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After completing the final piece, Fang Zhao and the orchestra stood for a curtain call.

Fang Zhao took a deep bow toward the audience.

The concert was finally over.

He hoped that his first "report card" had pleased his audience.

It was his first concert and comprised 10 original compositions—10 of his own stories. What the audience had heard were stories that came from his heart.

Many fans might have first come across Fang Zhao through the four movements in the "Period of Destruction" series, but those weren't Fang Zhao's own stories. They were built around the virtual idol Polar Light. The feelings and thoughts he had conveyed through music and visuals were part of Polar Light's journey, not his.

Any outstanding work of art was based on a compelling story. Now, whether they had watched in person or tuned in via live webcast, people knew the background that informed these 10 pieces and the stories they represented.

It was a dream come true. Fang Zhao hoped it was just the beginning.

He was delighted.

Shortly after retreating backstage following the curtain call, Fang Zhao got a call from Duan Qianji.

"Did you see the updates on the rights on your song list?" Duan Qianji asked.

"Yes." Fang Zhao was carrying a copy of his electronic program. Three—no, now four—songs were tagged with solid circles.

Another circle had been filled while Fang Zhao was on the phone.

In other words, four of his songs had been sold. Maybe not sold per se, but potential buyers had already placed their orders. 

"Four of your 10 songs have been reserved," Duan Qianji said.

Fang Zhao was signed to Silver Wing as a composer, so Silver Wing was his agent in charge of handling copyright issues for his works. Duan Qianji didn't have to call in person to notify Fang Zhao of the sale of the four songs.

Fang Zhao's contract with Silver Wing included a supplementary clause that allowed him to sign off on all sales of his songs, including the 10 pieces performed at the concert. He had the right to veto any sale if he took issue with a potential buyer. 

Barring exceptional circumstances, if a potential buyer was eyeing one of Fang Zhao's songs, they had to get in touch with Silver Wing and get Fang Zhao to sign off before the sale would be official.

But in this case, four of Fang Zhao's songs had been sold without his final approval. Fang Zhao knew Duan Qianji was someone who kept her word. There had to be a reason behind her decision to proceed without consulting him, hence the phone call.

So Fang Zhao wasn't mad. He just wanted to hear what Duan Qianji had to say.

"Shanta wants to buy 'Expedition'," Duan Qianji said.

Fang Zhao could figure out from that comment alone why Duan Qianji had changed the status of "Expedition" before getting his OK.

In fact, that was what Fang Zhao had expected. He had figured that Shanta would express interest in "Expedition," and he did not object. Even if Duan Qianji decided to sell the rights of the song to the Baiji military district at a low price, he was OK with it. At least the Baiji military district was bothering to pay this time. When the Yanzhou military district had wanted to use songs from the "Period of Destruction" series, they had just gone ahead.

Seeing that Fang Zhao was not objecting, Duan Qianji continued with her spiel.

"The Interplanetary Fund bought 'Encore.' It was the first song that was ordered. They approached us during the concert before the song had even finished. They made an offer too good to refuse. The price they offered was higher than we expected. They also said the song would be used for charity, so as a result of their strong lobbying, I changed the status of 'Encore' as well."

The Interplanetary Fund worked with social welfare organizations, local governments, orphanages, and so on. They shot a series of public interest announcements for these partners every year—twice a year, once in each half. The senior managers at the Interplanetary Fund wanted to use 'Encore' as the score for their first public interest ad next year.

Fang Zhao nodded. "Understood."

Fang Zhao couldn't find fault with the Interplanetary Fund's offer either. He even would have agreed to a heavy discount, but the Interplanetary Fund wasn't poor and had no intention of lowballing him.

"'Zh' was the third song sold. We were approached by Huangzhou Geography Channel. They want to use 'Zh' in a documentary about minerals. Their offer was fair too. This is a good thing for you, good for your career. As I understand it, the documentary they are making is quite meticulous. It will be widely distributed and archived. It will have a long shelf life. Chances like this are hard to come by."

This was also an offer that Fang Zhao couldn't refuse, but he was still curious as to why Huangzhou Geography Channel had reached out so quickly.

He remembered that Xue Jing had mentioned bringing a few old friends to the concert, so he made a mental note to ask Xue Jing if one of his master-musician friends had suggested the song to the channel. Why else would the snobs there pick his piece?

"As for the third song, 'The Power of Life,' it was bought by the Huangzhou Life Sciences Research Institute. I think they were referred by Professor Fan Lin at the Academy of Science HQ. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the institute. The song might figure prominently in their celebrations."

The Huangzhou Life Sciences Research Institute was a spin-off of the Academy of Science HQ. It was also an important research body.

Fang Zhao couldn't find any reason to oppose the four sales Duan Qianji had just mentioned. These four buyers weren't for-profit businesses, so they would make sure the four songs were used in a meaningful way.

"Oh, that's right. Hua Li, the team leader of Fiery Bird's sound effects team, expressed interest in the first song. Are you OK with that?" Duan Qianji said with a chuckle.

"Yeah." Fang Zhao received a text from Hua Li while Duan Qianji was completing her sentence. Hua Li just wanted to give Fang Zhao a heads up that he was interested in the first song, 'Empty,' and was in negotiations with Silver Wing about the sale.

Having received Fang Zhao's consent, Duan Qianji changed the empty circle after "Empty" to a solid one, indicating to everyone browsing the program that the song was taken. 

Many folks who attended the concert noticed before they even left hall no. 1 that half the 10 songs in their electronic program had already been sold.

Such efficiency!

That level of interest in the works of a composer in the early days of his career was indeed unexpected.

Perhaps spurred on by the speed with which the five songs had been sold, the remaining five didn't go unclaimed for long. Soon, all the empty circles became solid.

A furious Zaro stormed out of the venue as soon as the concert ended. His companion, Barbara, wasn't in a great mood either.


They hadn't managed to snag a single song.

Zaro had been paralyzed by indecision. His agent had told him that their funds were limited and that there was no need to pick several songs. One was enough.

Zaro was interested in the music itself, but his agent was different. His agent had been performing a cost-benefit analysis. Zaro's agent considered the cost of one song as money spent on a publicity push for his client, which was his goal for the trip to Yanzhou.

Zaro had lingered and taken his time, so by the time he had decided, all the songs were gone.

As for Barbara, she hadn't face the same dilemma. She had only gone for the song she liked, "Encore," but someone had beaten her to it. She hadn't even had the chance to place a call to Silver Wing.

She had tried to outbid the original buyer of "Encore" only to find her offer politely rejected by Silver Wing.

Barbara came from a well-connected family, so to avoid ending up on her sh*t list, Silver Wing had revealed the identity of the buyer. That was also why Barbara couldn't vent her frustration.

The Interplanetary Fund.

The Interplanetary Fund had important business dealings with the Lakalina family. Even an idiot like Zaro knew when to back down—naturally, Barbara knew what the smart thing to do was.

All that pent-up anger!

Barbara hadn't felt this way in a long time.

They kept a lower profile when they left the concert, avoiding the press pack.

If the entertainment journos snapped Zaro and Barbara together, they would be revitalized enough to concoct another 800-word bullsh*t story.

But their main concern was that they were in a bad mood. They didn't want to deal with the media in a bad mood.

The couple exchanged glances. They both looked like they had stepped in dog poop.

"Let's go, let's go! Let's get out of here. I don't want to say in Yanzhou any longer," Zaro said as he sped up to a trot.

Barbara waved her hand for some time, as if fighting a bad smell, before gesturing with her chin to the assistants and bodyguards by her side. "Let's head back."

Like Ha Wen, Fang Zhao couldn't leave the venue immediately after his concert. He had to stick around while Silver Wing negotiated with potential buyers of his songs.

Only one official remained from the Interplanetary Fund party to discuss the fine print of their contract. The others had already left. Negotiations went smoothly.

Duan Qianji would take charge of the negotiations with the Baiji military district. Fang Zhao didn't have to worry about that.

The negotiations with Fiery Bird also proceeded quickly. Again, the fine print in the contract could be handled by their relevant staffers. Hua Li and Fang Zhao discussed the composer's creative process, the former expressing interest in collaborating with the latter again in the future.

Fiery Bird had acted decisively. Even if they didn't use the song now, it might come in handy later. Fiery Bird was in the video-game business, but even if they didn't use the song in a game, it could be placed in an ad.

With their wide range of products and their corresponding ad campaigns, Fiery Bird made a point of building a substantial song library. Hua Li maintained the practice of buying whatever he fancied.

In contrast, Fang Zhao spent quite a bit of time entertaining Xue Jing and Xue Jing's friends. Ming Cang wanted to grab Fang Zhao for a chat, but when he approached, he noticed Xue Jing introducing a bunch of veteran musicians to the young composer, so he decided not to intrude. He said a quick hello and offered his congratulations instead.

"Fang Zhao, this is Lin Xun. Professor Lin is an old friend from Huangzhou. He's the one who recommended 'Zh' to the Huangzhou Geography Channel. You should thank him properly," Xue Jing said while pointing toward his companion. 

"Quality is my only criterion. I only recommend works that are worthy. Good job, young man!" Lin Xun broke his serious demeanor with a grin.

Fang Zhao's concert program was quite diverse. There were tender pieces, subtle ones, and epics. There were dark, roundabout expressions of regret and explosive displays of passion. Fang Zhao had managed to strike a balance between raw energy and attention to detail. Every single piece was of good quality. You could tell that Fang Zhao was a serious composer. The combination of the aforementioned factors was why industry elders like Lin Xun were so impressed.

Lin Xun and others were quite willing to give a promising junior musician like Fang Zhao a helping hand. 

Xue Jing and his close friends might have had different personalities, but they shared the same approach to and values about music. They wanted to see even more outstanding young composers emerge. So what if they themselves were eclipsed? This was a good thing for the industry as a whole. It proved that the composers of the current generation were an improvement from the previous lot. 

The other professional critics who had attended the concert started to issue their reviews as well.

The consensus was that this was a high-quality concert. Even Lin Xun, who was typically a harsh critic, gave a positive review, even though his praise was restrained.

Xue Jing was happy with the outcome. He was happy for Fang Zhao, happy that the young composer had taken this critical step in his career.

On Baiji, Shanta was pleased to see Silver Wing's response.

Not only had he gotten free advertising from Fang Zhao's concert, he had managed to snag a song at a discount.

Still, he wasn't an *sshole who milked his advantage for everything it was worth. Considering the fact that Fang Zhao had taken a loss on this song, he made a mental note to offer the young composer a discount on power ore in the future.

Elsewhere, folks who had been holding their breath and trying to catch flaws in the concert weren't in a very good mood.

After listening to the first song, they had felt there wasn't much to take issue with.

Even if the song didn't belong to a genre that such critics preferred or specialized in, the pundits were still competent enough to appraise the piece.

So after listening to the song, even if they didn't like the style, they couldn't trash it. If they criticized for the sake of criticizing, they would only lose face.

Next song, then. We'll scrutinize the next song.

And then the next, and the next, and the next.

Before they knew it, all 10 pieces had been performed.

Critics who were paid to write negative reviews got together to brainstorm. "OK, let's discuss what we can start our critique with and what position to take."

How could they write their reviews so that they didn't come off as paid hacks? As hard as they tried, they couldn't find any major flaws in the concert, but they had to go through the motions at the very least. After all, they were professionals. They had to satisfy their clients.

Yanzhou, the offices of a film production company whose staff had just finished watching Fang Zhao's concert online.

"OK, let's have a brief meeting to discuss which songs to buy. I think there are a few that fit in the movie we are making."

"I think quite a few are decent, especially the ones that resemble the style of the 'Period of Destruction' series. They would fit in nicely in our movie."

"We have to single one out, then rearrange it into three versions so we can use them both as the score and in the trailers."

"When we've decided, let's negotiate a good price. We might even get some free publicity for our movie out of the concert, some early marketing. Check out all the hype before the concert. It's a pity none of it touched on our production, but judging from the entertainment headlines in Yanzhou right now, the hype around the concert hasn't ended yet. Who knows, maybe we can catch this train in the nick of time."

The meeting ended half an hour later. A song was agreed on.

"Xiao Li, get ready to reach out to Silver Wing."

Xiao Li was staring at his tablet screen. "Uhm..."

"What's up?"

"They're... they're all gone."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, none of the songs are available anymore."

He passed his tablet to the others.

All the circles at the end of the 10 songs in the program had turned solid. In other words, all 10 songs had been sold.

The staffer nicknamed "Xiao Li" scratched his head. "Half of the songs were sold before you started your meeting. The other half were sold during the meeting."

The others were incredulous. "That fast?"

"This isn't Silver Wing's doing, is it?"

"Have they announced the buyers yet?"

Xiao Li browsed several news websites and checked Silver Wing's official website. He couldn't find any announcements. He shook his head and answered in the negative.

He noticed an update right after he finished his sentence. 

"Wait, here we go," Xiao Li blurted out. "Silver Wing just issued an official statement saying all 10 songs have been sold."

It wasn't just the potential buyers who were blown away. Fans who were following developments online were even more surprised.

Just half an hour after Fang Zhao's concert had ended, Silver Wing issued an official notice saying all 10 songs performed during the concert had been sold.

There were all sorts of thanks and pleasantries at the end of Silver Wing's statement, but that was of no interest to the fans. Their focus was whether Silver Wing was telling the truth about the sale of the 10 songs.

"My classmates are Fang Zhao fans. They bought online passes to the live broadcast of the concert. I just finished watching with them. It was OK, but was it that good? I heard that newcomers at most sell one or two songs after their first concert and that selling the whole program takes months."

"Fang Zhao is different. He has a foot in various industries and has lots of fans. It's possible his songs were snapped up by nouveau riche tycoons. Hasn't that happened in the past quite frequently?"

"I just want to know how much the songs sold for."

For most curious onlookers, the most straightforward way to judge the quality of Fang Zhao's songs was by their selling price.

"The prices won't be disclosed, but word has it that all the songs fetched high prices."

"You can't trust rumors."

"It's all hype! Definitely hype!"

"It's just rigging. They bought their own songs so they could brag about the sales. It's not like Silver Wing hasn't done it before."

"I've seen these kinds of underhanded tactics before—pushing up prices and then conning idiot companies into buying the songs."

"I wonder which idiot companies were conned."

Another 20 minutes passed.

"Here come the idiot companies." A photo came with the status update. 

The picture the fan posted was an update Silver Wing had just issued via its social media account announcing the buyers of the 10 songs.

"F*ck! The Interplanetary Fund, Baiji military district, Fiery Bird, Huangzhou Geography Channel, and the Huangzhou Life Sciences Research Institute?"

"My dad is asking why I'm reading the news on my knees."

"Shit—these 'idiot' companies are quite high class."

"If these companies are considered 'idiot' companies, then what about the others? Are they parasites then?"

"I can understand why the Interplanetary Fund, Baiji military district, and Fiery Bird might be interested in the songs, but what's with Huangzhou Geography Channel and the Huangzhou Life Sciences Research Institute?" 

"This makes me want to watch his concert."

"D*mn—if only I had bought tickets."

Among the buyers were also several production and gaming companies that had global reputations, even if they weren't as famous as Fiery Bird. They were capable of generating plenty of discussion on their strength alone, but all eyes now were on the first five song buyers.

Just like Barbara's appearance on the red carpet before the concert had stolen the limelight, it was a level of attention that others could only dream of.

The first five buyers were such prestigious brand names that readers ignored the rest of the pack.

But say what they may, the other five buyers weren't "idiot" companies by any measure.

Soon the tides turned in online sentiment.

Most professional critics gave good reviews, but for the masses who were clueless about music, all they cared about was whether the reviews were positive or negative. Then they would move onto the gossip and spectacle.

Footage of the concert wouldn't be available online right away, so folks who had missed the concert could only rely on online news reports.

In Yanzhou, many reporters were working through the night editing their copies.

There were also journalists still out in the field reporting.

It was already past 10 p.m. in Yanzhou, quite late, but the night was still young in many hotspots.

One reporter was lingering near a cluster of university campuses. He was responsible for interviewing university students in the area.

"Did you catch Fang Zhao's concert?"

"No, I just woke up after crashing following three days of group gaming. I need to grab a bite."

"Have you heard of Fang Zhao?"

"Yeah, we used to listen to his 'Period of Destruction' series before exams."

After conducting several interviews, the journalist overheard a few students discussing Fang Zhao's concert. Further questioning revealed that the group had watched Fang Zhao's concert online, followed by a bit of web browsing in their dorm rooms. They had gotten hungry and had decided to venture out for a late-night snack.

The reporter asked the students for their thoughts on the concert.

"I was still in secondary school when I listened to the 'Period of Destruction' series. It was right before my university entrance exams. I listened to the songs while working on mock exams. The concert tonight was great too. I enjoyed 'Expedition' the best," one student said.

"I liked 'Encore.' Who knew Fang Zhao could produce a song of that style," another student said.

The reporter shifted his recorder to a third student, who was a bit shy, probably because it was his first time being interviewed.

"Me? I liked 'Enemy Attack,' 'Counteroffensive,' 'Legion,' and 'Expedition.' They make for great background music while working on mock papers. I got quite excited listening to them."

The reporter thought to himself that the kid sounded interesting, and the reporter followed up. "Excited? What exactly did you feel when you listened to the songs? Or to put the question in other terms, what thoughts and feelings did the music provoke?"

"Thoughts and feelings? It's hard to say. I don't know how to describe them. I'm not good with words. I don't know how to organize my thoughts."

"Just in simple terms, in your own words."

"Uhm, in simple terms, listening to the songs felt like..."

The reporter threw the student an encouraging glance. "Keep going!"

"...the high you get when you wake up after a super-long nap!"


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