Fang Zhao found his assigned seat number in the middle of the third row. When he got there, the seats beside his were already occupied.
One was Phoenix e-Sports Club main captain, Bruce from Huangzhou. Bruce was ranked 3rd on the global individual leaderboards, and his team occupied 1st place worldwide. The other person was Muzhou's Ma Xier, who was ranked 2nd on the individual leaderboards.
Bruce noticed Fang Zhao taking a seat beside him and was momentarily stunned before he broke into a smile, "I am Phoenix's Bruce, from Huangzhou, nice to meet you."
Fang Zhao returned a polite smile. "My pleasure. I am Fang Zhao, from Yanzhou. Silver Wing's SilverLight team."
"I know you." Bruce watched Fang Zhao, who did not seem to have any intention of moving, and his mind went blank for a bit, as if cracking his head to solve a hard question. "You... are seated here?" Bruce asked.
"If the seat number in my invitation letter is not wrong, then my seat is right here." As he said this, Fang Zhao touched the exquisite invitation letter on a hemisphere-shaped knob on the seat that seemed like it was for decoration.
Bright white rays flashed then extinguished.
There was no mistake in the seating.
Bruce lifted a finger and pointed at Fang Zhao. His mouth kept opening and closing like a goldfish gasping for air before he managed to force out two words: "It's you?!"
His question might have sounded vague, but Fang Zhao understood the meaning and so nodded his head.
Bruce scanned Fang Zhao as if he was studying an alien.
Ma Xier, who was sitting on the other side, had just finished a phone call and turned his head over, glancing at Fang Zhao and nodding his head politely. After all, they were not familiar with each other, so Maxi did not intend to talk too much. Suddenly, Ma Xier jerked his head back and looked at Fang Zhao, then at his seat, and then back at Fang Zhao once more, his face full of disbelief.
"You are..." Ma Xier looked as if he had choked on a fishbone, and his breathing was ragged. When he saw Bruce's confused face nodding, he exclaimed, "That's impossible!"
Ma Xier was a gold medal athlete who had made his name a long time ago. He had always thought that AliveAfter500Years, who had always been on top of him, would be an even more experienced shooter or, as the external rumors suggested, an elite special forces soldier. But now, he was at a complete loss.
For so long, this person had been above him. The person Ma Xier had given up hope of ever overtaking was actually some youngster twenty years younger than him? And a f*cking composer at that!?
Suppressing the shock, Ma Xier took a few deep breaths then gravely asked, "Are you really AliveAfter500Years?"
He had already gotten confirmation from Bruce, but he could not help but ask once more.
"Yes," said Fang Zhao.
Ma Xier's cheeks twitched when he heard the answer. "How did you choose the name?"
This was not an inquiry but a lament. Not waiting for an answer, Ma Xier went to his own social platforms and posted two statuses:
"What the flying f*ck!"
"I suddenly feel like great changes are going to come."
Just before Fiery Bird's annual conference was about to start, many e-sports stars in attendance posted photos of themselves on their own social platforms. After entering the hall, Schwarzer uploaded the selfie that he felt was the best looking.
Fans and other gaming enthusiasts could view the live broadcast of the event and get a glimpse of the social-platform statuses of their idols. They might not be able to head to Huangzhou's Fiery Bird headquarters to spectate, but from the internet, they were able to keep up with the event's proceedings enough to satisfy their cravings.
Prior to this, Ma Xier had not updated any statuses. He was not active like those young athletes. This annual conference was not considered novelty, and there was no need to make his presence felt.
However, Ma Xier's fans were waiting. Previously, they had seen other's e-sports idols sharing photos and statuses, but there had not been a single word from Ma Xier. They had still been thinking that Ma Xier had decided not to share anything on his social platform when they received a system notification.
Not only had Ma Xier updated his status, he had updated it twice!
This was a rare sight, not to mention the information contained within the two statuses.
Some fans were puzzled. "What has caused our Warhorse to be upset?"
Mazhou was also known as "MaErsizhou," after great general Ma Ersi of the founding era. According to some legends of the Old Era, Ma Ersi had also been known as a god of war. As a competitive MaErsizhou, the people tended to give the term "God of War" to certain talents that reached the apex of their industry. Ma Xier, as a gold medal shooter, was called "God of War Ma Xier," or "Warhorse" for short.
Many people took notice of Ma Xier posting his two statuses. Fang Zhao also saw it from a screenshot Zu Wen sent over.
Ma Xier had a complicated look in his eyes. "I feel old just looking at you." As a naturally gifted shooting champion, all he ever heard were lavish praises from everyone. He had never received such a shock before.
Fang Zhao really wished to tell him: "You are not old; in my eyes, you are just a kid."
But these words would definitely make Ma Xier feel like Fang Zhao was taking the mickey out of him.
Ma Xier wanted to chat with Fang Zhao more and find out why his shooting ability was so good, but the conference hall abruptly quieted down, indicating Fiery Bird's annual conference was about to start. He could only suppress the doubts he had for the time being.
At the reporter zone, an old and experienced journalist scanned the conference hall and focused his gaze over at the front.
The experienced journalist asked the person beside him, "Take a look at the person between Bruce and Ma Xier. I'm afraid my eyesight might be so bad that I'm seeing things."
"You, old fella, have bad eyesight? You are nicknamed Eagle Eyes and have eyesight that would not lose to youngsters! Forget it, let me see... Ma Xier? Bruce and Ma Xier should be in the second or third seat. Oh, third. I see them. In the middle... the f*ck! Isn't that Fang Zhao?"
"I thought I'd recognized him wrongly," the old journalist said, his eyes still fixated over there.
"That's not right. According to past seating arrangements, the person seated there should be the top ranked player on the global leaderboards and will have to go on stage to receive a prize and talk in a bit. Could it be that AliveAfter500Years did not come, so Fang Zhao is receiving the award on his behalf?"
This sort of situation was not uncommon. Among gaming gods, there were a number of eccentric characters that did not like appearing in this sort of place. On the other hand, there were also those with disabilities and medical conditions. For example, within the top 10 of the individual leaderboards was one whose body was lying in the hospital due to illness. As the brain was unaffected, this person gamed very well, but being unable to leave, somebody was collecting the award on behalf of that person.
As AliveAfter500Years was too mysterious, many people were guessing whether he was one of those with serious illnesses or who was disabled and hence could not appear in public.
The journalist nodded his head. "That might be the case, but... there might be another possibility."
As for the other possibility, everyone had considered it before, but every time people thought about it, they brushed it aside. It was just too preposterous.
"It's not just us that have these doubts. We shall see in a bit—it's starting.
Like in previous years, Fiery Bird's president reminisced about the company's past, analyzed the present, and shared plans for the future. Following that, the host introduced a few distinguished guests, all who had been gaming gods in the gaming scene for over 10 years, but due to illness or age, they had not taken part this round. They were still involved in industries related to gaming, though, or had switched professions and become actors.
Whatever the case, they were former sparkling stars who still had their own fans. They were also considered the elder generation of e-sports athletes from every continent, and their standing in the gaming circles was rather high.
These people had been invited for two reasons. One was to share a little of their own experiences, and the second and most important was to confer the awards to this year's award winners.
For the awards presentation, the individual awards were first, followed by the team awards. The sequence for the leaderboard's top 10 was 7th to 10th place, followed by 4th, 5th, and 6th, and lastly 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
"Next, we would like to invite the players who placed in the top three on the individual leaderboards, Phoenix's Bruce, Ma Xier, and SilverWing50PolarLight's AliveAfter500Years!"
The spotlights shined on Bruce and Ma Xier as they got up with beaming smiles. Regardless of what their inner thoughts were, they concealed it well and turned around to wave at the audiences and reporters before heading toward the stage.
Fang Zhao had been called last, so he stood up after Bruce and Ma Xier.
Under the spotlights and the attentive gazes of over 10,000 people, generally, a young person at this sort of occasion for the first time would feel uneasy. Even if he could mask his emotions well, such uneasiness would still be unable to escape the experienced eyes within the members of the audience, yet the calm and unperturbed demeanor was too natural. It did not seem to be an act.
Compared to when he had first arrived in this world, Fang Zhao no longer had those cold and antisocial tendencies. When he got up from his seat, there was a faint smile on his face. Although not that obvious, he seemed warm and manly, and he portrayed the air of a cultured person.
Many gamers watching the live broadcast online stared at Fang Zhao heading to the stage on their screens, thinking, Bruce, Ma Xier, and AliveAfter500Years were called. Why are you getting up?
"Did the host say anything about having a representative collect the award?"
"I suddenly have a dreadful feeling."
On stage, the large screen displayed Bruce, Ma Xier, and AliveAfter500Years's information.
Nobody needed to see the former two's information—everyone was already familiar with them. Now, not only the people present, but those watching the live broadcast as well had their eyes on the area displaying AliveAfter500Years's information:
Registered Identity: Fang Zhao (Authenticated)
Game Console: 10th-generation 'Rhapsody'...
There was a whole bunch of detailed data in a list below that—for example, monsters killed, natural disasters survived, completed quests, and the like.
No one really cared about the data, though. Everyone was staring at the three lines on top.
The word "Authenticated" was a confirmation. If Fiery Bird acknowledged it, it had to be true.
At this moment, gamers watching online were temporarily stunned.
"So, that means Fang Zhao is actually AliveAfter500Years?"
"I! Don't! Believe! It! I must still be dreaming! Somebody hit me!"
"My mighty and awe-inspiring 500Years-god! How can this be?!"
"Probably... looks... can be deceiving?"
There was a professional artist from Huangzhou who had drawn his own version of AliveAfter500Years's real appearance—tall and ripped like a boulder, clad in high-cut military boots and special combat gear, and armed with special gatling guns. With his iron body and majestic aura, his might was not ordinary.
Previously, that image had been widely circulated in gaming circles, so much so that in many people's hearts they had begun to visualize AliveAfter500Years this way. They felt that even if the real person was not the same, the difference would not be much.
However, now, they all felt a deep sense of spite.The Ma in Ma Xier means horse