Jiang Ying was in a good mood. After picking up a long overdue apprentice, he had been met by a totally indifferent attitude. Not too hot, not too cold. But now, finally, his apprentice was showing a shred of interest.
That was perfect. Jiang Ying had no interest in the eager apprentices that came knocking at his door. He liked this distant type that he had to work to crack.
They were making progress, and this was a rare step forward—
[Boss Crab]: What do you want?
[Boss Crab]: I'm a man of many talents. I can sing, I can dance, I can send a cute voice message. If you make me, I can even reluctantly tolerate a heart-to-heart conversation. But I'm best at fighting.
[Boss Crab]: I hope your heart's desires will make the most of my abilities. Don't waste this gift. If you're happy, I'm happy, and we'll have world peace.
[Fighter3357868]: There's no rush. I'll take you as my target for now.
[Boss Crab]: Huh?
[Fighter3357868]: You're my target.
[Fighter3357868]: We'll leave it at that for now. I'll tell you more when the time is right.
[Boss Crab]: Holy crap, I just love your type. You don't waste time talking nonsense, you don't make empty promises. You just set your sights on something and work hard.
[Boss Crab]: Apprentice-didi, you're such a baobei. How did I manage to pick you up?
[Fighter3357868]: You flatter me.
[Fighter3357868]: I'll always be motivated as long as I have a goal. FightOn.jpg
[Fighter3357868]: You can't just call anyone 'baobei'.
[Boss Crab]: Alright.
[Boss Crab]: CuriousPeek.jpg
"I just love how withholding you are," Jiang Ying declared with a satisfied sigh. "I love nothing more than cracking open cold and blunt people like you."
As soon as those words left his mouth, Jiang Ying seemed to think of something. He quickly glanced over at the door to the bedroom, but the door was still shut. The living room was quiet, too. Jiang Ying was pretty sure Qi Zhu had gone out to make a phone call, and it seemed he wouldn't be back for a while yet.
That meant Jiang Ying would remain undisturbed for now. He could stay online for a while longer.
[Boss Crab]: Want another powerful lesson?
[Boss Crab]: In that case, we're going to learn to speak with letters today.
[Boss Crab]: Not those letters…
[Boss Crab]: WipesSweat.jpg
[Boss Crab]: Why am I only realizing now that you're kind of cute?
[Boss Crab]: TBH, to be honest. LBR, let's be real.
[Boss Crab]: Besides these, there are a lot you can use. Look them up in your own time. These are very good for online arguments, but you can't use them offline. When you're offline, speak properly. They're good enough to give you the right attitude online, though.
[Fighter3357868]: What's the point?
[Boss Crab]: Reinforces your desire to win, I guess.
[Boss Crab]: Learn these. If nothing else, you'll at least know what your enemies are saying when they diss you.
[Boss Crab]: How should I put it… when you learn to fight, your understanding of the world will become a little clearer.
Jiang Ying's teaching relied on genuine understanding, so he ended the lesson there for the night to let his apprentice process. He'd spent enough time on his apprentice, anyway. He decided to spend the rest of his free time on a subject fight.
Opponent: Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke
Due to inactivity, you are not able to choose a subject.
Your opponent has chosen chosen an Entertainment Industry question:
Is ZhuiFengZhuYing1 shippable or not?
Your assigned stance is: Yes.
The match will commence in 10 seconds.
"What's that supposed to be?" Jiang Ying mused.
For the first time in his life, Jiang Ying—entertainment industry fanatic—began to think the entertainment industry moved too fast. He'd only been away to film a variety show for a few days, and the industry had already produced some new terms he didn't recognize.
Jiang Ying grabbed his tablet and did a search on Weibo.
He stared at what he saw.
Shock set in.
It was a ship name?
With—huh? Ying? His name?
Who had the audacity to be shipped with him?
Jiang Ying fell deep into thought and carefully counted up the number of times he'd interacted with Qi Zhu lately.
The class reunion was one. The dinner with the cast and investors of 'An Auspicious Snow' was another. Then there was the livestreamed interview. And, finally, the variety show they'd been working on these past few days.
These were the interactions netizens knew about. There were also several other things netizens didn't know.
While Jiang Ying contemplated recent events, the countdown timer elapsed and the match began.
In all the 'Fight!' wars he'd waged, this was the first time Jiang Ying allowed his opponent to speak first.
[Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke]: Holy shit, it's you! I totally made the right choice to go for a subject fight tonight. I've run into a hotshot.
[Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke]: Alright, hotshot. Have at it. I want to hear you talk up my favorite ship.
[Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke]: About what happened before… their fans mobbed you like crazy, but based on my two years of experience on this app, I don't think you were starting trouble just for the sake of starting trouble. You weren't trying to aggro their fans. You just wanted to win a fight, at any cost. Right?
[Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke]: After fighting for this many years, I have to understand at least that much. I can argue on any topic, from any stance, if it's for the sake of winning.
[Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke]: Right, hotshot? Us fighters are the only people who can truly understand each other.
[Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke]: Hotshot? Speak. Say something. Hotshot?
[System Notification]: User 'Boss Crab' has been silent for 30 seconds. Deducting 5 points.
[System Notification]: User 'Boss Crab' has been silent for 60 seconds. Deducting 5 points.
[System Notification]: User 'Will Chase Stars Even If I Go Broke' is the winner.
After innocently spacing out for a short while, Jiang Ying came back to his senses and found an 'INACTIVE COMBATANT' penalty splashed across his cell phone screen.
The newly opened 'Fight!' forum instantly started buzzing over the news.
[Did Boss Crab just lose a fight due to inactivity?]
[You don't see that very often. He was just acting out a while ago. And now he's all docile?]
[Internet problems? Did he disconnect?]
[Impossible. 'Fight!' can tell if you're having internet connectivity problems. He fully went inactive here. Look, he's even been penalized for it.]
[What was the topic? What could scare off a guy like that?]
[I think it was a new question. Something about how you feel about Qi Zhu/Jiang Ying as a ship? Or something like that.]
[Oooooh, you can ship that?]
[This just proves that Boss Crab, no matter how tough he is, can still feel fear. Those two fan bases must have done a number on him. Just look, he's afraid to even respond when those two celebs come up now. He avoided the question.]
"I didn't avoid the question, I was just surprised," Jiang Ying muttered.
He and Qi Zhu had had a pure, classic friendship for years, built on a solid foundation of the time they'd spent as classmates. But now, netizens had suddenly given them an upgrade.
There was no reason for that, was there? Did the two of them not fight enough? They could each take a corner and fight on literally any conceivable topic. How could they possibly have shippers?
Something was definitely wrong with these netizens.
Jiang Ying's phone chimed with a new alert. He looked down and saw that, surprisingly enough, his nameless apprentice hadn't gone offline. Instead, that apprentice had spectated his match.
What a pity. Jiang Ying sighed, mourning the loss of an opportunity to show his apprentice his true powers.
[Fighter3357868]: Fight on~
His apprentice had also sent two copies of the system's default hugging emoji. The ugly little figure in a green shirt held out its arms in a stiff, awkward pose.
As he took in those two little emojis, Jiang Ying suddenly got a strange feeling that they looked… somewhat familiar.
Just a coincidence.
Jiang Ying leapt off the bed and pushed open the bedroom door. He ran out into the living room and found Qi Zhu sitting on the couch, wearing his earbuds and taking a call. Qi Zhu lifted his head and glanced over with an inquisitive look.
"Alright, I got it," Qi Zhu said. He seemed to be on a call with his manager. "We'll head back tomorrow. Just a minute."
After excusing himself from the other party on the line, Qi Zhu looked back over at Jiang Ying and asked, "Do you need something?"
"It's nothing," Jiang Ying said. "I just… came to take a look at the outside world."
"Is the outside world so great?" Qi Zhu asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Not as great as you," Jiang Ying shot back instinctively, without even thinking about it.
"Go on, tell me. In what way am I great?" Qi Zhu swept out a hand, inviting Jiang Ying to continue. "What about me made our Jiang #2 run out to see me, without even putting on his slippers?"
Jiang Ying hurriedly retreated and slammed the door again, missing the faint flash of amusement that shot through Qi Zhu's eyes.
When he returned to the bedroom, his gaze fell on the script on the nightstand again. It looked like the same script that Qi Zhu hadn't let him read last night.
Jiang Ying thought about it for a moment, then shuffled over and picked up the packet. He flipped through and found the script of 'An Auspicious Snow' printed out inside.
It really was just the script. Jiang Ying couldn't imagine why Qi Zhu had tried to hide it. There were just a lot of notes that Qi Zhu had left, detailing his own thoughts and views on various points.
"You can have a look," Qi Zhu said. He'd suddenly appeared in the doorway. "It should be of some help to you."
"Thanks," Jiang Ying answered absently. For some inexplicable reason, he suddenly thought of the question he'd just encountered in a subject fight.
Is ZhuiFengZhuYing shippable or not?
His heart, for no good reason, seemed to wobble.
Before that wobbly feeling passed through his heart, the person who'd stood by the door crossed the room and casually placed a hand on his forehead.
"Your temperature is normal now, but remember to take your medicine on time. I'll tell your assistant to keep an eye on you when we go back tomorrow. It'll probably be a few days before you fully recover from your cold," Qi Zhu said. "Get some sleep. Don't stay up late to play around. We got word from the drama crew just now. We'll be starting the day after tomorrow."
"An actor's life is cruel and unkind. Even when we're sick, we have to get back to the grind," Jiang Ying complained. He crawled under the covers of the bed he'd made up, then started reviewing Qi Zhu's script.
"An idol has to behave like an idol," Qi Zhu said. "Memorize your lines well. As long as I'm on this cast, the director won't permit you to dub in your lines."
It had to be said that the two of them, although both actors, simply weren't on the same level. Jiang Ying had spent years just treading water in idol dramas. Whether it was acting, delivery, or expressiveness—Jiang Ying fell short of Qi Zhu in every regard.
So in what way could they possibly be seen as a ship?
Jiang Ying was still mulling over that question.
Before bed, he gave Little Qi-zong a poke.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Jun, Jun, are you up?
[Qi Jun]: The night has just begun. Obviously I'm still awake.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Question for you.
[Qi Jun]: Go ahead. I'll tell you everything I know.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Hypothetically, and I mean just hypothetically, if someone were to be shipped with me… who do you think would be a good fit?
[Qi Jun]: With you?
[Qi Jun]: lololol
[Big-Clawed Crab]: lololol?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Try saying 'lol' one more time. See what happens.
[Qi Jun]: As an old classmate of yours, I can't imagine anyone who could have a happily ever after with you.
[Qi Jun]: Do you know how to take care of someone? Do you know how to care about someone?
[Qi Jun]: I spend every day chatting with our agency's pretty little meimei. Like clockwork, I check in to maintain our streak. I put in the time to work on our sailboat, to turn it into a big ship. Do you have the patience to do that with anyone?
[Qi Jun]: You're just the dragon king in your family's group chat, right?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: ……
[Qi Jun]: So, you just keep your eyes on Class Monitor and torment him for the rest of your days. Leave the normal people things to us normal people.
[Qi Jun]: StrikesWoodenFish.jpg
[Big-Clawed Crab]: ……
Was that what their shippers saw?
Qi Zhu was packing up for their return trip. He always kept his things neat and tidy, especially on trips. After taking out something he needed, he would put it right back. There wasn't much that needed to be packed.
Jiang Ying, on the other hand, had his clothes and charging cables strewn out all over the place. Qi Zhu helped him pick everything up, and he took his time putting everything away neatly. Eventually, he found Jiang Ying's notebook sitting on the dresser again.
It seemed like Jiang Ying actually updated this battle evaluation notebook every day. Qi Zhu, for example, had been upgraded.
On the first page—
Score: ??? <erased>
Remark: Prodigious. <erased>
Remark: Evil. Vicious. Tough challenger. (What are you looking at? I just knew you were going to sneak a peek.)
1. 追风逐影 (zhui feng zhu ying) contains the characters 逐 (zhu) and 影 (ying) from Qi Zhu and Jiang Ying, so it's been repurposed as their ship name. Translated literally, the idiom means, 'Chasing Wind, Chasing Shadows'.