Zu Wen felt that the concept of nerves or butterflies was inherently alien to someone like Fang Zhao. At least, he'd never seen Fang Zhao panic.
The fact of the matter was, if Fang Zhao were an ordinary person, or if it were the Fang Zhao from before the end of days, he would have reacted just like Zu Wen. But people who had endured an apocalypse were definitely different.
Fang Zhao would get nervous and afraid too. But during the apocalypse, everyone had to find a center so they could carry on; otherwise they would break down. Some fought for the people they loved, others for religion or another surrogate.
At the beginning of the apocalypse, Fang Zhao still had some family, but by the middle of the period, all he had left were his comrades. Some people looked for company, but more often than not, lovey-dovey was quickly replaced by permanent separation. What the apocalypse had in abundance were hysterical cries. After witnessing their share of painful separations, people became less attached. Fang Zhao led his troops from battle to battle. He had no time for distractions.
Maybe it was the prevailing mood of the apocalypse, but Fang Zhao developed a rare talent. His brain was separated into two halves. One half was used for thinking and managing his body. As for the other half... just like Fang Zhao told Zu Wen, the other half probably housed an orchestra. It started as a small orchestra that played musical fragments but later grew into a full-scale orchestra that played with alternating passion and heaviness.
Eventually, music would play in his background regardless of what he was doing. It was a form of hypnosis. He forgot about his other emotions, his nerves, his fear. He was prepared to die at any given moment. That gradually became the norm. He became numb.
Compared to what he'd endured during the end of days, this was nothing.
Fang Zhao wasn't nervous. On the contrary, he was excited.
When they stepped out of the elevator, they were greeted by the same wide and chilly passage that led to the conference room. Zu Wen trailed Fang Zhao. He refrained his eyes from wandering and mentally propped up his legs so he wouldn't collapse right there and then.
This time, there was an extra guard at the checkpoint. Even though it was a simple ID check, the two guards didn't waste a single syllable. Fang Zhao detected a familiar quality.
The two guards were veterans.
Actually, Fang Zhao had noticed when he'd first joined Silver Wing that many of the label's security guards were veterans. Word had it that Duan Qianji's husband served in the Yanzhou military. No one knew his exact rank and title. In any case, due to her military ties, Silver Wing's security force was largely made up of veterans.
When they entered the conference room, he noticed there were fewer people than last time. Including Fang Zhao and Zu Wen, there were a total of 10 people.
After Fang Zhao and Zu Wen entered, the doors to the conference room shut and isolated the space. No one knew what was discussed except for the 10 people in the room. Hardly a ripple was sparked.
Until that afternoon. The marketing department received a last-minute directive. The original marketing campaign was scrapped, replaced by a new plan. The allocation of promotional channels was shuffled too. Someone had butt in.
Usually, the scheduled order of the marketing plan wouldn't be tampered with unless it was urgent. After all, too many factors were in play, and a change in order usually meant special intervention, like someone enjoying preferential treatment.
Previous protocol suggested that special treatment was reserved for Grade A stars. Yet the marketing staff was dumbfounded when they got the new promotional plan.
"Not a Grade A star? It's actually a virtual idol."
"Are the bosses sure? Starting blanket coverage now?"
"This is too much. Aren't they worried about history repeating itself?"
Yet no matter what the underlings thought, they still had to follow orders. Switching marketing strategies, adjusting ad launch dates, and so on—everything went ahead.
The next day, a series of unique ads popped up in Yanzhou's public transportation system, public squares, construction sites, and so on. They were bound to stand out because they were too eye-catching. Posters with a distinct style showing up amid a cluster of pretty or handsome faces would naturally draw more attention.
Amid the passionate melody of "Divine Punishment" emerged a still picture.
The picture was separated by a lightning bolt. On one side was an army of anthropomorphic trees, and clusters of mutated animals took up the other.
At the bottom in bold: "'100-Year Period of Destruction,' Second Movement, out Nov. 1."
The journalists that had been waiting for Silver Wing's next move were blown away. They had expected an early promotional campaign from Silver Wing, but they'd never thought the label would launch such a huge and aggressive campaign. The intensity rivaled the campaign for a Grade A star. Stars Grade B or below definitely wouldn't enjoy such treatment.
Besides locations with heavy foot traffic, the campaign also had deep penetration on the internet.
Were they bringing out the big guns?
No one would have thought that Silver Wing would one day bet so heavily on a virtual idol. Even their expanded virtual idol project that year wasn't promoted this vigorously.
Even though Silver Wing had launched a marketing campaign for last year's virtual idol, it struck people as lacking confidence. But this year, Silver Wing was strutting its stuff.
Several students riding a public train were admiring the huge screen hanging on a tall building they passed.
"Is that an upcoming film?" one student asked. They were some distance away and couldn't read the text on the ad clearly.
"No, it's a virtual idol launched by Silver Wing. But this virtual idol is special. Have you checked out the song 'Divine Punishment'?"
"I have. It was playing non-stop at school a while back, but I'm not into that type of musical style. I haven't seen the music video either."
"I quite like it. And the second single is about to come out?" Another student searched online. "Oct. 1? Haha, that's soon! I hope the second song is an epic too. I'm telling you, you have to listen to these epics with quality headsets or a good stereo system; otherwise, you won't be able to fully appreciate the genre."
Apart from fans that were into epic songs, the most active internet commentators were fad-seekers.
"The second song is an epic too, no?"
"I hope so. You guys probably don't know that every time I listened to 'Divine Punishment,' I heard the sound of clashing gold bricks."
"I'll read the Music Association review when it comes out. If it's an epic, I'm going to download it."
"Is the second song only available for download within Yanzhou? If that's the case, I'm going to laugh my ass off. Right now, outside of Yanzhou, the other continents don't allow legal downloads of copyrighted music. The full soundtracks for many blockbusters aren't available online."
Silver Wing was explicit in its advertising for the second chapter—the release date was announced in advance. The date wasn't announced merely to promote its virtual idol. It was also a challenge of sorts to the other two members of the Big Three—come Oct. 1, I'll be ready for battle. Join me or not.
Song Shihua, Tongshan True Entertainment's big boss, sat in his office silently pondering the meaning of Silver Wing's next move. He didn't believe that Duan Qianji had laid down an epic just to prove that Silver Wing could produce a hit virtual idol.
He was a businessman. Duan Qianji was a businesswoman. From a business perspective, Song Shihua believed that Silver Wing had made such a massive investment with huge returns in mind.
But what was it all for?
Suddenly, Song Shihua snapped his fingers, his pupils shrank, and his cheeks twitched. He was skeptical, in disbelief. He had to squeeze every syllable out of his mouth.
"Is it for next year's release of 'Battle of the Century?'"
He couldn't think of another reason.
"Battle of the Century" was the most anticipated game in the world, period. It was a title gamers around the world had been looking forward to for nearly 10 years. And it was set against the 100-year Period of Destruction.
The studio behind "Battle of the Century" had announced ahead of time that the game would be endorsed by a single celebrity in each continent. And only virtual idols were being considered.
The endorsement fee was secondary. The most important thing was the exposure the deal came with. It was global.
Silver Wing wanted to join the contest for "Battle of the Century" endorsers with that tree? What a joke. To count on that tree?