The young model continued to shriek as she was forcefully dragged to the middle of the square. Heavy metal music started playing as a holographic arrow fell from the sky, landing on the square tile located on the left of the model.
‘This really is a dancing machine..’ Li Yiming looked at the arrow as it vanished into the ground before shifting his worried look toward the girl at the center of the stage, who was paralyzed by fear.
“That silver pillar is counting the score…” Fang Shui’er mumbled. Li Yiming noticed a crimson mark at the base of the pillar.
As another arrow vanished into the ground, the red mark flashed.
Li Yiming found the game to be quite lenient due to the ample time given to the performer to react to the next arrow. However, the girl did nothing but cry in terror. As the arrows fell into the ground one by one, the flashing of the red mark became more and more rapid.
“AHHH!!!” A howl of horror split the crowd into two halves. Li Yiming turned back, only to find a stone statue of a man in a suit who stared back at him confusingly.
‘Petrification…’ Bai Ze explained.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you… this is a team game. If she doesn’t perform, you’ll be punished as well. Now, little girl, you should put more effort into this. Of course, if someone wants to replace her…” The man who sat on the sofa said. Observing the reaction of the panicked crowd was his greatest enjoyment so far.
“One person everyone fifteen seconds…” Fang Shui’er kept her composure and observed. Her talent being sealed did not take away her basic abilities as a guardian.
Panic spread through the crowd, and everyone scattered as far away as they could from the statue, but refrained from diving into the absolute darkness which surrounded the stage. The giant arrows continued falling from the sky, and the intensity of the bloody red mark grew more and more.
Another screech and the crowd further dispersed.
“Two people…” Li Yiming frowned as he looked at the pulsating red light on the silver pillar.
“One the first time, and two this time. In fifteen seconds, there’ll probably be three. It won’t take very long before everyone here…” Fang Shui’er said.
“It’s probably worse than that…” Li Yiming had a bad premonition.
The crowd scattered frantically once more as if to prove Li Yiming’s conjecture. To his frustration, Li Yiming’s foreboding turned out to be correct — four people had been petrified, meaning that the number of people increased exponentially rather than incrementally.
‘I can’t wait any longer.’ Li Yiming leaped onto the stage, pushing the still sobbing girl to the side and catching an arrow just in time. He knew that the chances of himself being petrified increased vastly the longer he waited, and he had no intentions of risking it.
The moment the arrow and Li Yiming’s feet touched the ground, a particularly sonorous beat came from the background music. Li Yiming knew that the game was not so different from the one he had played many times before and quickly moved to catch the second arrow in time.
The girl whom Li Yiming replaced seemed to have recovered from her incapacitating terror the moment she was pushed out of the dancing grid and immediately crawled back on all fours towards the crowd.
Li Yiming observed the giant holographic arrows and realized that they would always be facing him perfectly, no matter how he looked at them. ‘Wow… three-dimensional…’
Li Yiming adjusted his position with ease as the arrows rained down one by one. With every single one of them, the red portion on the pillar increased by a sliver.
‘Well, this isn’t too hard…’ Just as Li Yiming was estimating how long it would take for the silver pillar to fill up completely, the music changed pace, and the number of arrows increased drastically.
‘It’s getting harder…’ Li Yiming could not adjust in time and let a few arrows slip by, and the red bar fell down by almost half.
‘So it became harder at around ten percent…’ Li Yiming quickly adjusted himself to the new rhythm. He looked back and was relieved by the fact that there were no new victims to the petrification spell.
As Li Yiming continued dancing, he paid close attention to the red progress bar. As he expected, the rhythm of the arrows, as well as the background music changed completely once the bar reached twenty percent. The heavy metal music changed into a folkloric song. Li Yiming, owing to his many years of training and his augmented dexterity, adapted to the new music seamlessly.
“Nice!” A man from below the stage suddenly began clapping energetically, as if he was a loyal fan of Li Yiming’s at a concert. Although Li Yiming was far too occupied to mind his cheer, it did serve the purpose of restoring spirit to the crowd, most of whom stopped shaking in fear and directed their attention toward Li Yiming.
Li Yiming danced with an unhurried pace. His hair fluttered around as the giant holographic arrows vanished at his feet one by one. The music switched again at thirty percent, going from a fast pace to a slow one. However, the number of arrows increased drastically, and a new kind of symbol appeared: long lines of different length.
The appearance of the new symbol froze Li Yiming in place, resulting in the red progress bar collapsing down at a monumental speed. ‘Crap… Am I supposed to use my hands?’
Li Yiming adjusted his pace and tried to touch the lines in midair with his fingers. As he thought, as soon as he made contact with the lines, the dissonant sounds stopped and the red bar stopped falling.
A sigh of relief was heard from the crowd. Although most of them were still completely dumbfounded by the circumstances they have found themselves in, they still thought of Li Yiming as one of the last remaining hopes they could cling to.
With the addition of the hands, the game became vastly more difficult, but that did not stop Li Yiming from performing even better than before. Sometimes, he would even add a few unnecessary gestures to make his movements seem smoother between catching the avalanche of arrows which fell from the sky.
As Li Yiming became more and more invested in his performance, the sound of applause from below the stage also intensified. From time to time, someone would even whistle loudly, just like a die-hard fan would do at a live concert.
The instruments used in the background music changed again and again. Although it seemed like a masterpiece that would undoubtedly top the charts, Li Yiming still found it very off to have to dance to such slow-paced, classical-themed music. ‘If I did this in an arcade, people would probably think that I’m crazy…’
Li Yiming’s emotions did not affect his performance, and he soon regained the inspiration that he had lost since his performance at the college entrance examinations.
Li Yiming entered an entranced state in which every movement of the limb, be it a slow throw of the arm, a raising of the leg, or a twisting of the entire body was synchronized with the music. Li Yiming closed his eyes and found himself knowing where he should position his feet and hands to capture all of the arrows. In fact, he found himself more in control than ever, despite depriving himself of his sight.
Even the crowd was completely absorbed in Li Yiming’s performance. It was inconceivable for such a dance blending masculinity with suppleness and emotion with technical prowess to even exist. Li Yiming himself knew more than anyone that he was simply following the arrows as they fell one by one.
A low drum noise was suddenly heard. Li Yiming extended forward with both of his hands and stayed still, waiting for the next gong sound with closed eyes.
Li Yiming could tell that it did not come from a bass drum, but rather from a traditional instrument.
The drum noises came again, and instead of more holographic arrows, flashes of light rippled through the grid beneath Li Yiming’s feet. The grid quickly increased in size, going from nine to sixteen, twenty-five, thirty-six, eighty-one… It soon became a giant floor of dimly lit green tiles.
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