Chapter 175: Shocks and Curtain Calls
Nearly every eye in the auditorium was wet with tears after the display. The need to speak with and comfort Poseidon was only just kept in check.
The king of ocean sang his laments as the fish swirled around him. Then, as the audience watched, a single small orange fish separated itself from the others.
Poseidon stared at it, stunned. A few moments passed, and that paralyzing shock wore off, replaced with an expression of pleasant surprise. The thick and pained quality of his songs changed with the fish’s arrival, more joyous.
He reached out a finger, and the area around it light up with a pale blue hue, like he’d turned on a light. It spread, expanded, until the orb of light surrounded the tiny orange fish.
What followed was strange. Within the nutritive cover of the orb, as the concert-goers watched, the little orange fish within began to change. In no time the orb was filled; not with fish, but a small mermaid which looked as though she were just waking up.
She blinked sleepily at the audience, then turned her attention to Poseidon. She called out in surprise and excitement before draping her tiny arms around his neck. Her excited singing was bursting with joy.
No one knew who started it, but waves of uproarious applause spontaneously erupted through the auditorium. It was like thunder, or the crashing of waves against the shore.
Everyone was clapping furiously. Tan Lingyun, Zhou Qianlin. Even Lan Jue was fervently applauding his friend’s performance.
At some point Chu Cheng had returned to his seat. He, too, was busily clapping. A wide, excited smile was plastered on his handsome face. Then the curtain dropped.
‘Successful’ was an understatement: Poseidon’s performance was remarkable, like a bolt of lightning directly to the heart of every audience member. They watched as though they were there, a part of this magical undersea world.
Two hours passed in the space of a blink, with Poseidon never once breaking character to address the crowds. He didn’t need to. The show and its remarkable execution said everything that was needed.
The Sounds of Nature. Everyone knew the name, but now they felt it. It lived within them, after witnessing Poseidon bring it to life. The applause continued for a full ten minutes without pause.
By this point the harnesses that had kept them in place had released. Pockets of the audience stood, and before long the entire arena roared from the standing ovation. Their hands were red from the clapping, but no one seemed to mind. What they witnessed had touched them deeply – watching Poseidon’s range of emotions and the magic of the story, it was all burned in to their memory forever.
The curtain spread wide. The crystal wall and sea water were gone. The palace, however, remained, along with the other decorations of his undersea realm.
Poseidon appeared on stage, walking slowly to the center. He held the little mermaid in his arms.
As the lights brightened, it revealed a host of guards who’d quietly entered the arena at some point during the show and positioned themselves at the bottom of the stage for protection.
Hua Li bowed slightly to the crowd, a smile soft and warm on his face. His magnetic, moving voice was heard once more. “Thank you,” he called to them.
The crowd reacted with calls of their own, all blending together so that the only thing that could be heard was the deafening roar of his fans. Both Hua Li and the mermaid lifted their arms and waved. Bathed in light, surrounded by adoring fans, in glittering sapphire armor… he really did look like a king.
He lifted his hand, entreating silence. After a moment the excited throng quieted down. By now he could rely on his own requests to keep the audience’s emotions in check.
“I’d like to thank every one of you for coming today. This is also my first time performing in an institution of higher learning. It has been my great honor to meet all of you, and to share my latest music with such amazing fans. On each of your seats should be a copy of Sounds of Nature, inscribed in holographic form for your enjoyment. Give it a watch when you head back to your rooms. It’s got a different feel than the concert. You’ll see.”
“Recently I was made aware of the terrible tragedy that occurred on Taihua. I was filled with a terrible sadness, for the comrades we have lost, the lives cut short. And so we decided to donate all of the proceeds earned today to Taihua. We’re also giving twenty percent of the sales for every copy of Sounds of Nature to the families of the victims. Our hope is that this might, in some small way, help alleviate their pain.”
Once more, a round of applause met his words. This time it was the luminaries and school department heads that lead the expression.
Among them was Wu Junyi. At his elbow was an elderly gentleman who looked to be in his sixties or seventies. He was a congenial looking man, with grey hair and a warm smile. The old man’s other side was occupied by Director Shi from Lir University.
The competing director looked exceedingly jealous as he stared at the stage. As a school director himself, he clearly understood what this concert would do for the NEU’s reputation. Beyond all question, this school would have the advantage when it came to enrolling desirable students for next semester.
After a long while, the applause subsided. Hua Li smiled and continued. “In reality, the fact that I’m in Skyfire – here with you – was all up to coincidence. I actually came to spend time with a good friend of mine. He brought me here. Obviously he doesn’t want me to embarrass him or influence his standing here, so I can’t say who it is. But I do have something to say to him, and that is: It’s been many long years since I’ve stepped foot on a school campus, and coming here to the NEU has brought back all of those relaxed and excited dreams and hopes of my youth. Countless cherished memories bubbling back up to the surface. Now, I do like to think I’m not quite that old yet, but looking out over this sea of bright young faces fills me with a profound envy. Make sure you take time to appreciate this magical time in your lives. College life is a beautiful and important chapter in your story. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank another friend of mine who came today for a cameo appearance. It’s my sincerest hope that, if you should run in to him around campus, that you try your best to look past his scandalous exterior.”
Immediately following his words, a loud guffaw burst from the front row. Chu Cheng brazenly displayed his middle finger to the stage.
Tan Lingyun turned to look at her neighbor. “You were that fire Adept?”
Chu Cheng shook his head, his face a mask of apathy. “No no, miss. I’m the mighty fire Adept.”
“Pfft!” Tan Lingyun snorted disdainfully at his response. “Is it acceptable to call oneself mighty?”
Chu Cheng looked at her then, his eyes a roiling crimson as the fires burned within him. “Well miss, you can find out for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
Immediately Tan Lingyun’s eyes lit up with the promise of violence. “Fine. When?”
“A guest must yield to the convenience of the host,” Chu Cheng said with a gentlemanly air.
Tan Lingyun opened her mouth to continue the banter, but stopped as though a thought had occurred to her. When she spoke again, her voice was only just loud enough for him to hear. “Give me your com number. When I’ve finished with my business over the next couple of days, I’ll call you.” 1
Chu Cheng’s lips curled in to a wolfish grin. And remained that way as he gave her his number. He was secretly pleased with the result; as he anticipated, this was a special woman – special tactics were required. Certainly a good start.
With Hua Li’s thanks and farewells concluded, the curtain closed once again. He vanished behind them with his entourage of security personnel. He still had a series of media events to get through before his job was complete tonight. He certainly still had his work cut out for him.
Under the direction of the Poseidon group’s staff, the teachers and students made a well-organized exit. It was then that Xiao Han stirred from his forced nap.
He shook his head forcefully, like a man who’d been struck. His vision, still blurry from sleep, swept the auditorium as everyone was filing out – much to his surprise. What the hell, he thought. How could I sleep through this?
The people on either side of him had gone already. He didn’t even know how he got to this seat, all there was the faintest memory of someone putting their hand on his shoulder. There was half a moment when he felt numb, then… nothing.
Was it that girl, Zhou Qianlin? No, that couldn’t it. She’d been sitting next to him when it happened. So who the hell was it? How did they even do it?
He abruptly shot to his feet, glaring in every which direction in the desperate hope he could discover the culprit. At last his eyes fell upon Zhou Qianlin near the auditorium entrance, together with a tall and thin man. He lurched ahead to give chase, but the crowds were too thick. A moment later and he’d lost them again.
As they left the arena, it wasn’t just Lan Jue who felt like he was returning from a fantasy world. Zhou Qianlin heaved a heavy sigh. “It really was an amazing concert.”
“Qianlin! Qianlin!” No sooner had the words escaped her lips than she heard her name called. She turned to see Tang Mi trotting toward her. She was practically hopping with excitement by the time she caught up. “That was amazing! Really incredible. Poseidon’s so handsome! I think I might be obsessed with him. His voice is just so beautiful. Here feel, my heart’s racing! I think I’m dying.”
She took Qianlin’s hand and pressed it to her plump chest.
Qianlin allowed herself to be man-handled. Helplessly she addressed her friend. “Tang Mi, relax. Aren’t you always telling me Zeus is your idol? Suddenly now it’s Poseidon?” She shot a covert glance at Lan Jue, standing at her side.
“It’s not the same!” Tang Mi whined. “Zeus is my idol, but I’ve never actually met him. But Poseidon we’ve seen with our own eyes! They said Poseidon’s a powerful adept himself, and a God-ranked mecha pilot to boot. Good friends of Zeus’ too. Have you heard of the Four Divine Monarchs? Poseidon and Zeus are both members. If I get in with Poseidon, he’ll introduce me to Zeus. Ahh, if only they had some sort of harem I could join 2 that would be incredible.”
“Ka, ah, hack! Mm!” Lan Jue nearly choked on his own saliva. This girl had no shame! Where all girls like this these days?
“Professor.” A tiny voice entreated Lan Jue’s attention from behind him. He turned to look for the source, and discovered Tang Xiao’s pudgy face looking back at him excitedly from a distance. He walked over.
He shuffled his expansive girth closer, and whispered in to Lan Jue’s ear. “Uncle was pretty great. I didn’t expect such a sissy voice to be so nice. He beat me so bad I’m still hurting, but I think I can forgive him.”
Lan Jue looked down at him with an admonishing frown. “Guess you never know till you try. Aren’t you afraid he’ll show up right behind you, while talking this nonsense?”
Tang Xiao chuckled flippantly. “How could he? He’s got to be very busy right now. By the way I don’t have any classes this afternoon, Professor, but I still have the tactical training they’re requiring for the competition. But anyway, I’ll see you later!”
With that said, Tang Xiao turned and wobbled away.