[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: In a good mood, sir?
[Class Monitor]: Mm. Don't call me 'sir'.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Oh, oh?
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: I already saw your message. What are you recalling it for?
It had to be said that his apprentice and Qi Zhu were both impressive in similar ways with their message recall skills.
But these were two different people. Probably.
The enlightened Little Jiang Ying thought about it for a while, then typed another line into the chat box.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Class Monitor, after you went back to your room, what did you get up to?
[Class Monitor]: Are you very curious, sir?
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Don't mimic the way I talk.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Hasn't anyone told you that you can't use 'sir' whenever you want?
No, Qi Zhu and Jiang Ying's apprentice were still different. Jiang Ying's apprentice had already learned at least thirty percent of Jiang Ying's fighting skills, after all.
But Jiang Ying still wanted to know what Qi Zhu had just been doing.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: I'm not 'very' curious. Just a tiny bit curious. You can tell me if you want, or don't tell me if you don't want.
[Class Monitor]: I'll satisfy you.
[Class Monitor]: After returning to my room, I first listened to someone scold my front door.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Stop, stop, stop. You can skip that part.
[Class Monitor]: Then there's nothing to report. Afterwards, I took a shower.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: That's all?
While he typed, Jiang Ying felt somewhat dissatisfied. But at the same time, relieved. "Is that really all?"
When he gave it some thought, Jiang Ying decided that really was in keeping with Qi Zhu's boring lifestyle.
[Class Monitor]: That's all.
Yeah, Jiang Ying was just worrying too much. Class Monitor didn't even have that many apps on his phone. Despite the similarities, he and Jiang Ying's apprentice were clearly two different people.
At that point, Jiang Ying wanted to say something else. But Qi Zhu sent another message before he could.
[Class Monitor]: Open the door.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Terrified.jpg
[Class Monitor]: Hurry up.
"What are you doing here?" Jiang Ying asked. As soon as he opened the door, he saw Qi Zhu out in the hall, holding his cell phone in one hand and a bundle of paper in the other.
"Don't you want to talk about the reality show? Our assistants mentioned it to me this afternoon, I knew you would come looking for me." Qi Zhu rolled up the papers in his hand and lightly whacked Jiang Ying on the head. "You just talk and talk and never get to the point. If I didn't come over, who knows where you would have dragged the subject?"
"Oh, I see…"
It wasn't him. It definitely wasn't him. This guy only ever had work on his mind. He had clear goals and only did what was necessary to achieve them. Nothing superfluous, ever.
Jiang Ying let out a breath of relief, though he felt an inexplicable pang of disappointment as well. He waved Qi Zhu in, and the two of them gathered at the table to go over the details of the upcoming reality show.
"Class Monitor." Jiang Ying was slumped over the desk with his head pillowed on his arms. He'd doodled all sorts of random, meaningless things with his pencil. He looked over at Qi Zhu, like he'd done countless times in the past when they studied or did homework together.
"Hm?" Qi Zhu was in the middle of marking out the details that would need adjusting before the show commenced. Hearing Jiang Ying speak, he stopped moving his pencil for a moment. "What is it?"
"I'm just curious. Why did you take this reality show?"
'Travel Together' had been Qi Zhu's first variety show. Because of his family background, Qi Zhu had walked the path of an actor this whole time. His team basically never accepted variety shows for him.
Jiang Ying had originally thought that Qi Zhu wanted to get a taste for what variety shows were like, after only starring in movies and dramas for so long. He figured Qi Zhu would get a sense for the experience, then never take another variety show again. But now, that didn't seem to be the case.
"This one is unique," Qi Zhu said.
"Unique?" Jiang Ying continued to scribble aimlessly on the pages in front of him. Then, he was suddenly struck by an idea. He started trying to scrawl out Qi Zhu's autograph.
"The program format is new. The planned activities will attract a large audience. The shooting location is ideal. The fact that it'll be streamed live is refreshing. The guests and audience will interact in real time. And…" Qi Zhu glanced to the side and discovered that his companion wasn't even sort of listening anymore.
Jiang Ying was currently lost in thought, trying to remember what Qi Zhu's signature looked like. Next to his ear, Qi Zhu's voice rang out:
"I don't write it like that."
Although he'd just been caught spacing out, Jiang Ying didn't apologize. Not only did he not apologize, he lazily asked, "Then how do you write it?"
Instead of answering directly, Qi Zhu folded his hand over Jiang Ying's and guided him to write out a well-practiced signature on the page.
"You…" Jiang Ying stared at the signature on the paper, slightly stunned.
"It should be written like this. Yours is still a bit off." Qi Zhu released his hand and returned his gaze to the brief about the show, as though he hadn't just held a certain someone's hand and signed his own name.
Jiang Ying blinked.
His confusion had yet to pass when Qi Zhu started talking about work again.
"Then, so far there are just these few things we need them to change." Qi Zhu stopped moving his pencil again once he finished, and he placed his notes in front of Jiang Ying. "I'll tell my assistant to talk to the crew over there. Do you have any other suggestions?"
"Nope." Jiang Ying stared at the scratch paper on the table, picking up his pencil and starting to practice Qi Zhu's signature again.
"Oh, that's right. One of my friends is coming to visit the set tomorrow," Qi Zhu said as he packed away the papers and pencils.
"Friend?" Jiang Ying lifted his head. "Someone I know?"
"I wouldn't say you know him," Qi Zhu said. "It's someone I met overseas. His Chinese isn't very good. While I'm filming, you can show him around."
"Oh. I see," Jiang Ying said.
If he didn't know this person, then he didn't know this person. What was this 'wouldn't say you know him' business about?
And was Qi Zhu in a good mood tonight because of this friend who would be visiting?
As of late, the cast and crew had been making good progress on 'An Auspicious Snow'. Filming went by quickly, and they were already at a pivotal point in the main characters' arcs. The scene they would be filming next was the one in which Jiang Ying's Xuan Moling and Qi Zhu's Luo Nanke officially parted ways. From then on, the drama would enter its second half.
The director called out and flashed a signal, indicating that the cameras were now rolling.
"Go." Jiang Ying knelt on one knee, bracing himself with his sword. "Aren't you going to leave?"
Qi Zhu hesitated by the door. He wanted to reach out and help the person before his eyes, but the other person dodged his attempt. "You…"
Jiang Ying closed his eyes. "Luo-gege, if you walk away now, we'll be going our separate ways for good… the next time we meet, we'll be mortal enemies."
The director called out again, stopping the cameras. "Jiang Ying, your eyes weren't quite right there. Take a break, then we'll try again."
They had already run through several failed takes of that scene. There was nothing the director could do, except let Qi Zhu give Jiang Ying some guidance.
"When they part ways, Xuan Moling should feel resentment as well as some sorrow. Why are you only showing anger?" Qi Zhu lectured while pointing out the details in the script. "The antagonist is still a person, and he wasn't always a bad person. He has a wide range of emotions."
Jiang Ying closed his eyes again, trying to get into his character's state of mind. "Luo Nanke is such a bastard. He just makes me angry."
He felt aggrieved on his character's behalf. His anger was genuine. It came from his heart. But when he poured that into his acting, the director and Qi Zhu still weren't satisfied.
Qi Zhu thought for a while, then continued, "…besides anger, what do you feel? If you parted ways from a friend, never to walk the same path again, what else would you feel?
"In Xuan Moling's eyes, Luo Nanke is the one who's in the wrong," Qi Zhu explained. "Luo Nanke is acting for the greater good, but on a personal level, his actions truly are selfish. Si Meng died because of him. Xuan Moling was grievously wounded because of him. When Luo Nanke leaves him now, for the greater good, how could Xuan Moling not be resentful and sad?
"One of them values their bond above all else, and one of them values justice above all else. Frankly, neither of them are in the wrong. There was simply never a good ending for them. They never should have been friends."
Jiang Ying tried to imagine what he would feel, given those circumstances. But he didn't imagine their characters. He imagined Qi Zhu.
The two of them had fought constantly for so long. If, one day, Qi Zhu had his own family and got too busy with work, if he stopped responding to Jiang Ying's provocations… then what? What would happen?
The big flames of their streak would turn into a small spark, and then disappear?
What about their big ship?
Jiang Ying had never asked himself those questions before. Now that they suddenly filled his mind, he seemed to be—
He felt pretty miserable.
The director had been observing the two of them all the while. As soon as he saw that Jiang Ying's expression was on point, he immediately shouted for them to get back on set. Jiang Ying was already very familiar with this scene. This time, his eyes were reddened as he glared at Qi Zhu's back with equal measures of hatred and longing.
"I don't agree with your ways," Jiang Ying said. "You protect the world, and I'll protect myself. From this day on… take care of yourself."
Qi Zhu seemed moved for a moment, but in the end he walked away. Jiang Ying gripped the blade of his sword with his bare hands. The camera zoomed in on the blood that trickled down, as well as the tears dripping down his face.
"Cut! Good, let's move on." The director was finally satisfied with that scene. "This is going to be one of our show's famous scenes. We can use the takes that didn't pass in the highlights reel."
The crew wanted to get some more footage for their behind-the-scenes reel. They wanted to ask the actors how they felt while filming this scene. But Qi Zhu suddenly returned to the set upon noticing that Jiang Ying had yet to get up.
"Ogre Jiang, still crying?" Qi Zhu had gotten a bundle of foxtail somewhere. He lightly brushed the ends over Jiang Ying's cheek.
When Jiang Ying looked up, his eyes were still red. "I'm not."
He grabbed the foxtail and ripped off all the bristles right there on the spot.
"You were right," Qi Zhu said, reaching down to pull Jiang Ying up from the ground.
"What?' Jiang Ying couldn't remember what he and Qi Zhu had talked about earlier. "Right about what?"
"Luo Nanke is a bastard," Qi Zhu said. His voice was deep, but his tone was light.
"You…?" Jiang Ying hadn't expected to hear such a thing from Qi Zhu. He lifted his head and stared in astonishment.
It wasn't odd for Jiang Ying to say something like that, but why would Qi Zhu say it?
Qi Zhu didn't offer any explanation. He pulled Jiang Ying along to a place where they could rest.
"Have you ever filmed a crying scene before?" Qi Zhu asked.
"I don't think so." Jiang Ying cocked his head to the side. "This was probably my first time."
"How do you feel?"
"Not too good," Jiang Ying said honestly. If Qi Zhu hadn't pulled him up earlier, he might have stayed there, gloomy and depressed, for a while yet.
"I'm not going anywhere. Why should you feel bad?" Qi Zhu handed him another bundle of foxtail. "Sit here. Wait for me to come back."
With those vague words, he left Jiang Ying behind. Jiang Ying stayed in place, feeling somewhat unfocused.
Qi Zhu still had a few more scenes to shoot. Jiang Ying sat by the prop fences and idly waved the few remaining stakes of foxtail that he'd already stripped bare.
"Hi~" A voice came from his side. "Friend."
Jiang Ying blinked.
Wow, a foreigner. Where'd he come from?
Jiang Ying suddenly remembered. Last night, Qi Zhu had mentioned a friend of his was coming over. A friend from overseas. Then… that had to be this guy, right?
Jiang Ying took the initiative to ask in English.
"Ai, no need to use English, sire," the blond foreigner said. "My Chinese is okay. I'm here to visit my girlfriend, and I wanted to drop in and check out the excitement along the way."
Jiang Ying blinked again.
This guy's Chinese really was okay. If Jiang Ying listened closely, he could more or less understand everything. But it seemed something was… off?
This foreign friend's expression was friendly enough, but his way of speaking was bizarrely fierce.
"Don't say 'sire'," Jiang Ying corrected, trying to smooth out this visitor's bad habits.
"Sire, aren't you Qi Zhu's little boyfriend? I just saw him comforting you. He's always cold and indifferent to everyone else."
Jiang Ying was even more baffled now. This argumentative way of talking, this familiar way of addressing someone, this weird sense of wrongness…
"Dude," Jiang Ying said. "Your Chinese is too good. Where did you go to school?"
"It is, right? I think it's pretty good too."
"So, where did you learn it?"
"This app called 'Fight!' is where I've been practicing. I feel like it's pretty damn useful. Everyone there is so outgoing."
Jiang Ying fell silent.
He and the dark horse who had burst into the Top 20 of the current tournament rankings… had unexpectedly come face to face.