By the time the two of them returned to the hotel near their drama's set, it was already late. When Jiang Ying reentered his own room after a few days away, the first thing he heard was Gossip Buddy's greeting.
"Welcome back," Gossip Buddy chirped, sensing someone approach.
Jiang Ying was starting to like this little smart speaker more and more. After setting down his luggage, he went over and gave it a pat.
"Little Buddy can sense that you're in a good mood today," the speaker said. "But it's already late. Get some rest soon, 'kay?"
Jiang Ying absently answered that he would. Then he grabbed his cell phone and climbed into bed, resuming his nightly routine.
First, he opened up QQ and found Class Monitor's name. The fire emoji indicating their streak was gone, but their big ships were still there. That was fine. The person himself already belonged to Jiang Ying; they could rebuild their streak.
[Jubilant Big-Clawed Crab]: [poke poke]
[Jubilant Big-Clawed Crab]: Class Monitor, let's reignite our streak.
[Class Monitor]: [poke poke]
[Class Monitor]: Alright, done. Go to sleep.
[Class Monitor]: We'll be on set tomorrow.
[Jubilant Big-Clawed Crab]: FightOn.jpg Good night.
At that time of night, Qi Jun was probably already asleep. Jiang Ying didn't want to disturb him, so he opened up the 'Fight!' app and struck up a conversation with his old friend instead.
[Elated Boss Crab]: Apprentice-didi! I'm back from my work trip!
[Fighter3357868]: RollingEyes.jpg You still haven't gone to sleep?
[Elated Boss Crab]: Look at my display name.
[Fighter3357868]: Mm, I see it. Congratulations.
[Elated Boss Crab]: Hehe. Apprentice-didi, how has your love life been going?
Their master-apprentice relationship was close to bearing fruit. Jiang Ying figured the system would soon decide his apprentice was ready to graduate. Jiang Ying's expectations weren't super high. His own skills were outstanding. Even if his apprentice only learned a little from him, he would graduate with a ton of new abilities.
And as an excellent 'Fight!' master, Jiang Ying naturally had to give some attention to his apprentice's relationship problems as soon as he got back from his work trip.
[Fighter3357868]: Pretty good.
[Elated Boss Crab]: How far have things progressed?
[Fighter3357868]: There's been progress. Not as much as what you're imagining.
[Elated Boss Crab]: Oh? Apprentice-didi, are you struggling to do… it?
[Fighter3357868]: ??? SlightSmile.jpg
[Elated Boss Crab]: Just kidding, just kidding. Don't get mad. Good luck! I'm rooting for you!
Although he knew he had to be on set for work the next day, Jiang Ying also knew he wouldn't have many scenes. Plus, it had been several days since he'd been able to 'Fight!' with a worthy opponent. That was an itch he had to scratch.
He decided to play a few rounds to fulfill the craving.
[Little Lemon]: Coward Crab, long time no see.
[Elated Boss Crab]: You're still up?
[Little Lemon]: I had to clear your name for you again a few days ago. I'm really such a good person.
Of course, Jiang Ying already knew all about that. But he still had to put on an act.
[Elated Boss Crab]: Oh, really? I don't know anything about that.
[Little Lemon]: It was in my idol's livestream, hehe. Don't worry, you've defended my idol. I won't let my fellow fans misunderstand you.
[Elated Boss Crab]: BigSmile.jpg
[Little Lemon]: I'm about to hit the sack. You have fun. Us goddesses can't stay up too late.
[Elated Boss Crab]: Spits.jpg
[Little Lemon]: Oh, that's right. One more thing.
[Elated Boss Crab]: Oh?
[Little Lemon]: This year's mascots are out now. Don't forget to buy yours.
[Elated Boss Crab]: I already did. I could never forget about that even if I forgot about everything else. That mascot is my badge of honor. It's the proof of my efforts, my victories, my dauntless charge through the hordes of aggressive enemies standing in my way.
[Little Lemon]: Alright, shut up.
All the players on his friends list were offline now. Jiang Ying played three rounds and brought up his rank again. The 'Fight!' tournament was approaching its end, and the players' positions were more or less finalized. Not many big changes were happening these days.
Little Lemon was still sitting pretty in first place, and sunny had burst into the Top 5. Jiang Ying had been too busy to rack up points for a while, so he was struggling a little just to stay in the Top 10.
Boss Crab updated his status message—
A man's rank doesn't indicate true strength. Only true strength indicates true strength.
The romance category, which Jiang Ying had always avoided, suddenly looked a little more appealing. That night, Jiang Ying realized that it might not be so impossible for him to leave his mark on that category as well.
But since he had work the next day, Jiang Ying temporarily let the denizens of the romance category off the hook. He shared his recent battle results on Weibo, said good night to Gossip Buddy, then turned off the light and went to sleep.
Back on a certain island, the livestream continued. The islanders were just getting ready to close up shop when someone new arrived.
"Good evening, sir," the daughter of the shop owner said. "We've actually just closed. Could you…"
"Sorry for the intrusion. I'm not here to shop." The person who'd arrived took something out of a case he was carrying. "Is Jiang Ying here? Someone sent me to deliver this to him. They said it was urgent."
The shop owner looked up. "Huh? He left earlier in the evening…"
At that late hour, only a handful of netizens remained in the livestream room—
[Jiang Ying's package? How did it get delivered here?]
[That really is pretty ugly. What is it?]
[I have nothing nice to say about… whatever that is. Did he buy this?]
[I couldn't sleep, so I kept watching the stream. Who knew I would catch such a nice surprise? I can't believe Qi-zong had someone deliver it here, hahahaha. Our Little Ying is already back on set, isn't he?]
[It looks really poorly made. Seriously, what is it? Why does it look a bit familiar to me?]
[Looks super familiar to me too. I can't think of where I've seen it before, though.]
[@JiangYing Come back, your package is here, lolololol.]
[Screenshotted. I'll go look it up. I really want to know what this thing is.]
"You stayed up late?" Qi Zhu asked in the morning when he came over to have breakfast with Jiang Ying.
"I didn't," Jiang Ying lied, quickly shaking his head.
Qi Zhu was unconvinced. "You did."
"Fine, you know everything," Jiang Ying conceded. "Go on, tell me. What else do you know?"
He'd woken to find a new notification on his cell phone that morning. It came from the 'Fight!' app, alerting him of the fact that his attempt to share his battle records last night had failed. The notification asked whether or not he'd like to try again, and Jiang Ying immediately answered 'yes'.
It was just a matter of sharing his battle results on Weibo. When had the app become so naggy?
"Is there anything I don't know about you?" Qi Zhu retorted.
"Sure, there's loads," Jiang Ying said. He threw on his jacket and started to head towards the set. "You just keep digging. Once you've dug up all my secrets, I'll concede defeat."
After breakfast, Jiang Ying sent Qi Jun a message to let him know he'd gotten back from the island. Then, he left his cell phone with his assistant and got to work with Qi Zhu.
Filming for 'An Auspicious Snow' was about to draw to a close. The conflict between Jiang Ying's character and Qi Zhu's character had intensified. Every scene, every exchange of words, put the actors' abilities to the test.
"The feeling isn't quite right," the director said while watching the footage from that day with Jiang Ying. "Right now, your characters are feuding fiercely, endlessly. You should hate him to death right now, so why do you look so happy when you look at him?"
Jiang Ying was silent.
Yeah, that was definitely his bad. He'd been overjoyed as of late. Whenever he looked at Qi Zhu, he puffed up with pride and delight.
Qi Zhu pinched Jiang Ying's cheek. Jiang Ying took after his mother in terms of looks. His pale skin was almost translucent under the sunlight, and when he looked up, there was a touch of gleeful mischief in his eyes.
"What're you doing?" Jiang Ying complained, reaching out to bat away Qi Zhu's hand. "Don't pinch. I need to get into the right state of mind."
Jiang Ying had accumulated some genuine acting experience while shooting 'An Auspicious Snow'. Thanks to that, he was able to quickly adjust his mood. Before long, the director called out his approval on the scene they were filming.
Jiang Ying instantly dropped the look of bitterness and intense hatred from his eyes. He bounced up on his tiptoes and patted the top of Qi Zhu's head, then ran far, far away.
Near the set, against a pile of prop stakes, Jiang Ying and Miao Ye each held a cup of tea while chatting.
"You two…" Miao Ye was a little speechless. He'd just spent all morning witnessing the sultry little looks Jiang Ying had thrown a certain someone while filming.
"Yep," Jiang Ying said, nodding before Miao Ye even finished speaking. "Everything you're thinking is correct."
Miao Ye was momentarily stunned. He hadn't expected Jiang Ying to be so blunt. But after taking a moment to recover, he smiled and said, "Makes sense. Qi-laoshi has always treated you differently. Huihui-jie is so impressive."
Then, he continued, "Thanks for a few days ago, by the way."
He was referring to the incident with Hu Zehan, who'd baselessly attacked Miao Ye some time ago. Jiang Ying and Qi Zhu had both taken to Weibo to help him out.
"Ah, that was nothing. If I didn't take him down, the crew here would've put their PR team into motion anyway. I just couldn't let him go," Jiang Ying said. He'd bitten a faint ring of teeth marks into the side of his paper cup. "Did his team give you any trouble after that?"
"Nope, none." Miao Ye shook his head. "They were mercilessly mocked for trying to steal the spotlight."
The two of them clinked their paper cups together, reaffirming their friendship.
"Really, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be popular. Everyone wants to be popular. But he shouldn't have tried to hurt other people on his way up," Jiang Ying said. "What's his problem? Our Meow Meow was just minding his own business when this pot of muddy water rained down on him from out of nowhere."
"Exactly!" Miao Ye huffed indignantly.
Jiang Ying wasn't done venting yet. He continued, "Just watch. I'll fling that muddy water back at him every time."
Miao Ye leaned back against the prop fence and sighed. "Jiang-ge, have you ever thought that you're actually quite talented? You can make it as an actor, you know."
"Now that you mention it, I always used to think I could make it as a lot of things. So I figured I didn't need to worry about being successful as an actor." Jiang Ying sighed as well. "But now I'm thinking… acting isn't bad. It's pretty fun, pretty interesting."
The script was interesting. The new friends he'd made were interesting. And being able to work with Qi Zhu…
Jiang Ying hadn't realized it would feel so rewarding.
Qi Zhu had already finished up his scenes for the day. He was talking to his assistant, seemingly relaying some information. Once in a while, he would lift his head and look in Jiang Ying's direction.
"I'm actually pretty envious of you," Miao Ye said.
Jiang Ying looked at him. "Because I have a boyfriend?"
"Then what are you envious of?" Jiang Ying found a fresh bundle of foxtail growing behind him. He reached down to pluck them. "Envious of my infamy?"
"No." Miao Ye shook his head. "I just get the feeling you always march to the beat of your own drum. You don't care that people think you're controversial."
Jiang Ying never wallowed in silence. He'd never allowed the public to sand down his rough edges. He always presented his real, true self to the world.
"Because it's pointless to care about that stuff," Jiang Ying said. After plucking the foxtail, he gathered the ends in one hand and waved them around. "If I cared, would they stop attacking me?"
"I guess not, but…" Miao Ye was clearly perplexed about the matter. "I didn't do anything at all, and they still…"
"Meow Meow, you don't really think they would stop attacking me if I started watching what I say and how I act, do you?" Jiang Ying smiled good-naturedly. He made no secret of the fact that he thought this line of questioning was pretty funny.
"Hm?" Miao Ye looked up. He really had thought that would be the case.
"Let me put it this way." Jiang Ying neatly set the bundle of foxtail down on the stakes behind him. He patted his hands together to clean off the flecks of dirt on his fingers. "You have to realize that, often, people aren't attacked because they have some dirt on them. It's because people want to attack them, so they do everything in their power to throw dirt on their target."
Jiang Ying sighed. "Silly Meow Meow. Just being cautious of what you say and how you act isn't enough. Nobody is perfect. Is there anyone who doesn't have some sort of flaw?
"When people want to attack me, they'll take issue with everything about me—even the way I breathe. Every word I speak, everything I do, and even the way I look at people will be scrutinized and twisted and taken out of context until it becomes something that can be used against me.
"Look at Qi Zhu. Even he can be attacked."
Jiang Ying spread his hands. "So, since that's just the way the entertainment industry is, am I not better off saying whatever I want to say? Doing whatever I want to do? I'll just be myself. I'm a troll, I'll be the first to admit that. Other people can say whatever they want about me."
"So that's how you feel," Miao Ye mused. "Then, when Boss Crab insulted your acting skills, why did you…"
"Oh, my acting skills are bad, he was right," Jiang Ying interrupted. "Although I'm aggressive, I'm reasonable. Plus, he was only saying all that out of his desire to win a fight. He wasn't targeting me on purpose."
"Oh…" Miao Ye nodded hesitantly, like he at least sort of understood.
His Jiang-ge really was quite forgiving towards Boss Crab.
"But if you really think about it, can you actually call what I do fighting? Am I really fighting with these people?" Jiang Ying straightened up and proudly raised his voice. "I think of it as self-defense in this twisted industry of ours. Defending myself against my anti-fans is just my way of resisting, at least a little."
Miao Ye lifted both hands and gave Jiang Ying a rousing round of applause, showing his deep respect for Jiang Ying's philosophy.
"Ai, saying all that makes me sound a little too pompous," Jiang Ying admitted modestly. "It's not like this stuff has nothing to do with the fact that I like fighting. It's related, and a certain someone always indulges me anyway. But—"
Jiang Ying brought his point back around. "Fighting is fighting. Besides my ge, Gu Wei, and Qi Zhu, I usually don't go out of my way to pick a fight. If you don't attack me, I won't attack you. My fans and I are the same—we won't bully someone just to get more popular. We won't use people as stepping stones on the path to fame.
"Treat others the way you want to be treated. And when you bully someone, be prepared to run into a steel wall."
Miao Ye's face was overcome with admiration. "Jiang-ge, you make way too much sense. I suddenly feel like you're glowing all over."
"Huh?" Jiang Ying felt that was a rather interesting turn of phrase. "Then this might be my legendary moment in the spotlight."
"Here's your spotlight." A hand suddenly landed on the top of Jiang Ying's head, giving him a pat. Qi Zhu had come over from the set. He handed over Jiang Ying's cell phone.
"What is it?" Jiang Ying was pretty enthusiastic about the conversation he'd been having. He wasn't exactly happy about being interrupted all of a sudden. When he lifted a hand to take his cell phone, he lightly scratched Qi Zhu's wrist along the way.
Qi Zhu gave him a somewhat sympathetic look, though there was a hint of amusement in his eyes as well.
Jiang Ying blinked.
Qi Zhu gestured for him to check his phone. "Congratulations, little crab. You're #1 on the trending topics list."