It was never a true dungeon experience until you fought the 40-foot-tall pill bug waiting for you at the end. Fayt's party was in a heated war with the squirming abominable creature. Cliff and Mirage punched dents into its black iron cretin. Albel, Adray, Roger, and Fayt took turns working to hack off its antennae with their swords and axes. Sophia was twirling a hundred yards away in an incantation dance to summon a strategic meteor strike, while Maria was closely beside her trying to shoot out the giant insect's innumerable quivering legs with her blaster. Peppita, Nel, and Clair worked together with quick acrobatic attacks trying to make the monster loose its balance and flip over on its back.

The creature wrapped itself a defensive ball as bright blue lights flashed in the vents between its black armor plates. The monster flinched as it suddenly ejected hundreds of tiny black quills in every direction from the narrow openings. Most of Fayt's team was able to instantly block, dodge, or swat away the projectiles, but Sophia was facing away in mid-choreography when the attack happened and she was left like a sitting duck on a spinning pedestal.

Everything that happened next was a deadly union of the pill bug's timing and the universe's physics, sprinkled together with Sophia's bad luck.

The first needle made its mark in the left side of her neck as she was rotating forward on one foot with her head stretched back. Her throat and the bottom of her cheek instantly turned into a black spider web as the diseases loaded in the quill's tip weaved into her bloodstream and spread bubbling vitriol through her veins. She winced with one on squeezed shut, but her body's momentum kept her moving through the next rotation in her dance.

A half-second later, a second quill planted itself in the soft creamy territory between the edge of Sophia's skirt and the top of her paw print stocking on her right thigh as it was lifting. Poison surged through the delicate veins in her leg, covering her exposed panel of skin in a black web tattoo that expanded well up into her skirt and under her stocking. Her body remained dancing on autopilot. She felt a brief moment of heat searing through her veins—a heat far more intense and consuming than what she normally felt when performing the ritual for her meteor spell. Then her sense of awareness instantly blinked out of existence.

Working with twice of its normal deadly potency, the venom from the two quills instantly conquered Sophia's heart and mind. Black weeds grew under her skin on both sides of her face and formed dark circles around her eyes. Her irises lost their shimmer and turned into lifeless marbles while her sclera became inflamed with tiny black veins.

Sophia never stopped her magical incantation, but the movements in her choreography changed subtly. Instead of the sweet twirling of a friendly mage summoning the powers of the universe to help her friends, it was a dance turned sour. A dance gone rotten. A Bitter Dance.

She finished reciting the spell and threw her hand forward. The wrath of the heavens rained down to vanquish her enemy. The target for incineration wasn't the giant insectoid monster, but her own party.

Their screams only lasted a few merciful seconds. Most weren't even alive long enough to know what had happened. The few who lasted slightly longer saw only one thing: The blurred outline of a grinning brown-haired angel of death standing behind walls of fire.


It was just a normal day at SphereCo headquarters. Thousands of technicians in a sterile white room were hunched over their holographic consoles monitoring the activity in the Eternal Sphere simulation. Luther was standing at the front of the office with his head held high and his hands folded behind his back, like a valiant space captain sailing his ship through the far reaches of the corporate universe. Welch was off to the side trying to balance a fidget spinner on top of a Lego castle she had spent the past hour building on her desk.

A minor alert message chimed on one of the workers' screens. The worker opened a new holographic window and casually glanced over an automated readout generated from the Eternal Sphere's servers. He was already finished with his 5-second analysis by the time Luther was standing at his workstation.

"Looks like our problem with the AIs becoming too self-aware resolved itself," the employee said to his boss with hardly any concern.

Luther looked at the readout for himself and nodded.

"Ah, good. Lord Wigglehate had a chance to test that new Data Spike feature Blair patched in last week. Were we able to port any of them into the Convictor protocol?"

"Just one," the worker quickly replied. "Little Miss Thighhighs did it in the Temple Plaza with a wrathful hail of fire and brimstone."

"Interesting," Luther scratched his chin. "I was betting on Midriff Man being our killer app."

He leaned closer to the screen, his curiosity growing.

"What does the runtime log have to say?"

The worker switched windows to show a more extensive breakdown of the information. One panel was devoted to a step-by-step description of the battle between Fayt's party and the dungeon monster written entirely in binary language. A video rendering window showed a slow motion close-up of a girl's twirling neck framed with straight brown hair and a frilled white collar with a buckled choker, along with a curved thigh peeking out between a narrow blue miniskirt and a dark gray stocking. The video showed both areas being struck by monster's the small black quills and succumbing to their flesh-tainting effects. The artificial consciousness known as Sophia Esteed was stripped down to her full naked glory in the form of millions of lines of programming source code in the window just next to the video renders. The readout showed the code that determined who she was being rapidly altered in a massive swarm of OVERRIDE and DELETE commands in tandem with the videos of her leg and neck being poisoned. Digital DNA viciously mutated. Virtual brainwaves were adjusted like contrast settings on a TV and turned violent. The wincing expression on Sophia's lips in the upper corner of her neck view gradually changed into a tiny smirk as she rotated in slow motion and the side of her jaw blackened.

The worker idly tapped his fingers against his console and yawned as he narrated the findings.

"The worm was inserted at 1408.316.420 System Time. It was a two-pass conversion originating from the carotid and vastus lateris sections of the codebase. Data distribution was mostly symmetrical once it set up shop in the host anatomy. Somatic synthesis was completed in 2.42 teraflops. The infected process was locked in some kind of meditation loop at the time it was hit. Looks like a spell-casting animation. It helped the takeover run smoother."

"Yowchies!" Welch murmured from over at her desk.

"She got it in both ends, hmm? A little bit below the ears and just next to her tail." Luther smiled proudly. "Well, it appears our new cat has all of her shots."


Author's note: More like Ready Player Done.