Unfortunately, the other trainees evidently did not share her sentiments.
Over the next few days, the filming did not go as smoothly as planned. Not only was Wei Shaoyin’s schedule tight and demanding, but he was also hypercritical — nitpicking at every minor detail of their movements and facial expressions — that a short three-second scene took them various takes to complete.
By the time they wrapped up each day, everybody was exhausted.
In the lounge, Lu Tao lay on the floor half-dead from exhaustion, but he was still in a good mood to talk to Xia Ling. “Hey, I’ve noticed that in the past few days almost everyone was called out by the unreasonably demanding Wei Shaoyin, but only you haven’t been called out for any NG and retakes. What’s your secret? Quick, share it with me. Otherwise, if this goes on, I will be tormented to death by Unreasonable Wei.”
These few days, every single trainee had witnessed and experienced Wei Shaoyin’s nitpicking, thus Unreasonable Wei had become his second name. Xia Ling looked at all the trainees lying on the ground in all sorts of positions and couldn’t help but let out a little smile.
However, she really did not have any secret. The choreography for their current project was not all that difficult. To her, it was just the basics that were basically second nature to her. Something that’s almost like an instinct… does it require any secret to achieve it?
She thought for a bit, and then said, “Practise well and let it become instinct.”
Lu Tao let out a cry and stopped moving altogether.
Under Wei Shaoyin’s reign, a good part of the month had gone by just like that. They were finally on the last lap of the project.
When he announced that all the trainees could take a few days’ break, everybody went into a state of euphoria. Sadly, having been drained by the intensiveness of the past few weeks, even somebody as fit and energetic as Lu Tao — a street dancer — had chosen to spend his first rest day catching up on sleep.
Having been held captive by Pei Ziheng for more than a year, she had a certain discomfort with all the bedrooms and spent as little time as she could in them. So, on a day like this where the weather was so warm and cheery, she put on an off-white dress, a thin cardigan, and then went out alone for a leisurely stroll.
The forest was quiet and tranquil, and the beautiful scenery was an even rarer sight. It’s no wonder Wei Shaoyin picked it for the set.
However, what took Xia Ling by surprise was that Skyart Entertainment’s big boss, Li Lei, agreed to that request. In her previous life, she had been around Pei Ziheng long enough to know what these big shots were like. A private estate like this with mountain villas and resorts for distinguished guests was already exclusive as it was, but using it as a set for filming and shooting was all the more an almost impossible task.
And yet, Wei Shaoyin had been given the green light.
Was this because he was truly capable, or was it because Boss Li was being unconventional?
Could this be a big reason why Skyart Entertainment could develop and expand so quickly — because the quality of their productions was of utmost priority?
She thought about it as she walked, and before she knew it, she had walked pretty deep in the forest.
The temperature had dropped, and it was getting shadier and cooler. The woods had obscured the sun, and the forest was unusually quiet.
Xia Ling slowed her steps.
Surveying her surroundings, she realized she couldn’t see the trail she left nor any person in sight.
Right then, a weird sticky substance landed on her face.
Xia Ling reached out to touched it — it was red and had a hint of warmth. It reeked of blood.
Her heart started pounding uncontrollably. When she looked up, what she saw was a bloody corpse hanging on the branches. It must’ve been gnawed on by a wild animal — it was missing a leg, its abdomen had been ripped open, and its insides were a gruesome mess, flowing out in bits and pieces, coursing towards its now unrecognizable face.
One of its eyes was hanging mid-air, the gaping eye socket right in her direction.
She might have heard herself let out a scream. Everything before her became a blur as something leaped from above and sped past the trees. Before she could react to it, her legs had given way and the world would not stop spinning.
The burning pain in her back made her realize that she’d been knocked to the ground, and a creature was breathing down on her, blood splattering on her face between every breath it took. Xia Ling opened her eyes and was horrified to see that what was just inches away from her face… was a leopard.
A leopard with a ferocious glare and a body dripping with blood.
At this point, its strong front legs were pressing down on Xia Ling’s shoulders, its immense weight pinning her to the ground. It arched its back slightly, bent forward, and with its mouth open, headed right for her throat.
In that split second, Xia Ling was sure that she was doomed. She had only just come back to life, who knew that she would lose it in the jaws of a leopard this soon. How strange it was to die this way. But she was not resigned to it. She had only just regained her freedom, how could she die just like that?
The next thing she knew, she had only felt a stabbing pain in her shoulder, like she just got clawed.
Paralyzed, Xia Ling could only watch as it opened its bloody mouth, and as it drew closer, she closed her eyes and waited for it to happen.
In that flash of a moment, a man’s voice could be heard calling out. “Er Mao.”
It wasn’t a loud sound, but to Xia Ling, it meant the world as it seemed to echo endlessly. The leopard then suddenly stopped.
Its shiny white teeth inched away from her throat, but its cold glare was fixated on her. The massive weight was still resting on her and, feeling its front claws stabbing into her wound, she let out a small cry.
The leopard growled and threateningly swung its tail.
Xia Ling felt her body go stiff, unable to make a sound.
A distance away, she could hear the man again, his voice a little sluggish. “Sorry, Er Mao isn’t in a good mood today, and you happen to have entered his territory.”
Oh, so this leopard had an owner, and its name is Er Mao?
It lowered its head and looked intently at her… as if it was food that lay before him. It was so close to Xia Ling’s face she could even see some human remains around its mouth.
She recalled the corpse hanging on the tree a while ago, feeling her insides churn.
The man did not sound a bit bothered as he asked, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
He did not tell Er Mao to get off her, thus it was still weighing down on her. With only her cardigan between Er Mao and her, she could feel his large, looming presence and the rise of his chest with every inhalation. The sound it made seemed like a growl of aggression, and also a growl of annoyance. She was sure that if it sensed any disobedience from her at all, all that was waiting for her would be her doom.
Yet she couldn’t bring herself to speak.
The trauma had robbed her of her speaking ability. Even with her mouth open, she could not make a sound.
The man waited for a while before light-heartedly saying, “Er Mao, you’re scaring our guest.”
He ordered it to let go of her, and the creature obeyed. As Xia Ling felt the weight lift off her, she was free again.
Her body was now covered in human blood, and there were scattered bits of human flesh. The smell of blood and decay gushed towards her as she rolled over and got up. She wasn’t sure if it was the fear or the smell, but she was holding onto a tree and retching.
She hadn’t eaten anything before going out. The retching was draining her, and all that came out was bile.
Her gut was churning and in pain, her hand pressing against her stomach as she bent over to catch her breath.
The man’s voice was heard again. “Er Mao doesn’t usually eat people, you don’t have to be this frightened.”
Usually? Doesn’t eat people?
Then what was it that she saw?
Xia Ling tried not to think about the corpse hanging off the tree as she tried to calm herself down. It was then that she was able to look up and turn towards where the sound came from.