthday.
"Even if we have a bad relationship, this is just too much," Jiang Ying muttered under his breath. "For once, I'm trending for a good reason, and this guy just has to beat me? Give me a break."
But… that was interesting. Did Qi Zhu also use that app?
After tapping on the trending tag, Jiang Ying realized that wasn't the case at all. Qi Zhu wasn't trending because he used the app; the topic had started to trend because of Jiang Ying's late-night match. ACD had posted a screen recording of their game, from start to finish.
@ACD: Is Qi Zhu really this popular right now? I was just looking for a random fight and still ran into one of his fans. And his fans are way too powerful. They can list all these roles and achievements of his in just twenty seconds? I couldn't do that even if I went on Baidu and copied and pasted the whole article in. His fans are just too real.
@Won't Change My Name Until The New Drama Comes Out: ACD, don't feel bad. I've been his fan for three years, and I couldn't do this.
Boss Crab, the Weibo account Jiang Ying used for 'Fight!', was pretty well-known. It had amassed over a hundred thousand followers after gaining a reputation for being a fierce fighter in the game. After ACD made that post, people quickly made the connection to Jiang Ying's account.
The video uploaded by ACD clearly showed Boss Crab's incredible typing speed, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of Qi Zhu's work and accomplishments. Even Qi Zhu's fans were stunned.
And 'Boss Crab' claimed they weren't a fan? Impossible.
Qi Zhu's fans often read up on his filmography, but there wasn't a single one that could claim to have such a clear and complete understanding of his career.
Netizen 1: Nice. Really nice. I've been a fan of Boss Crab for a long time, and I never knew he chased celebrities.
Netizen 2: So you've been a Qi Zhu fan all along, Boss Crab? We've never seen you follow any celebs before. You were hiding it pretty well.
Jiang Ying stared at his cell phone, baffled.
No, that wasn't right. He had just wanted to win the game and thoroughly obliterate his opponent. He wasn't Qi Zhu's fan. He was only his own fan.
At the same time, in Qi Zhu's supertopic—
[Have you guys seen what's trending?]
[I saw. When I heard this question was in that app, I was worried people would bash our gege. But unexpectedly…]
[This is definitely a fan, she talks just like us. She exudes the same fangirl energy we do, sisters.]
[I can't believe one of the Top 10 players in 'Fight!' is our gege's diehard fan. Now we have someone to lead the way when we feud in the future.]
[Is this Boss Crab in our group?]
[I don't think so. I've never heard of this mysterious creature before.]
[Does someone want to go recruit her? We need someone like that in our defense squad.]
[Gege loves nothing more than countering antis and trolls. We should @ Boss Crab for gege.]
[No need to @ her. Gege already went in by himself…]
Jiang Ying's cell phone vibrated. One of his Weibo alts had just received a new notification.
Qi Zhu followed you.
With just one fight, Boss Crab had made a name for himself.