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Duan Qianji had not been in a great mood originally. Polar Light had lost the online poll and a whole host of sarcastic comments had followed. Even though she had gone through the same routine countless times before and was mentally prepared, she was still disappointed. After all, it was the first time Silver Wing had successfully launched a virtual idol. Maybe she had set her expectations too high because they had gotten off to such a great start.

Then again, even though they lost, they didn't lose by a big margin. And it was still far from clear who Fiery Bird would pick in the end.

As her train of thought made this twist, Duan Qianji started looking forward to Fang Zhao's progress on the Fiery Bird score. Just as she was pondering the matter, she got a call. It was her assistant.

"What? We've been picked? So soon?" Duan Qianji listened to her assistant's briefing in disbelief. Fang Zhao had just submitted his data card yesterday and now Fiery Bird had made up their mind?

This was the score for the new game's opening animation. Eighteen other masters had been invited to submit scores.

How come they had decided so soon?

If she hadn't vetted Fang Zhao, Duan Qianji would have wondered if Fang Zhao was in cahoots with Fiery Bird. Otherwise, how come they had decided on the score so quickly?

Duan Qianji was thinking Fiery Bird's sound effects team would have to convene a meeting to sift through the submissions and take a vote. The whole process would take two or three days at least.

But the fact of the matter was that Fiery Bird had decided yesterday. The reason they had waited until today to make contact was because they were still debating how to compensate Fang Zhao.

Fiery Bird's custom was to invite submissions from composers and then offer a price based on the final submissions. Even pieces that ultimately weren't placed would be evaluated and paid for. This was a practice that industry insiders were familiar with and didn't take issue with.

"What are they offering?" As a businesswoman, this was Duan Qianji's foremost concern.

Fang Zhao was signed to Silver Wing, but after the completion of the four movements of the "Period of Destruction" series, he had signed a new contract. The deal gave Fang Zhao a certain degree of freedom. It was a quasi-partnership. He could take jobs on his own other than his assignments from Silver Wing, but he had to notify the company. He was also banned from defecting to another label before the end of his contract.

Compared to other composers, these were already exceptional terms. This was an act of generosity on Duan Qianji's part. She cherished the fact that she had landed someone who could carry a virtual project, someone talented enough to rival the entire Flying Pegasus cooperative. Duan Qianji had moved on the new contract quickly after consulting Fang Zhao, but it was never made public, listed only as an A-grade contract in the label's internal database.

As for Fiery Bird's assignment, this was a collaboration between the game studio and Fang Zhao, not between the studio and Silver Wing. In this case, Silver Wing was riding on Fang Zhao's coattails, so regardless of how much Fiery Bird offered, the sum would be pocketed by Fang Zhao entirely. But now, Silver Wing's fate was intertwined with Fang Zhao's. The better his work, the higher his pricing, the better prospects for Silver Wing.

But Duan Qianji wore a puzzled expression after hearing her assistant's response. "That's what they said? OK, got it."

After ending the call, she instructed her driver, "When we reach the office, head to the 50th floor, not the top floor."

When she arrived, the entire virtual projects department stood in attention.

The big boss was dropping by. Of course they had to be on hand to welcome her.

Zu Wen was a little nervous. He was afraid of Duan Qianji. Even though he had been to the top floor with Fang Zhao quite a few times and was less nervous now, he was still tense.

The others didn't fare much better. Thinking back to the Polar Light interview they had completed a while back, they didn't remember any big hiccups. The technical aspects and director had been confirmed well in advance. Pang Pusong's dubbing had gone smoothly. He had delivered his lines according to the script. There shouldn't be any issues. Why was the big boss visiting now? Surprise inspection?

Even though Duan Qianji wore a faint smile, she still projected a serious aura. The 50th floor went silent and everyone became extra cautious.

The only calm person was Fang Zhao, who arrived even later than the big boss.

Fang Zhao had rushed back from home after getting word from Duan Qianji. He ended up being slower than his boss.

"You're here." Duan Qianji's smile deepened. "I have some news. Your score has been picked by the Fiery Bird sound effects department."

The only people present were the core members of the Polar Light project team. Their discretion could be counted on and they could use the morale boost. That was why Duan Qianji didn't bother keeping the news a secret, although she didn't specify where Fang Zhao's score would be used. She didn't have to elaborate. Fang Zhao knew what she was talking about.

Fang Zhao was happy to find out that his work had been chosen by Fiery Bird, but he wasn't overemotional. He merely smiled and waited for Duan Qianji to continue. She wouldn't have come to the 50th floor in person just to share that piece of news.

Duan Qianji observed Fang Zhao's facial expression. She was impressed that he could maintain his composure.

"The head of Fiery Bird's sound effects team, Hua Li, has approached us with an offer. As you would probably expect, they will definitely pay more for the chosen piece than the other submissions, but they haven't offered an exact price yet. They want to give you a choice." Duan Qianji paused before continuing, "Do you want to get paid in cash or receive Fiery Bird's once-in-a-decade limited edition gaming console instead?"

For most of the people present, this was a no-brainer.

Who would go for the gaming console?

Most people would choose the former without hesitation. If the pay was meager, that would be cause for consideration, but the amount was no doubt generous. That Leizhou film studio had spent 10 million to license one movement exclusively for a month. Fiery Bird wouldn't be cheap. After all, everyone knew that Fiery Bird was loaded.

But after Duan Qianji asked the question, Zu Wen and the other tech geeks, whose ears were perked, looked conflicted. Even though this had nothing to do with them, they still wondered how they would choose. 

Such a tough call.


Of course, regular joes like them liked cash even though they were already getting paid handsomely with the success of the Polar Light project and the rise of the virtual projects department. Who would turn down more cash? But the other choice was a Fiery Bird console. It was the latest once-in-a-decade release, a limited edition console. Who knows how many of them Fiery Bird would make. It couldn't be more than a handful.

Word had already traveled in tech geek circles that Fiery Bird's new console would be significantly more advanced than their last console. It was rumored the console was developed in conjunction with army technicians. Tons of folks had been dying to get their hands on one. Zu Wen had never thought something like this would happen to someone he knew.

A real tough one. Such a tough call.

How would I choose?

But before Zu Wen and company became consumed in mock indecision, Fang Zhao had already given his answer.

"I want the console."

Duan Qianji's expression was one of resignation when she heard the answer. She felt she had fallen behind the times. It was hard for her to figure out what was going on in the minds of these youngsters. 

While he had still been working on the "Period of Destruction" series, Fang Zhao had applied for gaming equipment. During quite a few of Duan Qianji's previous visits, Fang Zhao had been gaming in the department's dedicated gaming room when she arrived. When she had heard Fiery Bird's offer from her assistant, she had a hunch that Fang Zhao would make the unconventional choice. 

"You're positive?" Duan Qianji asked.


"Then send a message to You Chuan. They're waiting to hear from you."

The person who had reached out to Duan Qianji had been Hua Li, the head of Fiery Bird's sound effects team. Why hadn't Fiery Bird contacted Fang Zhao directly? Because Fang Zhao was napping at home and had set his bracelet to alert him to calls from VIPs only. You Chuan was not listed as a VIP, so his call went unannounced and unanswered.

Duan Qianji left after chatting with Fang Zhao a bit more.

"Boss, a Fiery Bird console!" Zu Wen's eyes burned with envy. "When is it arriving? Can I touch it? Can I take a picture with it? I want to show off."

"The limited edition consoles are the most advanced consoles. It's hard to put a price tag on them. Boss, I think you made the right call. Even if you suffer financially, you'll be rewarded spiritually," said an equally jealous Rodney. 

Fang Zhao sent You Chuan a message. You Chuan immediately responded, "The console will arrive between late August and early September. The exact timing still has to be confirmed. The console is still being tested. We'll give you a heads up before we send it out. You've made the right choice. You'll make a decent profit if you resell it."

In reality, Fang Zhao wasn't as conflicted as others thought he might be. For someone who had survived the apocalypse like him, money wasn't a big deal as long as he had enough to cover his expenses. Of course, no one would mind making more money, but in contrast, Fang Zhao was more curious about a gaming console from the New Era. He liked to try out new things in the New Era. Plus, he was also looking forward to "Battle of the Century." The right hardware was a must. He could only enjoy the game if he had the proper console.

That afternoon, Silver Wing announced that Fang Zhao's score had been picked by Fiery Bird, but again, the statement didn't mention where the score would be placed. Still, the news itself was enough to dispel some skeptics.

"He was really chosen?"

"Who knows? We only have Silver Wing's word for it. No one can back up their story."

"Are we sure this isn't a charade staged by Silver Wing?"

"I don't think they would stoop so low as to lie, but there will be so many scores in the game. Fang Zhao may have written some token sound effect that doesn't feature prominently in the game."

"Who cares? It's just another composer, not an A-list celebrity."

To respond to the noise, Silver Wing released an additional video. It was an excerpt from an interview with a few key members of Fiery Bird's production team. Silver Wing had isolated a comment from Hua Li, the head of Fiery Bird's sound effects team.

Hua Li said the sound effects for the game had been more or less completed. He also thanked the composers that worked on the scores and mentioned Fang Zhao by name.

"Fang Zhao is composer full of surprises. We look forward to working with him again."

The fact that Hua Li identified Fang Zhao as a composer suggested Hua Li held him in high esteem. It was confirmation of Fang Zhao's talent.

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