The rehearsals for the video shooting progressed smoothly. The director was called Zheng Mo. He was quite knowledgeable in his field, had quick wits and a plenitude of creativity. He called himself Xiao Hei and invited everyone to do so as well. Li Yiming found him certainly more agreeable than one of these producers who would take on an English name after a small surge in fame and, to his irritation, kept mixing their unrefined, feminine speech with English words. 1 The three other people invited by Liu Meng were also very capable, and the project progressed smoothly to the joy of all. The rehearsal, which was planned to last nine days, was finished in six, so Li Yiming could even afford to visit around in Wen City with Bai Ze and Liu Meng for the remainder of the allotted time.
A point worthy of mention, however, is that on the first day, Liu Meng and Li Yiming fought for the guardianship of Bai Ze during the coming night. Although Bai Ze was on very friendly terms with Liu Meng, she adamantly resisted the idea of sleeping with her. Liu Meng insisted, fruitlessly, until little Bai Ze commented that perhaps Liu Meng was desirous of the pretense of staying with her only so that she could sneak out during the night to his big brother. This remark put an abrupt end to the conversation as Liu Meng strided out of the room in frustration, slamming the door behind her and never brought up the topic again.
Another unforeseen change was that Xiao Hei, the producer and director of the MV, screeched with amazement when he saw Bai Ze, and, true to his temperament of being a very proud person mixed with a tinge of effeminate manners, insisted vehemently that for the sake of his art he needed Bai Ze to also take part in the filming. He was to come up with an improvised role for the little girl, and, Li Yiming, under the dual-pronged attack of both him and little Bai Ze herself, conceded.
On the ninth day of the rehearsal, Fang Shui’er, the main character of the show, had finally arrived. She was to participate in the final revision and voice her opinion on the set-up. She hid her head behind a big, orange sombrero and her eyes behind a pair of aviator sunglasses. However, even with a casual combination of a pale yellow jacket and everything else in plain white, she projected an air of such elegance and dignity that the moment she stepped into the studio, everyone became breathless. Fang Shui’er’s presence furthered Li Yiming’s reserve, making him momentarily forget that he was a guardian who had seen the life and death of others. After all, not too long ago he was but a poor nobody. Liu Meng too, unlike her usual nonchalant manners, acted in a way that conformed much more to what others expected.
The only one who stayed unchanged was Xiao Hei. He stayed as proud as ever and did not abase himself much beyond the usual politeness. He nodded his head in politeness and talked with Fang Shui’er’s manager. He pointed at Bai Ze, undoubtedly explaining her unforeseen addition to the video shooting. Fang Shui’er’s assistant seemed to oppose the idea, since adding an extra person was no easy task, especially when improvised.
Bai Ze wore a red gym suit today, the front of her jacket was decorated with a big cartoonish figure, which made her baby-face seem even more adorable. She sat alone in a corner of the studio and remained focused on her cellphone. Her vivid smiles, frowns, sighs and teeth-clenching were enough to melt the heart of any onlooker.
Fang Shui’er’s manager looked at her with an impassive smile, not too moved by it. Li Yiming guessed the content of their conversation, but did not care to intervene neither. He thought that it was a funny idea for a mythical beast to film a musical video, but there was nothing to lament if it did not work out. On top of it, it would be hard to explain the existence of Bai Ze herself if anyone ever started wondering, since he did not have any paperwork to back up his claims.
Fang Shui’er’s manager, who was at the same time her secretary, was called Zeng Qian. She was in her thirties, short, and slightly overweight from a comfortable life with a pale complexion. She squinted her eyes in a professional smile as she listened to Xiao Hei, but it did not seem like the negotiations progressed smoothly. The improvised changes did not seem to please this woman, who wore a suit despite the torrid sun.
Fang Shui’er, however, did not seem to be even remotely arrogant, and she mingled with the staff present and even took pictures, to the delight of all of those who were present. Li Yiming and Liu Meng were no exception. These photos would become the object of quite some boasting once uploaded to social media, and, indirectly, they can also aid in Li Yiming and Liu Men’s respective careers, who required the help of others in their own quest of ascension to fame. This was a goal that could not be achieved with hard work alone: such were the rules.
“Shui’er.” The quarrel seemed to have reached an impasse. Xiao Hei insisted on his decision regarding Bai Ze, and, Zeng Qian, out of arguments, sought the support of Fang Shui’er.
“Director Zheng changed the script. He wants to add a little girl in. The one over there. What do you think?” said Zeng Qian as she pointed at Bai Ze, who was still playing on the cellphone. True to her professionalism, Zeng Qian explained the situation without revealing her own stance.
“Shui’er, that little girl over there is made to be a child star. She’s very photogenic. I’m sure that the video will be improved with her addition,” Xiao Hei insisted on selling Bai Ze to Fang Shui’er.
Fang Shui’er did not hurry to express her opinion. She scrutinized Zeng Qian first, only to find her staring in front of her with an inscrutable countenance. She then turned her head to look at Bai Ze, and was very pleased by what she saw: the latter was indeed destined for fame. “Hey, little girl, could you come here to let sis have a look at you?” Fang Shui’er called out affably.
Bai Ze did not answer. She continued playing on the call phone until Li Yiming jogged towards her, snatched the object away and pulled her towards Fang Shui’er. “Hello Teacher Fang. This is my little sister. Come on, Bai Ze, be polite,” said Li Yiming as he gave her a gently tap in her back. 2
“Hello sis,” Little Bai Ze seemed rather irritated by the confiscation of her toy.
“Haha, how cute,” Fang Shui’er smiled. “Let’s take director Zheng’s advice. He’s the expert on the subject after all, and this little girl is really adorable.” Zeng Qian nodded and quietly retreated upon hearing the decision.
The final rehearsal began with galvanized energy brought by the arrival of a superstar. Fang Shui’er showed an attitude which befitted her status, and her seriousness and concentration furthered everyone’s admiration of her. Bai Ze also found her own task very interesting, and she was naturally good at acting, often requiring no more than a simple idea from Xiao Hei for a nearly flawless performance. Li Yiming looked at her and thought, ‘At this rate, maybe I’ll become rich without even needing to rob a bank…’
The practice session lasted until three in the afternoon. Fang Shui’er left with Zeng Qian and two bodyguards after that point, leaving a crowd behind that was still in the mood for more. “Alright, tomorrow at seven in the morning, we’ll gather up and leave. It’ll be two hours on the road. Please don’t be late.” Xiao Hei clapped his hands and praised Bai Ze one last time. “Little girl, amazing performance. Please keep it up tomorrow.”
“Thank you teacher.” Everyone bowed down to Xiao Hei, just like students in a school, and bid him goodbye. Xiao Hei’s dignity, unaffected by Fang Shui’er’s imposing reputation, had earned their respect as well. It was not uncommon for producers to act as if they were the masters of minor actors, only to become complete sycophants in the presence of those who were famous. Someone like Xiao Hei was a true artist.
“Fang Shui’er is beautiful. Much more than on-screen,” remarked Liu Meng as she looked at the picture in her cellphone.
“Well, on the bright side, her chest is not as big as yours.”
“Well, if she’s lying naked on a bed, would you look at her face or at her chest?” Liu Meng asked a question typical to her character.
“…” Li Yiming was wordless.
On the morning of September 13th, the group departed. Xiao Hei was not present, and, instead, another manager from his company oversaw the logistics the trip. The dancers, the equipment, and technical staff totalled four small buses, which were all headed for the same destination: Jing Prefecture. The precise location for the filming had been decided to be Ning Village. Jing Prefecture was the only self-autonomous region governed by ethnic minorities in the province, and occupied an area of 1950 square kilometers. Ning Village was a cultural heritage site under national scrutiny in this small prefecture. It was rumored that the majority of indigenous traditions had been preserved even to this day, and, although it was not far away from Li Yiming’s home town, Lishui, he never had a chance to visit the place.
For the young men and women of nowadays, who were acclimated to a nocturnal lifestyle, it was a challenge to get up so early in the morning, and, although this task was accomplished, most of them were now napping with their heads against the back of their seats. Liu Meng sat right next to Li Yiming, so her head naturally fell onto his shoulders as she fell asleep. The sight of what was partially hidden by her round-collar shirt from Li Yiming’s angle and the soft sensation that came from his arm completely expelled any drowsiness that would otherwise have been present. Li Yiming, rather embarrassingly, kept a hand on his thigh and watched over her to protect Liu Meng against any peekers, without realizing that he himself was the greatest offender of them all. Fortunately, since everyone was fast asleep, the two escaped their attention.
Little Bai Ze was preoccupied with her cell phone game, completely unaffected by the tiredness which plagued the others around her. Ever since she had fallen prey to mobile games, it was difficult to make her care about anything else: another case of a young child ruined by video games.
As nine o’clock neared, the sun had risen far above the horizon. The piercing rays roused the occupants of the buses from their slumber, and, fortunately, since there was still a little bit of distance to cover, they had the time to tidy up before their arrival. Liu Meng, when she woke up, instantly noticed Li Yiming’s bloodshot eyes staring at her collar. She quickly lifted her shirt and looked around, but was relieved upon realizing that no one else in particular was looking at her. She then pinched at Li Yiming’s thigh with enough strength to bring out a grimace out of him, but her face reddened as she felt the presence of something else there… She smiled as she arranged her hair using the screen of her phone as a mirror, while Li Yiming produced an exaggerated reaction of pain and looked outside of the window to hide his unease.
The buses were about to traverse the boundaries of Jing Prefecture. The mountains were lush with vegetation and a pure, limpid water ran in the streams between the rocks. This was a national-grade city for tourism at its finest; a scenery of white clouds, an azure sky, lulling songbirds and the sweet aroma of flowers. September was the season for camellia, and these complemented the bright colors of the azalea bushes flowering right next to them. The scene brought serenity and contentment to Li Yiming, who had grown accustomed to the cosmopolitan environment of Hangzhou.
Suddenly, the sun in the sky dimmed, as if an eclipse had just begun. Li Yiming lifted his head in shock. A ghastly purple distortion flashed through the sky and disappeared before Li Yiming could let out a cry of stupefaction. Everything returned back to normal. Li Yiming looked around, and saw Liu Meng still busy with her make-up. She noticed Li Yiming’s attention and sent back another menacing stare for what had happened earlier. Li Yiming then looked at the other people in the filming crew: it seemed like they were all oblivious just what had just happened. But then, he noticed Bai Ze finally putting her cell phone down and throw a look of severity and confusion at him. Li Yiming thought about what happened back at Pure Water Herb Hall.
‘Something is wrong…’
Not sure about these suggestive descriptions, perhaps I should add a warning to the synopsis…
1. If I had to guess, the author is talking about this guy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guo_Jingming
2. Teacher is a title of politeness, as those of you reading BPC might know.
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