This was a day marked by many in the Yanzhou music industry and also a date some in the entertainment industry paid attention to.
Could Silver Wing maintain the quality of its first movement?
Song Shihua, the big boss of Tongshan True Entertainment, had long been ensconced in his office, which was equipped with top-of-the-line audiovisual equipment. Once he heard the second chapter, he could confirm his suspicions.
Did Silver Wing splurge even more on the second chapter? If that was the case, then it was obvious that Silver Wing was using the epic series to promote Solar Light and vie for the "Battle of the Century" endorsement deal.
It was time for the morning commute, and also breakfast time for many schools before early classes went into session.
In the New Era, compulsory education was divided into introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. Every period lasted six years. The introductory level was equivalent to primary schools before the apocalypse. Intermediate schools were a combination of junior and senior high schools. Advanced education referred to post-secondary studies, the rough equivalent of university, but students were also taught more difficult material.
Many intermediate students in Qi'an were riding their bikes or taking public trains to their schools, where they headed for their school cafeterias.
Schools in the New Era were well-funded. The food was decent and quite cheap. Rushing to school for breakfast before dashing to the classroom was a common routine.
At that time of day, both day students and boarders were trickling toward their cafeterias.
Qi'an No. 1 Secondary School, inside the northern cafeteria.
The big TV screens on the cafeteria walls typically played loud, fast-tempo songs to wake up the students. Secondary school cafeterias were noisy to begin with. Slow and mellow songs wouldn't be able to rise above the din. They'd be long buried under the noise, save a few faint notes.
November was mid-term time for most intermediate schools in Yanzhou. Schools weighed exams during this period quite heavily.
The small clusters of students having breakfast were bitching about grades, homework, life, and their budding romances.
Students drank soup and chatted with classmates at the same time while eyeing the big screens to see if any footage caught their fancy.
"It's the same stuff every day. I can guess what they play next with my eyes closed."
People who grew up during the era of fast internet connections were exposed to so much information when they were kids. The older they grew, the less novelty they detected. The footage and songs that played on the big screens might have stirred something at the outset, but they wore on them quickly. They were already sick of the current playlist.
Students who were planning on ignoring the big screens suddenly heard a fellow student exclaim.
"Look, it's Polar Light!"
"Where?" Students scanned their surroundings.
"On the big screen."
"That's right, I almost forgot, today is Nov. 1. Polar Light's second song is coming out."
Journalists had revealed in their reporting that, among the student fans of "Divine Punishment," most were secondary school students, not higher education students.
Even though students at the intermediate level were at a restless age, they weren't as restless as advanced students on the cusp of entering society. It was also a sensitive age, which was why it was easier to sway the emotions of teenagers.
Nov. 1, 8 a.m. The second movement of "100-Year Period of Destruction" was released online.
The overall color tone of the first scenes was darkish, but the resolution was crystal clear. The TV screens in the cafeteria were large enough. The quality of the projection equipment and related hardware was key to attracting students, so naturally, the gear wasn't that shabby.
Emerging at the same time as the initial scenes was a deeply unsettling foundation melody.
A prolonged bass score and a repeated beat combined with an electronic score that sounded out of place and wasn't pleasing to the ear. A gradual sense of suffocation.
A traditionalist would argue that the electronic melody detracted from the song's musicality, blurring the lines between the music and sound effects, but it also made the score more stimulating, provoking a sense of curiosity and unease in the listener. It was as if human souls were in conversation with the landscapes of the apocalypse.
The 100-year Period of Destruction—the real yet surreal time the video drew inspiration from.
Fang Zhao incorporated more electronic elements in the second movement.
If the first movement was a seamless blend of electronic and symphonic music, then in the second chapter, the electronic music was an integral part of the melody.
Considering the level of human development by the Information Age, standards of living and spiritual fulfillment had taken huge leaps. Technology was highly sophisticated. Automation and artificial intelligence were commonplace. And with these advancements came the sound of robotic machinery and electronic gadgets. People had long been accustomed to these sounds that inundated daily life in the New Era.
And composers in the New Era incorporated these sounds into music. Aesthetic standards were evolving, personal tastes were evolving, and so was pop culture.
Electronic music produced new tones and sound effects. In contrast to traditional instruments, electronic elements were more representative of this era and more easily embraced by audiences.
That was why composers in the New Era either strictly used electronic sounds or mixed traditional instruments and electronic music. When in Rome, do what the Romans do. Fang Zhao injected these new elements into his work, adding a metallic and electronic flavor to his music. After all, musical styles from a long time ago might not be readily appreciated.
The first chapter, "Divine Punishment," struck many fans as alternative classical. It was just novel enough to attract audiences. But if it were overdone, the piece would have turned people off.
Inside the northern cafeteria at Qi'an No. 1 Secondary School, the din scaled back. More and more students were paying attention to the big screens.
Cafeterias were always noisy, which was why the stereo system was typically turned up. As the chitchat faded, the music gradually stood out.
The footage showed overcast skies and a trickling of rain. The barren landscape was accompanied by a mellow cello solo. Next came a melancholic and winding horn that projected a deep sense of resignation, mixed in with tragedy and bleakness.
The tree men who had chosen to leave their homeland in search of a new beginning saw their expectations crushed again and again. Danger was everywhere. They didn't know where they would be safe and wondered if there was still a peaceful land left for them.
Their companions who had left home with them had either died of illness or were ripped apart by mutated beasts. The remaining tree men were heavily wounded. Disappointment, exhaustion, and a downtrodden quality permeated their faces and hearts.
For them, life had hit a low point. Their faith in finding a new home had crumbled under the cruel reality. A prolonged sense of fear and resignation was about to swallow their consciousnesses.
A classical melody conveying disappointment and muted notes projected desperation and terror. Deep background vocals gradually emerged against the backdrop of a dark symphonic arrangement.
It was as if a voice had whispered, "Do you see?"
The low hum of the background choir encompassed the latent tension of hidden dangers, reflected the cold, cruel conditions of the end of days, and recreated the survivors' tepid moans of agony.
The silhouette at the forefront of the group carried many wounds. Its branches had obvious scratches, and some were truncated. Flapping on the branches was a sparse smattering of green leaves. It was the picture of struggle.
Ahead lay a slope populated with a flurry of bloody and evil beasts.
Behind the leader lay a tribe emaciated by the cruel circumstances.
The vivid imagery was backed by a low-register, meandering string melody that resembled a sigh, as if suggesting an imminent end.
'Look, this is what's left of the world. There's no hope. Let's give up. We'll stop marching forward, find a place to hide, and pray that our luck will carry us on, a day at a time.'
The surreal imagery, coupled with the symphonic and electronic score, made for an overarching feeling of helplessness. Dragging their weak limbs, it was as if the tree men were looking up from a dark pit, resigned to the cold, cruel fate God had doomed them to.
Just sheer determination wasn't enough to fuel their battle against fate.
There was no room for hesitation in times like this.
A cocktail of spooky sound effects and a percussion score of varying beats repeated themselves. A fleeting, trembling piano solo interjected, along with a male bass vocal performance that spoke of utter sadness. Propelled by the thick sound texture, the leader of the pack ambled forward.
He looked back after taking two steps. No one had followed. When he looked ahead again, a shadow making menacing gestures pounced.
Inside the northern cafeteria at Qi'an No. 1 Secondary School, there was hardly a whisper. Students who were about to down their spoonfuls of soup stopped halfway, eyes glued to the big screens.
The servers in the cafeteria also slowed down.
The atmosphere inside the cafeteria turned tense, as if a single string was being plucked repeatedly.
In the video, the lonely silhouette that walked toward the slope was flanked by converging branches that then twisted and tightened into solid arms while its roots assembled into sturdy and powerful legs.
A string melody played that suggested resistance and evasion. Such feelings prevailed like the weather, which was intangible but enveloped the atmosphere.
Two contrasting registers in the melody resembled conflicting forces and emotions. It was as if a heavy cocoon encased the tree man. Every step took tremendous effort.
"Everything is gone.
Where is the light?
Should they obey fate?
What was fate anyway?
Past companions were lost and their homeland abandoned.
The remaining life forms during the end of days mourned and agonized, but they could also fight back and resist.
Lighting flashed through the dark clouds. The wind picked up and the rain grew heavier.
The woodwind score resembled howling winds picking up pace, and the heavier drumbeat mirrored the sound of thunder, suggesting an even stronger storm.
The drums, woodwinds, cello, and electronic elements made for a textured melody. A sliding male vocal played, signaling bold and sacrificial intentions, as if a deeper force was about to be unleashed.
The brown pupils of the lone shadow shrank as it examined the approaching red-brown beast that resembled coagulated blood. The tree man knelt, picked up a rock, and clenched his fist.
A broken, plucked string melody played.
With one giant step, the tree man leaned forward and raised high his arm of bunched branches. The hand that held the rock painted an impressive trajectory that looked like a wildly swung hammer and hurled itself toward the attacker.
A series of heavy drumbeats burst out. A blur appeared. It looked like the shadow attacking with menacing gestures was struck down, but it also looked like something else was smashed.
The tree man panted and watched the neutralized threat.
The pounding of a keyboard seemed to suggest a mental confirmation of sorts. The triumphant melody that emerged lightened the heavy mood.
The tree man finally realized that many problems weren't as scary as he imagined them to be once he had confronted them with bravery. The world would not easily shake.
That was all these threats amounted to.
The sun will set today and rise as usual tomorrow. Even though the skies were smothered with thick smoke, he knew that the sun still existed.
The tree man lifted his foot and stomped on the collapsed beast heavily, thoroughly dashing its chances of a comeback once and for all. He wanted to punish all those sharp claws and gnarly teeth that struck fear in them.
After taking a glance at his fellow tribesmen, he proceeded again, tossing away the rock in his hand, replacing it with a larger stone baton, and lunging toward a second beast. Large strides turned into a quick gait. His sluggish frame became nimble, as if it had shed the heavy cocoon that once encumbered him.
"In a tumultuous world,
You still remain.
The deep male vocal was emboldened by the rhythm of battle. Set against a grand, sweeping symphonic score, this crudest, most natural form of expression touched the heart.
There was no other alternative.
In times like this, someone had to rise to the occasion.
Not cower, not muddle through.
Fight to the death against this absurd and cruel fate.
The remaining life forms in the end of days stood in the abyss, roamed the darkness, and chased the light, always climbing upward.
This quality called belief could be as still as stagnant water and frighteningly kinetic at the same time. It was both mind-blowing and gory.
Against the epic symphonic arrangement blended with electronic music, a fierce, dogged evilness abruptly arose alongside the extreme tension and overwhelming atmosphere.
Music and film were temptations that no one could resist, regardless of the era.
Electronic elements seamlessly folded into the grand symphonic structure and the footage matched the melody. Every viewer and listener felt as if an ice cube had been slipped under their clothing, prompting an impromptu shiver. Yet their hearts were on fire, sizzling like a mean barbecue. It felt as if they had been disintegrated and reassembled.
The silhouette in the video that resembled a person, a convergence of twisted branches, looked like it was bulging with beefy lumps of muscle. Every step he took was accompanied by a heavy drumbeat, making for a pronounced battle cry.
The tree man lost his heavy, cumbersome shadow and turned into a nimble and speedy leopard. He planted one foot emphatically, leaped from the ground, and greeted the approaching silhouette with a swinging whack, delivering a blow even more powerful than his previous.
The passage of time seemed to slow. Blood-tainted fragments from the stone baton sprayed in the rain, creating an explosion of muddy splashes that enveloped the sharp tooth that was dislodged.
The music approximated an explosive force in the winter light. The cheesy melody was replaced by a mixing of electronic music and brass performance that tugged at the heartstrings like a sword removed from its sheath—cold and heavy.
It was the coldness that remained after layers of warmth had been stripped away.
A seemingly out-of-sync choir backed up the spirited male vocals, the unconventional combination bringing greater stimulation to the senses and audio shock. A rich tapestry of instruments was weaved in, the exquisite layering bringing the score to its climax. Every single note was bursting with an unyielding passion for survival.
An escalating piano solo twirled like a tornado and telegraphed howls into the stratosphere, sending the human body shuddering, as if an electric current had zapped through the spine and blown open every pore.
The shadow wielding the stone baton didn't look back because it didn't need to. He had heard the trailing footsteps press forward, stomping all over the bodies of the fallen beasts.
Following his lead, a second pair and then a third pair of feet walked over the two beasts.
The end of days, the 100-year Period of Destruction, was an era that produced an abundance of heroes.
Many people thought that Fang Zhao had randomly picked a species that appeared during the Period of Destruction and built a virtual idol around it with a crafty, epic score.
But Fang Zhao's choice of the Longxiang Tianluo tree man Polar Light actually was a metaphor for people like him who were born during peaceful times but spent most of their lives fighting for survival.
The cruelty of the end of the days lay not in the butchering of lives but in the toll and torture it exacted on people's spirits, the double-whammy of physical and mental pain, in addition to the utter mockery and callous treatment human life received.
Consider the characters from the Period of Destruction widely glorified into heroes in the New Era. If you took away the deification and over-the-top emotions, these were ordinary people on a plain quest to live.
Was it for fame and glory?
Hell no. Back then, they were simply staving off death.
It was the brutal battle for survival that turned them into hardened heroes.
It was heroism necessitated by the times.
That was why Fang Zhao created Polar Light.
In the video, the camera panned wide. The heavy rain continued to pelt. Behind the leader, several silhouettes emerged from the stagnant cluster of trees that trailed him, their branches transforming into fierce fighting poses. They trudged through the mud and followed, treading on the corpses of the slain beasts.
A woodwind score played at a frenzied tempo as the strings section repeated the same note frantically. A gushing melody accompanied the wide shot. The stormy weather harbored a renewed, earth-shattering spirit that was about to erupt.
The footage and music came to a sudden halt, and the end credits appeared:
Lead character: Polar Light
Species: Longxiang Tianluo
Song title: "100-year Period of Destruction," Second Movement: "Cocoon Breach," producer Fang Zhao
Production team: Polar Light project team, Fang Zhao, Zu Wen, Song Miao, Pang Pusong, Zeng Huang, Wan Yue, Fu Yingtian, Stiller, Zhang Yu.
A Silver Wing Media release.
The silent cafeteria resumed its buzz only when the big screens started playing other songs.
"I feel like I can blow up the cafeteria right now."
"I don't know why, but for some reason, I suddenly feel a weird sense of purpose."
"Server, two more bows of rice please. I'm going to battle after I have a square meal." There were three more exams left that day.
"Coming right up!" The servers doling out rice in the cafeteria worked their serving spoons with what seemed like energized strokes. Students who were just arriving at the cafeteria did a double take on the students who were leaving in a hurry.
"What's up with them?" a new arrival asked his companion. There was a killer vibe going around.
"Maybe they just took part in a mass pledge for their midterms."
"A mass pledge in the cafeteria?"
"It's probably just second-year students They're always neurotic like that. Just ignore them."
"That's not right. I just saw a fifth-year."
The strange atmosphere puzzled the late arrivals. What had happened in the cafeteria before they arrived?