When Qi Zhu reached this card, the two spectators at the door were in the middle of settling their bets.
"Ten comments," Miao Ye said. "He read them all. Alipay or WeChat?"
"Alipay," Jiang Ying said. "Add me as a friend while you're at it. I want to steal your energy."
Miao Ye stared at him for a moment. "…you're still playing that minigame? I stopped ages ago!"
"Ai, I'm the sort of person who gets attached." Jiang Ying transferred five yuan to Miao Ye. "I can play the same minigame for years."
Miao Ye could hardly believe it. "Jiang-ge, I would've thought you were the type to get bored after three minutes."
"I'm not." Jiang Ying shook his head. "People like me are notoriously relentless. If I set my eyes on a sheep, I'm going to harvest its wool for years and years."
Miao Ye fell silent.
Was that sheep… Qi Zhu?
Jiang Ying's ears pricked up at the sound of his name.
"Hm?" he answered instinctively. It was only after he'd responded that he realized the call hadn't come from Miao Ye, but from Qi Zhu, who was currently still being interviewed by a reporter from CoconutTV.
Jiang Ying, who'd been cued out of the blue, lifted his head. "Why did he call my name? He can't answer something, and he's phoning a friend for help? Wait, how did he know we were watching?"
When Qi Zhu called out Jiang Ying's name, a camera swept towards the door. Jiang Ying and Miao Ye couldn't duck away in time, and they were summarily caught on camera.
Everyone in their industry had, at the very least, a basic idea of how to act in front of a camera. It was second nature to put on their best face for the lens.
Jiang Ying instinctively gave a very friendly response: "What is it? Does our Qi-laoshi need help from the field?"
"What are your thoughts?" Qi Zhu gestured for the interviewer to pass the card he'd just read to Jiang Ying.
"We were just passing through. I didn't think I'd be cued in. Let's see what kind of question has stumped our Qi-laoshi," Jiang Ying said, calmly taking the card from the interviewer. He was prepared for anything.
But he definitely wasn't prepared for this.
[Qi Zhu-gege, what do you think of ZFZY? doge.jpg]
You always attract what you fear.
Sometimes, the person or the matter you worry about the most is exactly what keeps popping up in your life over and over again.
Qi Zhu had asked, 'What are your thoughts?' He had not asked, 'What does this mean?' Jiang Ying furrowed his brows and looked at Qi Zhu, but Qi Zhu only wore a faintly curious expression. He didn't look like he was stressed about this question at all.
He'd done this on purpose, hadn't he.
Jiang Ying was silent.
This was foul play, and this attack was way too carefully orchestrated. The question was obviously asking Qi Zhu for his thoughts, but Qi Zhu had turned it around on Jiang Ying.
"I think you're… the literal worst," Jiang Ying said, avoiding the matter of ZFZY and simply stating the truth.
"Give me an example?" Qi Zhu suggested, playing innocent.
Faker, Jiang Ying mouthed silently. Go on. Just keep pretending.
The interviewer was thrilled by the results of that comment. She asked Qi Zhu to read a few more cards, which all contained more reasonable and socially acceptable questions and remarks. Then, in order to not disrupt the crew's work, she quickly wrapped up the interview.
"You two are really interesting," Miao Ye said, after taking in their interactions from start to finish.
After the interview, Jiang Ying and Qi Zhu looked at each other and started up their usual routine again.
"Did you honestly not know what that meant?" Jiang Ying asked, narrowing his eyes with suspicion.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Qi Zhu said as he got up, preparing to leave.
"Oh, sure. Very convincing. It's only a matter of time before you'll be a silver screen emperor, sir," Jiang Ying snarked in a faux-impressed way as he followed Qi Zhu out.
"Play nice. Do you want my fans to attack you again?" Qi Zhu lifted a hand and lightly knocked his knuckles against Jiang Ying's head. It felt almost like there was a snide, implied 'sir' in his tone of voice too. "I've never tried to make myself out to be some sort of silver screen emperor."
The two of them walked farther and farther away, leaving Miao Ye behind. Miao Ye idled around for a moment, wondering to himself what Qi Zhu had meant by 'again'.
"What's on your mind?' Xuan Huitong asked when she ran into Miao Ye in the corridor.
"The relationship between those two is really baffling," Miao Ye said with a sigh.
"Even if you notice something, you don't have to say anything," Xuan Huitong reminded, repeating her personal philosophy. "But netizens… won't let those two off easy."
"In all honesty, I'm pretty surprised," Jiang Ying said. As he and Qi Zhu made their way back to the set, he decided to give an objective review of Qi Zhu's performance at his interview. "I really didn't think you'd know all those internet terms, but you seemed pretty familiar with them."
"Mm." Qi Zhu didn't comment, but he didn't deny anything either.
"Hey, Class Monitor. I thought you didn't pay attention to this sort of thing?" Jiang Ying prompted. "You don't even use Weibo much, right? So how'd you manage to learn the language of us young people?"
"You? Young people?" Qi Zhu's voice filled up with a thread of dissatisfaction.
"Oh, sorry," Jiang Ying said. "I forgot you're only a year older than me."
"I just recently decided I want to understand the world a little more clearly. That's all."
Jiang Ying frowned, confused.
What kind of logic was that?
Those words sounded a little familiar, too. Almost like he'd seen them somewhere lately. But he couldn't think of why.
In any case, he and Qi Zhu could have been considered internet friends before this drama and their variety show. They didn't have many opportunities to meet up in person. But now, due to their various collaborations, they'd started seeing more of each other. And Jiang Ying was finding Qi Zhu more and more inscrutable.
"Forget it." Jiang Ying didn't want to dedicate too much brain power to this matter. He decided to let it go for the time being and address another important matter first. "Let's refresh our streak, so we don't forget about it again tonight."
[Big-Clawed Crab]: [poke poke]
[Class Monitor]: [poke poke]
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Spits.jpg
[Class Monitor]: SpitsInTheOtherDirection.jpg
"Lately, you've… stolen a bunch of my reaction memes, haven't you?" Jiang Ying asked, looking up with a frown.
He kept thinking that Qi Zhu had started becoming more and more like a normal person who was almost the same age as him.
Without answering, Qi Zhu turned away to take a phone call.
Jiang Ying spent some time in his own family's QQ chat group, talking himself up and boasting about how hard he was working and how diligently he was tackling his scenes. He asked them all to remember to vote for him in the popularity polls, and successfully maintained his role as the dragon king of their group. Afterwards, he threw himself back into his work.
That afternoon, Jiang Ying had a scene in which he had to talk into thin air. Those scenes were always somewhat challenging. For one thing, actors had to have a vivid imagination to picture what they would be talking to post-production. For another, it was a challenge just to capture the right emotions, without laughing, when talking to some invisible person or object.
After watching Jiang Ying talk at nothing for a while, Miao Ye finally had to laugh.
"He's doing pretty well," the assistant director said to Qi Zhu. "I thought he would break character and laugh for sure."
"Mm." Qi Zhu nodded. "He's talkative. He can even argue with himself."
Although that sounded quite unkind, Miao Ye could see the hint of a smile on Qi Zhu's face.
As soon as Jiang Ying finished shooting that scene, Miao Ye rushed up to him to ask for advice. "How did you manage to get through that scene without laughing?"
"It's not hard. Just read the script well and get into the mood by yourself. That's all." Jiang Ying looked around. After making sure Qi Zhu wasn't nearby, he whispered, "Plus, did you see Qi Zhu earlier? He was standing right there, glaring at me. All he was missing was a big, threatening stick. How could I not do a good job?"
Miao Ye said nothing.
Was that how Jiang Ying's skills had come to be?
Knowing what he did about these two, Miao Ye couldn't even be sure which of them was more ferocious.
It was a short day, but some of the scenes had been intense and difficult. When Jiang Ying was released from the wires that suspended him in midair, he felt a bit like he was floating or walking on cotton. His sense of balance wasn't great; earlier, during a midair battle scene, he'd nearly lost control and flipped over.
Qi Zhu, with his quick reflexes, had steadied him and said, "Focus."
When he went back to his room, he was sore all over. Assistant Chen seemed almost afraid for his well-being.
"I'm fine." Jiang Ying shook his head. "I'll be alright after I have a fight."
Assistant Chen looked even more alarmed at that.
For Jiang Ying, fighting regularly was the key to a long and healthy life. He'd been so busy with work lately that he hadn't had a chance to log into the 'Fight!' app. A hole had appeared in his login streak of over one thousand days.
Jiang Ying spent fifty yuan to fill in that gap.
Then he sent sunny a screenshot of what he'd spent to restore his streak.
[Boss Crab]: Stupid x Company. They really know how to make money.
[sunny]: You're the stupid one, dude. Why'd you spend money on your streak?
[Boss Crab]: Childish fools like me like this sort of thing.
[sunny]: Salute.jpg You have a very clear understanding of who you are.
The annual 'Fight!' tournament had officially commenced last night. All matches and scores over the next two months would be recorded and used to calculate the final rankings. Jiang Ying spent that night climbing the scoreboard. He made quite a lot of progress on his own account before leaving the freestyle fights interface.
It was just then that his apprentice's avatar lit up.
The last message in their conversation was still the two hugging emojis his apprentice had sent. When Jiang Ying checked Fighter3357868's tournament scores, he saw a big fat zero. His apprentice was hanging out at the very bottom of the scoreboard. Sometimes, Jiang Ying really thought this person wasn't on 'Fight!' to fight at all. He must have had some ulterior motive.
But something unusual happened today. His apprentice took the initiative and greeted him.
[Fighter3357868]: Good evening. SlightSmile.jpg
[Boss Crab]: Evening. Cuteness.jpg
[Fighter3357868]: Why weren't you online last night?
[Boss Crab]: I was busy with work yesterday.
[Fighter3357868]: I thought fighting was your job.
[Boss Crab]: Although you haven't been following my lessons, I feel like you've already gained the ability to piss someone off to death.
[Fighter3357868]: That's good.
[Fighter3357868]: [link] I saw someone talking about you in the forums.
Jiang Ying opened the link sent by his apprentice, and—
Let's guess the IRL jobs of the Top 10 fighters.
1: Let's really look into Boss Crab. I'm way too curious about what this guy does for a living.
2: I don't know about Boss Crab, but sunny has shared some videos before. Her typing speed is insane. I feel like she might be an esports player?
3: Based on that Weibo war he started last time, I strongly suspect Boss Crab works for a tabloid or something.
4: Professional keyboard warrior? It's very possible. doge.jpg I'm kidding, of course. Boss Crab, don't target me!
5: Speaking of which, everyone on 'Fight!' is single, right? I spend a lot of time here trying to get my rank up to the top, but I gotta say… this app is super pointless. If I had a partner, I definitely wouldn't be arguing with people on here all day.
6: I think you're way off, 5. What kind of fighting spirit is that? Do you really think you'll get to the top with that attitude?
2020: Last time, he said we would have to buy tickets if we wanted to see him. So, what is he? A panda? Does he think he's that rare and precious?
"Good question." Jiang Ying glanced at the smart speaker on his nightstand. "Little Buddy, say something nice about Jiang Ying."
"Jiang Ying, cute," Gossip Buddy stated plainly.
"And?" Jiang Ying prompted. He had to wonder where these descriptions were coming from.
"Searching for 'Jiang Ying' on Weibo now," Gossip Buddy said. After a moment, it continued, "Weibo search, Jiang Ying. Top results. Reading trending comments now.
"Ah, ah, ah, ah. What kind of rare and mystical creature is Jiang Ying? Qi Zhu is so lucky.
"I really like how Jiang Ying and Qi Zhu are with each other. The CoconutTV interview was way too cute."
Jiang Ying blinked.
What had happened? What was trending?
The interview with Qi Zhu, from earlier that day… had already been broadcast?