Fang Zhao's reason for them to clear the roads was firstly to let them practice and adapt to the operations of the team. The second reason was so he could observe each individual's style and ability up close. Although he had investigated each of them, studying through videos and observing up close was different. Through their impromptu performances and emergency responses, Fang Zhao would be better able to understand them, and through this understanding, Fang Zhao could then assign them roles and adjust the team's formation.
Although Schwarzer from Yanbei University of Finance and Jake from Ocean University of Yanzhou might have had some conflicting disputes due to their school's bad blood, in-game, all private matters had to be set aside. Fang Zhao had dragged them aside to talk about this. If there were any actions that dragged the team down, the offending party would be kicked out right away. This was something that had been clearly stated in the contract.
The activity of 15 people's movements was not small. It was still fine when out of the city, but as they got closer, more and more people noticed them.
Fang Zhao had not let them used silencers, and because of AliveAfter500Years and Jinro and gang's signing with Silver Wing, if the reporters at District 79 did not notice, they should give up being reporters.
Recently, SilverWing50PolarLight as a search term had seen a rapid rise. Previously, when the eight had signed, the popularity of this topic had exploded. Now that the entire team was no longer being secretive, it was a good opportunity for news!
Players in District 79 felt like crying. Previously, there had only been AliveAfter500Years who "swept the streets." Now they had an entire "street sweeping" team to deal with; how were they going to steal experience points now? Especially wherever SilverWing50PolarLight was, as all the monsters nearby would be attracted over. Some players tried to imitate their way of luring monsters, but it did not turn out well. Their own strength was lacking, and they were wiped out.
The art of luring monsters was not something everyone could do. Therefore, many District 79 players were mulling over whether to switch to another district, such as District 78 or 80. Almost every district with a big e-sports club was experiencing this sort of situation. Of course, there were also people who wanted to followed the SilverWing50PolarLight team and pick up their scraps too.
Thus, recently, the forums for District 79 had many similar posts:
"The amount of monsters in the city are limited. Have you considered switching over to District 78? Team migration!"
"District 79 has changed. It has become Silver Light's District 79, heartbroken." "Silver Light" was what players called SilverWing50PolarLight in short.
"There are just too few creatures in the city. And lately they don't even seem to be increasing. Maybe after Silver Light wipes them out, the replenishing rate can't keep up? The system has not even announced any big quests. Are we supposed to find them ourselves?
"Let's form a hunting party and head out from the city. It is rumored that there are a lot more monsters outside of the city area. We don't have to head too far. If we set off in the morning, we will still be able to return to a city and find a safe place to disconnect by night. Those interested, number off!"
However, unlike the complex feelings of players, reporters in District 79 were going crazy just trying to grab any piece of news. Dying a hundred or so times did not even embody the amount of work they put in. Given their lousy skills, these reporter were easily killed by monsters after they stepped outside. As lives were limited, a death would stop them from logging back into the game until the next day even if they had money to spend. Thus, these reporters would have a few accounts, and every day, after dying, they would switch to the next account, and the next. After all, the motive was to obtain news, not to collect points and rise up the leaderboards.
District 79's account peddlers were raking in the big bucks everyday. They used to envy their fellow peddlers who were assigned to the same districts as the big e-sports clubs. Most of them were from studios, and their locations had already been assigned. Everyone had their own tasks. The experienced and accomplished persons were assigned the better districts, while others were randomly assigned. Back when they'd logged into a district without a single small e-sports club, they had made plans to either switch districts or waste away and die. Never had they expected that AliveAfter500Years would appear and let them live again!
Due to the high profile appearance of SilverWing50PolarLight, District 79 was once again all the rage. Even if they could not match up to districts that contained the Big Five, given the online searches, they had already surpassed the popularity of a few mid-tier e-sports clubs.
So much so that even some retired e-sports players were recruited by news media outlets to be bodyguards for their reporters.
Although this virtual supply chain was often criticized, but it continued thriving as it was so profitable.
Previously, an account for District 79 had cost around $200–$500, but now, prices had jumped by anywhere from five to ten times! The price of equipment had risen even more!
Especially a few larger peddler studios that had joined hands to dominate District 79's account market and jack up prices. Every day, studios could be seen displaying these kinds of advertisements for accounts: "District 79 account, XXXX studios, while stocks last."
There were so many reporters out to grab the news it caused quite a bit of a disturbance for team Silver Light. A few times, when the team was vigorously killing within the city, some reporters rushed over to try and get an interview. As a result, they were surrounded by monsters and killed. Afterward, these reporters criticized Silver Light's members for just standing aside and not helping. Originally wanting to discredit the members of Silver Light, it backfired, as online players were not foolish.
"With such a low IQ, he still wants to be a reporter? Go back home and drink milk instead!"
"Courting death and still wanna drag people along! All gamers know that, at these times, any external distractions can cause injury or death. Just by obstructing them, you were in the wrong, and you actually have the face to criticize Silver Light's members?"
"If it were in the Period of Destruction, this kind would have long been beaten to death, right?"
"No, there were no people so stupid during the period. They were all running for their lives."
Milo and the others heaved sighs of relief when they saw the discussions online.
"But those reporters are indeed troublesome. We aren't like those big e-sports clubs with people to specifically block off reporters. We only have 15 over here. Unless we kill off those reporters too? I really don't dare; these reporters can twist a story so well, and it makes me waste a bunch of time." Every time Milo saw these reporters appearing in the thick of killing, he felt like killing them all the same, but he was already past his impulsive age, and having signed a contract with the company, he was part of a team and could no longer do as he liked like when he'd been a freelancer.
"Those reporters are so irritating!" Schwarzer had actually enjoyed the feeling of being chased by reporters and experiencing the treatment of a celebrity, but after two days, he'd gotten sick of it. He would rather not have this sort of treatment. He just wanted to play a proper game, was that so hard?
Former HWR core member Dorrian shared some knowledge with his younger teammate. "That's what you have to go through as a celebrity. Don't think that they will let you off just because we are in the virtual world. Rather, they can be even more sticky in this world. Of course, you mustn't be too naive and try to talk sense into them. These people won't stop, especially entertainment reporters. If you ever get stopped by them, try not to say much. Even if something happens, leave it to the public relations team to handle it. Don't do anything on the spot, as that will cause more complications. These people love to stir things up. Even if there is nothing, they can still make something happen. You can ask Vice Captain Jinro; even if he has been away from the scene for eight years, he won't have forgotten his past experiences."
Jinro nodded his head silently, agreeing with Dorrian's words, but he couldn't think of a good reply.
Everyone glanced at Fang Zhao, waiting for him to speak. Should they disregard these troublesome people and continue clearing the city, or should they do something else?
Fang Zhao drummed his fingers on the table. "Since you find them troublesome, then let's make it so they can't keep up."
On that day, the members of Silver Light all did a little self-reflection. Indeed, if they were just like Fang Zhao, they would not have to worry about that problem. Taking a look at Fang Zhao, when he'd first exploded on the global leaderboards, District 79 had been full of reporters lying in wait, but very few had been able to grab any news; they had all been just trying their luck.
External disturbances were one thing, but lacking the ability to handle it was an irrefutable reality.
After the meeting ended, Schwarzer grumbled to Zu Wen and the others, "So much pressure!" He had always thought himself to be number one, but after entering the team, he had realized there was always someone stronger.
Schwarzer felt like Fang Zhao treated them as soldiers and trained them as such. Their minds and bodies were exhausted, but aside from the grumbling, Schwarzer enjoyed that pressing and intense feeling he got. His skills had improved tremendously under pressure, and he understood better about creatures from the Period of Destruction. He had also learned a lot about firearm usage, troop formations, and other military skills. He had shed all the unorganized behavior he'd had when he'd played on his own. This was a professional team!
And the thing that gave Schwarzer the most pressure was not the harassment from reporters or the skill gap between him and his teammates. Instead, it was the captain, Fang Zhao, that made him feel the most pressured. During their "street cleanings," Fang Zhao would cover the back, but the feeling he gave was like a slave driver with a whip, urging them from behind. Anyone who made a mistake would be whipped.
Today, Fang Zhao had accepted an invitation to give a lecture at Qi'an Academy of Music and left Jinro in charge. This had happened a few times, and the team members had already polished up their team work. Besides, Jinro was experienced and used to leading a team, so Fang Zhao was not too worried.
Without Fang Zhao around, the Silver Light team was clearly much more lively.
And on this day, they met a reporter.
The team had decided to increase their speed and leave the reporters behind. Even though they were not as refined as Fang Zhao and could not make the reporters totally disappear, they were still able to get rid of a few. However, this reporter was not like those unskilled and troublesome entertainment reporters. Huo Li was a war journalist, and from what he said, he had entered the game to better understand the Old Era and the Period of Destruction and hoped to take some photos that could move people.
When he encountered the Silver Light team, he requested to tag along and guaranteed not to interfere with the team's plans. He also promised to not released any photos of the Silver Light team without permission and showed all the photos he had previously taken to Jinro and the others.
He was indeed different from those entertainment reporters. The photos Huo Li took were taken from angles that could shock and move people. His photography skills were extremely professional, and his photos were of cities after experiencing a disaster. He had decent skill, and just as he'd said, he did not provide any trouble for the team, just taking photos from the side and generously letting Jinro and the others view the photos he had taken.
After clearing a wave of monsters, the team had left behind other reporters, and when they found a place to rest, Huo Li told them of his own experiences at battlefields.
And among the team members, other than Fang Zhao, Schwarzer was the only one who had not completed his military service and was still curious about this.
When Huo Li was recounting his stories, he did seem rather like a teacher preaching to his students, and those listening could not help but respect him, yet he could discuss with them like a fellow student.
"You know, there are some things that I cannot say due to confidentiality issues, so I have to be a little vague," Huo Li said.
Schwarzer enthusiastically nodded his head. "I understand, I understand!"
As Huo Li raised his head and looked up at the the Period of Destruction's sky filled with dust, his tone full of melancholy. "In places where you can't see, there are still many wars. There are wars on other planets and wars within our own planet."
"Eh? Within our own planet?" Schwarzer curiously asked. He frequently browsed the internet, but he'd never seen such news.
The others also pricked up their ears.
Huo Li laughed faintly. "As a reporter, one needs to have the bravery to expose the truth, and we war journalists are part reporter, part soldier. For every war, we use our lives as a wager. Work comes first, and life is secondary. To get a a vivid report, we need to enter deep into war zones and not hold back. A proper constitution and a well cultivated sense of professionalism is needed. When people talk about war journalists, they use words like 'unafraid of hardship,' or 'brave dedication,' but these are too one-dimensional and vague. A real war zone is nothing like a game. Once a person dies, he really is gone for good."
Huo Li reminisced, "I shall not talk about those within our planet. Those on other planets, I have experienced more. Once, when I followed a team into a war zone, weather caused the operation to encounter some problems, and under those nasty weather conditions, our communications equipment malfunctioned. We were unable to find our bearings and did not have control of the situation. Encountering danger, all we could do was buckle down and fight. That sort of desperate situation united us, perhaps similar to the way people during the Period of Destruction did. That memory is still deeply moving, yet it is full of pain and sorrow. That is not something that can be described unless you have felt it for yourself."
Huo Li spoke about battlefields and how he had followed troops into war zones. There was quite a lot of stuff that he made vague due to his confidentiality agreements, but that did not stop him from explaining the situations clearly. Whether it was his life following the military or the circumstances in the war zone, despite the details being fuzzy, it did not seem fabricated at all,
Jinro and Milo made eye contact. The doubt in their hearts had lessened. They had not dropped their vigilance, but this person really did not seem like a liar. Furthermore, Huo Li had displayed some skills in the skirmish earlier, and his photos were different from others, supporting his claim of being a battlefield reporter. When Huo Li was narrating his story, his eyes seemed to exude honesty as well.
Huo Li did not just talk about his war zone experiences, he also showed them photographs he had taken in-game. His photos had the ability to influence. If Huo Li had not revealed that they were taken in-game, Jinro and the others would have believed that these were photographs that had been left behind from the Old Era. A building that they had passed by so many times could be so different in a photograph. This was the skill of an expert.
Huo Li also told them some little-known history of the Period of Destruction. Although his tone was gentle, every word seemed to carry an interested feeling, and even the always rational Vice Captain Jinro was entranced.
This was a reporter that separated himself from the inferior ones. In their hearts, their impression of Huo Li was very favorable after a short while.
"Reality is way more cruel than a game. What happens in games are just minor matters that cannot be compared to reality. However, games are for entertainment, so it is not necessary to compare them. I was just expressing the cruelty of reality; just listen, but don't mind it. Do you want to know the origins of my name?"
At this moment, Fang Zhao came online and came over from his log-in spot.
As everyone on the team wore a helmet during combat, when Fang Zhao came, Huo Li was unable to see his face.
The team that had been lazing around listening to stories immediately changed their behavior. Even if they were sitting, they now sat upright and tense. Schwarzer also no longer giggled.
The footsteps of his boots were not loud, but it provided a solemn atmosphere and Huo Li's entire mental state unknowingly tensed up.
When Fang Zhao looked toward Huo Li, Huo Li could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand. Even though he could not see Fang Zhao's eyes hidden behind the helmet, he could feel that extremely suffocating glare on him, as though it was piercing through his body.
Jinro had already left a message telling Fang Zhao about the matter with Huo Li.
"Don't stop. Continue with what you were saying." Fang Zhao found a place to sit down.
Schwarzer coughed lightly. "Huo Li was just about to tell us the origins of his name."
"Yeah, Huo Li, what special meaning does your name have?" Milo asked. He did not like leaving a story unfinished.
The solemn atmosphere became slightly warmer.
Huo Li laughed. "All right, continuing on. Huo Li (Fire Chestnut), it means that every single thing that we do is like obtaining a chestnut from the fire. Chestnuts are placed into the fire to be roasted, and if we wish to eat the chestnuts, we have to brave the dangers of being burnt by fire. This is similar to us battlefield reporters. Every time we want to get a chestnut, we suffer scars. However, this is our choice. We will bear whatever consequences. Isn't there an old saying, "the path we choose for ourselves has to be completed even if we have to crawl? Who cares if there are thorns and brambles along the way."
Schwarzer and the others had a momentary flash of admiration for Huo Li. Only Fang Zhao did not have any reaction.
"Exactly! War journalism is so challenging! Like a real hero! Don't you agree, Boss?" Schwarzer looked toward Fang Zhao, waiting for a reply.
However, Fang Zhao did not reply to Schwarzer and instead said, "In the old era, there was a phrase called 'obtaining the chestnut from the fire' and a story behind it. The story goes like this: A monkey deceived a cat to obtain a roasted chestnut from the flame. The cat did it and managed to obtain the chestnut, but its paws suffered burns. In the end, the chestnut was eaten by the monkey, and the cat paid for being swindled and received nothing. I actually feel that the name Huo Li is to remind yourself not to be used by others but to be the party receiving benefits. Don't you agree, future king of war journalism and current Yanzhou king of paparazzi, Mr. Wang Tie?"
Wang Tie/Huo Li: "..." That is so g*ddamn right! How do I answer?
Schwarzer and the others now shot daggers out from their eyes. Now they were not just on their guard but had a strong attacking intent.
Wang Tie was a name they had recently heard a lot in private. During meetings, Wayne had mentioned this paparazzi king's experience. Apparently he had followed a certain famous celebrity and offended certain high-ranking people; he was a god at causing trouble! Of course, he had not escaped unscathed and had been sentenced to prison. Considering his splendid history, the people in charge specially jailed him in a foreign prison and restricted his access to the internet. Originally, everyone had expected to go three to five years without seeing him, but unexpectedly, he had been released early, apparently due to him rendering meritorious service that reduced his sentence.
Upon receiving news of this individuals return, Silver Wing A-listers and above all increased their vigilance and were afraid of this paparazzi catching their scent, especially their newly formed gaming team. Never had they expected that he would actually chase them into the game! Was what he'd previously said all a fabrication? Pretending it was that real, was... was the entire thing a show!? Forget being a reporter, he should just be an actor!
Wang Tie's calm and collected manner finally became forced.
The favorable atmosphere he had spent so long to build up had undergone a 180 degree change and now seemed frigid. In front of him were 15 pairs of eyes and 15 gun barrels pointed straight at his brains, ready to take his life! They simply did not have any intention to hear his explanation.
The current paparazzi king who'd accepted his first assignment after being released from prison had been caught on the spot as he had neared his target.
Having been called out, Wang Tie grimaced. "Brothers, could there be some sort of misunderstanding? Let us talk instead of using force."An Aesop fable titled the Monkey and the Cat