“James, you good?”
“He’s not good. He looks like he’s half dead. We should leave him be. Mr. Vassily won’t give a fuck about him sleeping anyways. He’s got like a 99 or something in his class.”
James’ friends Jack and Mo looked at him as he put his head on his arms and closed his eyes, motionless. After spending the night frantically killing zombies, James was quite tired, mentally speaking. His body was completely fine. More accurately, it was better than it had ever been. But the mental fatigue that James built up was the real problem - since James was never really asleep, he’d never been able to rest his mind.
The sleep that James got was perhaps the best sleep he’d ever gotten. However, he was prodded awake as the hour-long class came to an end. He got up groggily, and shuffled into the next classroom, where he promptly laid down.
Normally, he’d be worried about his teacher yelling at him for sleeping in class. However, this class was his chemistry class where they were currently having work time for a project. James was already finished, and thus he didn’t think.
Unfortunately, he was woken up, his teacher yelled at him, and he was forced to pretend to work.
After James passed a few more periods in a stupor, lunchtime arrived. While Leah, Jack, and Mo bantered back and forth over their meals, James promptly crashed on the table. He was really tired, unusually so. He’d slept for a good 2 hours in class today, yet didn’t feel any better. He began to wonder if this was really the result of his work last night.
However, instead of drifting off to sleep, James found himself in the black space. He was in the dungeon.
In the back of his mind, he wondered why he would enter the dungeon instead of falling asleep. However, he was too tired to contemplate such subjects.
“Oh well,” James yawned. “I might as well spend some time here, since I have an hour for lunch.”
Time flowed the same in and out of the dungeon.
He walked into the dungeon shop. Since it was almost 10 in the morning, few people from the Western half of the globe were sleeping. Rather, most of the explorers currently in the dungeon were from China, Russia, and the countries in the surrounding area, where it was currently close to midnight.
“James!” A young idol called out to him in Mandarin. This was Zhang Li, the 21 year old Chinese superstar James had been acquainted with. If there were teenage girls anywhere in the vicinity, they would have been screaming. James sat at the table with him.
“You look tired. Are you alright?”
“I am really tired for some reason.” James stifled another yawn. “It’s fine though. Don’t you deal with things like this everyday? You got shows and stuff.”
Zhang Li laughed a bit bitterly. “Yeah. I mean, this is what I wanted to do, but now that I’m here, it's a lot more effort. The thing is, the trade off is usually a busy schedule for a ton of money. But, with the dungeon, I could just retire.”
“I’m tired because I spent too much time in the dungeon, but what about, what about...ahh-hhaa.” James yawned again. “What about you? You don’t look so good either.”
James saw that Zhang Li was also slightly more lethargic than usual. His face was slightly redder, and his reactions seemed to be slower.
“I can’t write this album fast enough.”
“Ah. Don’t you have a manager that can hook you up to a writer? Or even without it, you can find a writer.”
“Well, they wanted to put one on me, but I like my freedom. I like to perform and write my own music. But I promised my fans an album, and I’m starting to regret my rash statements.”
James nodded. Like Zhang Li had said previously, he wasn’t doing this for money. It was because he enjoyed writing music and performing. Or maybe he enjoyed the attention of thousands of women. They were mostly underage teenagers though…
“Well, I feel you, but you shouldn’t be asking me,” said James. “You don’t want me writing your music. You’d lose all your fans.”
“Haha! True. All my fans would go to you.”
“Yeah,” said James. “Wait what? No, I responded without thinking.”
Zhang Li laughed heartily. “You want to try?” Zhang Li brought out his phone and snapped a selfie of him and James.
“Wait, what are you doing?”
“This is going to be the album cover,” said Zhang Li.
“Yes. You, sir are going to write a song, a collaboration between you and I?”
“If you don’t, then I’ll tell my fans to mob you.”
James shivered. He couldn’t tell if Zhang Li was joking or not. Why did he have to end up in such a mess? Why were all the dungeon explorers crazy?
Actually, if James thought about it, if you gave a bunch of people magic and practically unlimited money, they would definitely go batshit. Honestly, his senior explorers were quite tame.
Wait! James was not about to fall for this trap! He grabbed the glass next to Zhang Li and sniffed the contents - he smelled alcohol.
“You’re drunk, aren’t you?” James had thought that Zhang Li’s slightly ruddy face was a sign of fatigue, not intoxication.
“I am. But I am also dead serious. You are going to write a song for me.”
James stared at him. “How many fans do you have?”
“Umm...in the millions? I think.”
James moved the glass of clear alcohol away from Zhang Li, but Zhang Li simply pulled out a sizable bottle and started drinking straight from the bottle.
“You can’t escape, James,” said Zhang Li, who was swaying a bit. “Next time I meet you better have that song written. Anyways, I’m gonna post this image.” He waved his phone around.
“Wait, what? No!”
It was too late. Zhang Li had already left the dungeon.
James sat there, contemplating existence. Maybe it was because he was tired, but his brain couldn’t process what had just happened. He only knew something bad had happened.
He closed his eyes and fell asleep at the table in the dungeon. Maybe it was all a bad dream.
If he’d been less tired, James would have wondered about what had happened when he fell asleep in the dungeon. After all, if sleeping was the way to get into the dungeon, would sleeping in the dungeon get you into the dungeon?
Apparently not. Although he fell asleep in the dungeon shop, when he woke up again, James was in the school cafeteria, not the dungeon shop.
“Bruh, he’s actually dead,” said Jack, who was moving James’ head back and forth with his finger.
James made a garbled noise with his throat in response.
Since Jack and Mo had separate classes in the afternoon, it was Leah who dragged him to the rest of his classes. Finally, school was over
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said James. “I did do a lot of stuff in the dungeon yesterday, but it shouldn’t have been this bad, right? I mean, even if I was tired, I’ve gotten some sleep. I don’t know what’s going on.”
James yawned once more. He closed his eyes and leaned against a tree
“Hmm. James, this is interesting.”
“Your photo with Zhang Li is trending online. Apparently you will release a song with him.”
“...you’re shitting me.”
Leah showed him the social media post and smiled. “Zhang Li, he’s popular in Korea too, did you know? When did this happen?”
“Just now. He was drunk and I was too tired to fight back. I thought he was joking. Shit!”
James snapped out of his stupor upon hearing this news, and began sprinting back to his home. “I have to go! Sorry!”
Leah stared at him as his figure shrank in the distance. “What happened to him?”
“Why are all the explorers so off their rocker?”
James had rushed back home and immediately searched up what he wanted to find (or didn’t want to find) on the web. To his horror, on Zhang Li’s official social media account, the most recent post featured a picture that James recognized. Zhang Li smiled at the camera, while another person looked at the camera with a surprised expression. The post promised a collaboration between the two people.
At least James didn’t look too bad in the photo.
Zhang Li’s fan base was currently in turmoil, trying to find clues of who that collaborator might be. James feared the might of the fan base. Although people didn’t seem to have found his interview and linked it to Zhang Li’s post, it was only a matter of time.
Hiis family hadn’t found out about the post yet. Zhang Li’s fan base was mostly young Asians. His parents liked older Chinese artists, while his sister mainly listened to American music. However, they would probably find out eventually.
James was currently slumped over his computer. Although he had gotten a shock from seeing the post, the burst of energy had worn off. He was still tired. However, he’d already tried sleeping for an hour, but it didn’t help. James knew he should probably go to bed, but he really didn’t want to, for some strange reason.
Ping! The phone on his bed chirped.
[Zhang Li: Hey James! This is some music production software. Thought you might need it. :)]
“...I shouldn’t have given him my phone number. It was a grave mistake. Getting involved with him was a grave mistake. All these dungeon explorers are terrible people. I hate them.”
“I can’t do this shit. I know some music theory, but that’s it. I can play the violin but I can’t write a piece.”
James was having a bad time trying to produce music, because a) he didn’t know how to make music, and b) he was still fatigued and struggling with the urge to fall asleep.
“Oh, speaking of music, what was that band that Mo listened to again?”
It felt like a really long time ago, but it had only been a month or so. James detected mana from the music that Mo was listening to. When he put the earbud in his own ear, he almost passed out. He wanted to find out more about the music and its creator.
James texted Mo in order to ask. He should have asked long ago, but he forgot.
[James: whos that band that u liked]
[Mo: which one]
[James: remember that shit you were playing on the plane to oregon]
[Mo: dude i can’t remember]
[Mo: probably either thousanddust or demonic echoes, i think]
[James: k thanks]
[Mo: might not be what ur looking for but ur welcome]
Due to his fatigue, James couldn’t really think straight, and thus made a crucial error. He searched up the bands ThousandDust and Demonic Echoes. How was he going to tell which band was the one he was looking for? He’d listen to their music.
He had forgotten that the last time he listened to the band, his brain nearly exploded.
Demonic Echoes turned out to be a metal band. Go figure. James didn’t have long enough hair to headbang properly.
However, when James pressed the play button on the first song in ThousandDust’s latest song, the music flooded into James' mind, giving him a splitting headache. He tipped back in his chair and shouted.