Chapter 6: The Swarm

"Hmm mmhm'm mmh Mhmh mhm'm hhm mhmhmhhm," Tara sported a proud squint beneath her navy garbs.

Bibi, alternatively, was less than enthusiastic. "I… I don't know what that means."

The duo had grown stale of their previous method of conversation. Bibi would ask a question. Tara would provide a yes or no answer. It was effective but duller than sun-bleached drapes.

Tara had the bright idea of telling a story to pass the time. At least, Bibi assumed it was a story. As she had been mumbling something for five consecutive minutes. She would even laugh as she spoke, usually after looking at Bibi's perplexed face. Looks like the humor of their situation was not lost on her.

During another of her mystic musings, Bibi found a valid reason to halt her. Before them was a massive formation of luminescent rocks. Bibi assumed the sudden mountain range stretched far past running distance. And while the height wasn't absurd, trying to climb such a sheer rise would prove tricky without equipment.

Bibi hesitantly brushed her new pigtails aside and tapped her eardrum. "Hello? This thing on?" She tapped the device that had been buried into her head, "Rico? Can ya hear me?"

A bit of soft static chimed in first, "Affirmative!" Rico's robotic monotone was a welcome reprieve from Tara's language.

"You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice." Tara sent the batter a frustrated huff. "No offense."

Rico gave a confused, "None taken?"

"No not you, I- Whatever." Bibi massaged away the growing migraine. She scanned the massive formation of pixel rocks. "You won't believe what we found."

"A massive green mountain with an ominous valley to walk through."

"Okay… I guess you can." As Bibi tried to understand how Rico solved her peculiar question she had her attention snared by a floating object. Slowly approaching from above was a cylindrical drone the size of a baseball and similar in color. Though this baseball had lost the leather skin and red threading for a metallic exterior and a soft orange antenna.

This drone was a baseball in shape alone. For on the forefront of its monitor was an LED eye with a matching shade of lime green as the rest of their futuristic domain. Three black dots shifted back and forth between different emotions including joy, confusion, anger, and sadness.

Bibi noticed how their strange new companion looked much like a device their mechanically sound matriarch Pam had made long ago. She spoke into her earpiece, "Is that?"

Rico had a smug tone, "That's right. This is the Risky Electronic Traversal an-"

"Peep." Bibi casually finished.

"What? No. It's the RETRO."

The small drone hovered back and forth along Bibi's peripheral. She wasn't convinced. "Really…? cause it looks like Peep."

"While it does use a model designed in the likeness of the surveillance drone used by the mechanized mother unit, Nani." The drone made sure to spin about as if to show off its stunning design. "Pam created Peep to help with the monitoring of her daughter, Jessie. This drone can provide an irreplaceable amount of mission reconnaissance."

Bibi squinted at the floating device. "So it spies on people?"

"Yes."

"Kinda like how Peep spies on Jessie?" Bibi finished that with a smug grin hoping Rico could see it.

"Not acknowledging that. Allow me to demonstrate its ability."

Bibi rolled her eyes. "Whatever" She pointed at the massive roadblock. "Now how 'bout you fly up there and 'recon' us a path around this thing."

Rico, unaware of her sarcasm, returned a chipper, "Affirmative."

The RETRO drone flew away with a little hum. Leaving Bibi alone with Tara again.

"Mmhm mhmmhmhm?"

Bibi took a deep breath. Tara had to be doing this on purpose. But rather than beat a dead horse Bibi thought on her feet. She ran over to one of the electronic trees. This digital environment mimicked reality rather well as there were hundreds of sticks conglomerated beneath its trunk.

Bibi returned with a stick about a foot long. Shuddering as she had accidentally grabbed a stick bug the size of a crowbar beforehand. She returned and kindly said, "Write whatever you're saying."

With an apprehensive jolt Tara crouched down. Her baggy pants scrunching up as she buried the tip of her stick into the glowing dirt. Bibi silently watched on for a moment before growing bored with the number of words Tara was transcribing.

She instead looked up in hopes of finding the strange Retroversion of Peep floating about. Somehow the drone had disappeared beyond her line of sight.

"Mhmh."

Bibi followed Tara to the spot she had begun writing at. It took her a second to get in the right spot but when she saw the words she wanted to faint. Tara had written in the glowing dirt, "Mh mhh mmhmm mh'mm mhm mhmmh? Mhhmh H'm mhm mhmmh mhm… mhm H mhm mmhm mh mhmmm mhm mmhm."

Bibi stared slack-jawed at the ground. She couldn't stop blinking. Maybe it was just the shock from being teleported but there was no way she was seeing what she thought she saw. She looked back up at Tara and realized she had never seen Tara write before. With a shaky voice she said, "How do you function?"

"BIBI!"

"Agh!" Bibi angrily turned on her earpiece. "Stop that!"

Tara jumped back. Her eye looked hurt by her friend's sudden outburst. Bibi quickly apologized, "No, not you."

Rico, again failing to read the room, chimed in, "Oh that rage-induced verbal jab was not directed at me?"

"No, it was directed at you." Again, Tara seemed hurt. With a frustrated groan Bibi radioed in, "Rico, what did you find?"

The RETRO flew down with the grace of a hummingbird. The three dots that represented its emotions multiplied indefinitely until it created a pixelated scene on its small spherical screen. Bibi and Tara drew closer to observe the show. It looked like the massive plateau that lay in their path but with an aerial view.

Rico explained that for as far as the drone could spot this range of glowing rocks had no end. There was however a small crevice visible just ahead. And from what RETRO found, it was a straight shot to the other side of this roadblock.

Bibi brushed aside her pigtails, "So you're saying we just walk through this valley?"

"Affirmative."

Bibi peaked ahead. She looked up seeing how flat the top of the range was. "The valley that conveniently sits between two mountains?"

"Affirmative."

"Which would give our enemies the high ground?"

Rico was silent for a second. The two girls looked to RETRO expectantly.

"Affirmative."

Bibi pinched the bridge of her nose. "This reeks of bad idea."

As she tried to argue out an alternative solution with Rico, she felt a stiff tugging on her rosy-red hood. Tara pushed ahead with Bibi reluctantly in tow. She caught Bibi's side of the discussion with Rico and figured that there was no point in arguing. The cheerful sputtering of The RETRO drone followed along from above.

Rico chimed in with a chipper tune, "I shall provide reconnaissance from above."

With a frustrated huff, Bibi reached into her jacket pockets. She found a couple of sticks of her favorite gum. Though the packaging wasn't the usual hot pink. It came out with a teal green wrapping of foil. She absently popped the stick in her mouth, commenting on how the flavor was, "Minty."

As they began their trek through the narrow pass the girls noticed how quiet it was. This world wasn't filled with unnecessary noise. There was no low humming of a computer engine or the constant chittering of insects. But for some reason. The silence between these shimmering green walls was louder than before.

Tara took notice of how spacious it was. There was enough room between the walls for two American-made trucks to burl by with ease. But the walls were so jagged that it would most likely scratch the paint of any vehicle that rushed through it.

Tara brought a hand up to the structure. She expected a rough texture to match the stony visage, but the walls were smooth to the touch. Bibi also noticed that as her mystic mate traced her hand along the exterior a trail of white pixels fell behind her. Mix this serene environment with the puttering sputters of RETRO from above and they could have fallen asleep in this crevice. Once again they found themselves enamored with the beauty of 8-Bit's internal world.

Their methodical pace kept them going for a few minutes. That is until a new roadblock stood in their way. Bibi and Tara stopped on a dime. Just ahead was a strange oblong silhouette. This object had a boxed-off top with a rounded bottom. It looked like the inflatable punching bags that children would toy around with.

Bibi stepped up. "Hey!" She rested Mr. Sword (as she swiftly renamed him) on her steady shoulders. "Who's there?"

The shadowed figure didn't respond. But Tara recoiled a bit as she felt something off. Bibi matched her intensity by getting into a batting stance.

Like skaters on ice the square and circle separated. As they glided apart Bibi saw how the square body held onto a cubed object in his right hand and a body long pole in the other.

The spherical body showed its rounded head. It refused to stop vibrating as if it were infected with some sort of bug. And oddly enough this being's arms were like two ovals with their tips sawed off.

Bibi and Tara stood aghast. With a shaky hand Bibi radioed in, "Rico… you seeing this."

The living roadblocks stepped into the light. Their features cackling with malicious intent.

"…Affirmative…"

Stepping up to block their path were the warped forms of Tick and Ash. Old robotic friends of the girls that had assisted them in countless missions. Though their bodies didn't match their overworld counterparts.

Ash was usually a chivalrous, albeit short-tempered, knight that used a metallic trash bin as armor. His large blocky body was accentuated with a dustpan that had been styled like a shield and a broom to boot. While most saw him as a joke of a janitor in his castle those who've come blow-to-blow with this bot know one truth.

Don't make him angry.

Now he had ditched his (not-so-shiny) shining armor for indigo garbs. A silky-smooth fabric akin to the yoroi of the seasoned ninjas of legend. This deep blue was complimented with red straps both around his square head and boxy torso. Though the kicker was the objects protruding from his head.

A spare sickle and short sword had been buried deep into his square dome. He must not have been aware. That or he couldn't be bothered to care. And as if the tools in his scalp weren't enough his weapons of choice were far more brutal. He had dropped the broom somewhere and replaced it with a true katana. His dustpan shield was now a wooden armament. What existed of the heroic janitor had been replaced by this strange yet calculated killer.

RETRO flew in for a closer look. It scanned the back and fronts of their newly fermented friends. If the bot piloting this drone owned a stomach it would be throwing up what little contents it contained.

Tick was a canon-bot. He spent most of his days on a pirate ship pillaging and plundering to his little robotic heart's content. He and his merry crew of buccaneers were notorious for their absurd heists across the world. And he was the main source of artillery. His canon-sized arms were able to fire off triplets of explosive proximity mines. And with his superior range and coverage, none could escape his fire.

Tick wore his crew's colors with pride. A metallic black finish on his cannonball-shaped body. A red bandana across his chest. And his head (shaped like a ball as well) sported a winning smile and a ticking key. Hence his namesake.

Though that wasn't the bot they saw before them. This Tick wasn't a bomb lobbing pirate but a shell-shucking crustacean. His dirty black paint had been polished to an almost neon sheen. And his upper torso and head were capped with a lime green shell much like the rocks that surrounded him. His cannon-like arms were covered in the same green shell that smothered his head. And much like crabs in the sea, he spewed a fine white foam from his mouth. Though he did this not with a smile, but a frightening grimace. Like he was in constant pain just by existing in this hollow shell.

RETRO attempted to fly in closer but was forced to narrowly dodge a stray shuriken. Ninja Ash shot him a glare as Rico piloted the drone back to our heroines. "Those aren't our allies."

Bibi bit her lip, "No kidding." The two robots were gyrating with mechanical whirrs filling the previously silent void. "Guess it won't be easy."

As the two girls tried to think up a plan a new voice chimed in from above. Its scratchy sneers echoed over infinity around them. "Wel-Wel-Welcome!"

Bibi looked to the sky, "That voice?"

"Ah…HAHAHAHHAHAHAH!" The Virus screeched with excitement from above. His oppressive speech ruined the tranquil environment. "I see you've met my fre-fre-fre-minions." On cue, the two robotic imposters snickered with glee. The foam leaking from Tick's mouth pooled on the floor.

Bibi's bangs swayed with her violent words, "So now you're using our friends against us?"

Again The Virus snickered from some distant location. "These are no longer your friends. These are my slaves!" Tara's eye shot open. Bibi could hear her growling from beneath her cloak. "I have created them in their image but that is where the relation f-f-falters. They shall do as I say. When I say it. Even if that means killing you."

The Virus allowed itself another sinister cackle. The air filled with its poisonous tongue while Rico flew close to Bibi. "These imposters share their image but not their personality. They won't hold back."

Bibi shifted her hilt so the blade sat parallel to the ground. Tara summed a set of her newly acquired holographic cards. The duo nodded towards each other, "Neither will we."

Bibi remembered how much range Tick's mines had. They were roughly fifty meters apart currently. It would prove difficult to clear that distance with so little room to dodge. But with Tara's range and her speed, they should be able to finish this if they can get in close. Then the issue was Ash.

The comment on don't make him angry was no exaggeration. If they hurt him, he gets mad. If he hurts you and you live, he'll get mad you aren't dead. And when he gets mad, he runs faster and hits harder. When it comes time to fight him, she and Tara would have to dump everything they had to stop him.

Bibi took a deep breath. With a smug grin she asked, "You ready?!"

Tara's eye glinted, "Mhhmh!"

From above The Virus snarled, "Ninja Ash! King Crab-Crab-Crab-Corrupted TICK! Initiate The Swarm!"

Ash's ninja headband glowed a sickly green. On his skull spawned a green and black symbol. The image that formed had an uncanny resemblance to The Virus that had infected 8-Bit's body.

Ash chucked his shield a meter ahead. Reluctant to rush into danger Bibi and Tara made a slow advance. Their steps were carefully measured as they awaited the beginning of this swarm. Once they had made it five meters closer the shield began to jump. From its prone position, it exploded with a flash of smoke and fire.

When the dust settled the shield had vanished. In its place were five small robotic droids. They had little antennae much like the RETRO drone that Rico had assisted them with. But these units were dedicated to grounded combat.

Tara mumbled, "Mhmmm."

"I know…" Bibi prepared for their next move. "The Little Helpers." When The Virus said he made these copies in Ash and Tick's image he told no lies. He copied all their abilities, including their kamikaze-based move sets.

The Little Helpers were a squadron of drones designed to help Ash seek out filth and eliminate all traces of dust that should remain. They were soon repurposed so they could be used for effective combat purposes. Which meant that if they touch you, they blow up with enough force to cripple a tiger.

Bibi thought about the name one more time. 'The Swarm. And if it's Ash and Tick. That means…' Bringing up the rear of Ash's Little Helpers was Tick's still foaming head. Its glare was directed at them as it bounced in place. If Ash's Helpers could cripple a tiger, Tick's head could blow the knees caps off an elephant.

Bibi smiled once more. Looking back at Tara she laughed, "Got the excess?" Tara gave her a strong thumbs-up. "Then follow me."

Bibi took the point, rushing headlong towards the explosive drones. In return, the explosive drones surged forward in a conglomerate horde. The Virus' laughter refused to halt. In his eyes Bibi had lost her mind. She was rushing down kamikaze units. But the batter had a plan.

Just before they made an impact, she tilted her hilt so that the blade was perpendicular to the rocky terrain. With this new stance, she was able to bat away the drones without getting in their blast radius. Her wide swing not only smashed away Ash's helper's but they caused a chain reaction that turned all the rat-like robots into dust.

All except Tick's head. It stood the initial force and surged forward once more. Tara swooped in to send a shimmering stack of cards through Tick's corrupted face. The explosion that followed would have made a meter-wide crater with ease. But this digital world proved tougher than the overworld's stone.

The girls noticed how much ground they had covered. They were but five mere meters away from the glitched imposters. And with this proximity Bibi was feeling cocky. She pointed her glowing saber at them, "Let's see how one-to-one these copies really are?"

She dashed ahead of Tara. Her stunt caught Ash's eye who moved to meet her halfway. They both readied their blades for the coming strike. Then with a flash of light they sparked past one another. The two skidded to a halt but a few feet away from the other. Silently taking in the effect of their clash.

Bibi stood with ease.

Ash's body was sliced in half. He disappeared in a shimmering cloud of dust and pixels.

Bibi looked back with an angry grimace. "Is that it?" She looked for her companion, "Tara you seeing this?"

As she found her teammate, she noticed she had closed the distance with Tick. Before his head even had the chance to regenerate Tara had buried nine sets of cards in his back. Tick puffed out of existence much like his broader friend.

The two girls stood with a bit of contemplation. Why were they so weak? The Virus said he made them in the originals' image. How was it that they dropped with such ease?

The RETRO drone scuttled to their side. Rico merrily radioed in, "All enemies eliminated. Well done, Bibi and Tara."

Tara scratched under her dark blue turban. She shared the same confusions as Bibi. Bibi wasn't buying it though. She turned to the sky, "Is that the best you got?!" She angrily awaited a response from their target. When the sky kept silent she continued, "I thought you made them in Ash and Tick's images? They were weak as he-"

"AHH-AHHHAH-HHAHAHHA!" Again they recoiled at his toxic voice. "Yes. They were weak." The duo waited for him to continue after another laughing fit. "But what they lack in p-p-p-quality-"

Suddenly the floor began to rumble. They could feel something shaking the mountain around them. The Virus snickered- "They make up for with quantity."

The rumbling grew with time until they couldn't see straight from constant shaking. Then it suddenly stopped. Much like an earthquake would suddenly rock a city and abruptly leave.

Bibi snapped at the RETRO drone, "Rico. What was that?!"

The robot quickly flew up above the valley walls. The radio went silent when the RETRO drone disappeared for a few seconds. Then it suddenly flew by them at a blinding speed towards their exit. Rico ordered into the earpiece, "RUN!"

They watched as RETRO flew into the distance. Curiosity again guided their bodies. Rather than blindly following Rico's order they both stared up at the mountain top. For a moment they saw nothing. Just the glowing trail of lights that Tara had decided to follow. Then they saw another head pop up from the edge.

Another Corrupted King Crab Tick peaked down at them. Followed by another Ninja Ash. They were mirror images of the ones Bibi and Tara had just destroyed.

Tara tapped Bibi's shoulder, directing her to the other ledge. Another Tick and Ash pair were looking down at them. Then like the constant clicking of a clock more of The Virus's cloned minions made their presence known. The cliffside was filled with Ash's swords and Tick's foamy snarls.

The Virus chimed in with a haunting laugh, "This. Is. THE SWARM!"

Bibi silently mouthed, "One… Two… Ten… Fourty-"

"Hm, mhmm mh." Tara begrudgingly hummed. There were more minions than the two could count. And from the size of those rumbles, more were soon to come.

Bibi didn't waste any time. She quickly snatched up Tara, throwing her over a shoulder like a sandbag. With all her might she carried her feet as fast as they would go. She turned the green rocks around them into blurs as she dashed through the ravine.

Tara's low murmurs turned into wild screams as she commented on the horde behind them. Hundreds of Tick heads were being followed by thousands of Ash's Little Helpers. Their insistent squeaking and clockwork chirps were driving Bibi crazy. It sounded like the clock leading to their doom.

Then came a peppering of explosives. She peeked over the opposing shoulder and saw Tara providing cover fire for their retreat. But even Tara's cards couldn't reduce a swarm of this magnitude.

Bibi was soon joined by a retreating RETRO. "Rico!"

"Bibi! I have good news and bad news."

Another set of explosions lapped at her heels, "What could you possibly tell me that is worse than this?"

Just as she asked the question she saw the light of the approaching exit. She could feel a sense of salvation quickly approaching. Then it was ripped away with hostile force. For standing at the exit was a solitary Tick/Ash duo.

Rico deadpanned, "That. That is worse."

"Agh!" Bibi quickly readied her sword. She would have to use her off-hand but she was sure she could still get a decent swing in. Besides these enemies were weaker. Right?

Luckily she wouldn't need to worry about this. Tara sensed the rapidly approaching danger and acted quickly. She brought her hands together. With a digital magician's mastery, she summoned cards from her hands at an alarming rate. As they rotated between her palms they started to morph into a glowing pink ball of energy. Bibi could feel the weight of the ball without even touching it.

With a heavy grunt, Tara chucked the ball of light ahead of them. It landed between the infected sentries. Without warning it began to condense until it formed its own gravitational pull. The force of its suction snatched in the two mechanical menaces. Just as they collided with one another, the ball popped with a violent explosion. The weak robotic clones vanished in a satisfying poof.

Bibi screamed, "I love magic!" as she shifted to full tilt.

The girls burst out of the ravine like fleeing rabbits. As soon as they were in the open Bibi moved to the entrance. She could see the terrifying number of eyes and lights leaking out the dark crevice.

Quickly stepping to the side she took a deep breath. With a mighty blow she began to create a bubble of spit and gum. But rather than the pink hue she was used to it came out like a glistening green and blue sphere. Much like the rest of this world, it shimmered in the light with white particles.

She would question that later. For now, she hoped it kept the same properties as her gum from above. She tilted her hilt so the saber's blade would not slice her projectile in half. With a swing that would make a major league swinger flinch, she smashed the bubble into the ravine at an auspicious angle.

It rebounded back and forth against the jagged edges. Perfectly popping every Little Helper it saw and triggering a chain reaction of atomic proportions. The vibrations caused by the explosions shook the glitched walls. Finally causing damage to the sturdy walls.

With a loud crash of digital stone the valley's entrance was sealed shut by the unintentional rubble. The girls slowly walked away as the echoing sound of explosions continued for several minutes. And with each new boom came another rock atop the pile.

The two stumbled up a small hill to take a breather. Their bodies lay in the five centimeters of cool blue grass gasping for air. The constant heaving of their chests shifted the blades around them.

Bibi took a second to gaze at the sky. She could feel the aura of green and yellow lights above reflecting off her retina. It was so peaceful above them. If only she could have flown through the stars rather than trudge across this glorious death trap. If only that filthy virus hadn't spawned all those minions.

Then it hit her. "Hey," she sucked in a balloon's worth of air, "Tara."

"Mhhm?"

"We killed all the bombs right?"

"Mhhm. Mmhm hmm mmhm hm."

Bibi sat up. When she looked at the mountain range her heart dropped. "What about the robots that spawned them?"

Tara sloppily sat up. She too made a grungy moan when she saw the mountain range they just escaped. Standing up along the edge were hundreds of Ticks and Ashes. They all had a sinister glint sparking off of their corroded bodies. Tara looked to one side and sighed.

She couldn't see an end to their numbers.

Bibi let out a nervous chuckle, "Right… we gotta deal with that."

The joyful sputtering of RETRO's motor joined the disheveled group. Rico inspected the scene and made a decree. "There are over five hundred Ticks and Ashes combined. Retreat is necessary."

As he gave the advice a few of the clones began their descent down the plateau. White glitter showered the sky as they slid across the formation's face. It became hard to count the number of bodies that were slowly approaching them.

Bibi's deep blue bangs covered her half-lidded eyes. "Nah."

"Statement unclear: Repeat"

"There's no point-" she stood up with rejuvenated vigor- "in running."

The storm cloud of pixelated dust gave way to the steady approach of the robotic army.

RETRO dashed back and forth. It was as if Rico was analyzing their strange situation. When RETRO returned Rico had a new tone. "Possibility for survival: 2%" Bibi snickered. Those odds were better than she thought. "Best chance of survival: Split the work evenly. Bibi takes the two-hundred and fifty on the left. Tara takes the two-hundred and fifty on the right."

Bibi nudged her partner. "Bet I can take two-fifty-one."

Tara responded by gathering her cards for another gravity bomb. Bibi followed suit by playfully popping open another stick of gum. She smacked her lips to the beat of their approaching horde.

There the girls stood. One with the mystic arts the other a bare-knuckles brawler with a techno-sword. And the white in their eyes was replaced with adrenaline-pumped blood. Their battle cries threatened to silence the coming tidal wave of metal.

Then they saw a puff of pink smoke. A few more of the droids up front went up in pink flames. As they stood stalwart the massive wall of cloned metal began to float away in a beautiful puff of red-and-pink flames.

The girls were left alone atop the hill with only the soft motor of RETRO filling the now silent expanse.

Then came his maniacal laughter. Once again The Virus took pleasure in their general discontent. "Lo-Lo-Look at you id-id-imbeciles." He broke into a gay fit of pure joy. "Your bodies are quaking."

Bibi grew tired of his childish taunts. "Where are you?!"

The Virus took a break from his celebration. With a bit of mocking class he said, "Where am I? I've shown-own you the path." The aurora in the sky sprinkled them with multi-colored flakes. They not only warmed their fatigued forms but also tickled their senses. "I've been in control since you entered."

A powerful wind blew through them. From above the sky that was previously a deep purple faded to an inky black. From that void came the sickly green wires that The Virus sported. And the silhouette of his smile stretched across the heavens. He once again snickered but this time just his shallow breaths caused hurricane winds to lash at their faces.

This time his voice was steady. The scratchy voice box had been removed for a tone that moved the stars, "You belong to me."

RETRO quickly hid behind Bibi for protection against the wind. The girls stood up against this maelstrom with a less than confident foundation. They knew they were inside 8-Bit. They figured he would have some advantages in this world. But this force. How could they defeat this menace?

The Virus continued, "I could slaughter you in mere moments." Each word he spoke caused lighting to jump across the skies. "But this fool within urges me to make sport of this. Give you a fighting chance."

Bibi felt a tinge of hope. 8-Bit still had some control over this bug.

The Virus continued, "But even if I let you fight. You will still fall with time." Another powerful wind threatened to rip them away from their perch. "Even now your bodies are being assimilated."

The girls looked at their clothes. They feared he had a point. But Rico would have told them if something was amiss.

This time The Virus sounded frustrated, "Yet somehow your spirits continue to resist me." Another guttural laugh escaped his booming throat. They felt the earth quake beneath them and feared a final swarm of minions. Though it soon became clear that this time it was the force of The Virus's bellowing guffaws. "I won't get an opportunity like this often. I shall play with you."

Again the aurora above shimmered ahead. Passing through The Virus's shadowy face as it lit the path ahead. "Come." The Virus slowly began to fade away along with the whirlwind,"Find me at the end of your road."

Just before his face fully vanished, he made one final call, "If you can survive."

The wind died out and the world was again at peace. Bibi and Tara were totally floored after that interaction. Their eyes were bulging out their shallow skulls. For the first time in a while, Bibi was shaking.

'How? How can we beat that?'

She looked to Tara. Even the mystic queen was stupefied. She kept repeating, "Mh'm h Mhm. Mh'm h Mhm," while holding her head.

The two girls silently marinated over this development. They knew he would be tough. But that power. That presence. It threatened the realm of the Gods. This duo of Feminine Fatales had taken on countless swarms of enemies. Defeated bosses of geological terror. But even they knew not to challenge a god.

Luckily one person lacked the emotions to comprehend the severity of the situation.

RETRO flew up to Bibi with a little honk. "You must keep moving," Rico tried his best to boost their moral, "There is no time to waste."

Bibi gently shoved the drone away. "Not now. I need a minute."

"We don't have minutes." RETRO flew over to Tara. "We must hurry." Though she couldn't hear Rico's advice she could tell that RETRO was trying to push her onward. Something she was not prepared to do. Not after that.

She had assumed that they were reading the land to find their query. But The Virus had provided them a picture book and they were following along like senseless children. Is this entire world his fabrication? Was that flash when they first entered him creating the world? That would explain the inconsistency between animal life and plant life. One must have been easier for him to create in an instant.

Both Tara and Bibi had the same realization. To him, this was a game. A simulation adventure where he creates the obstacles for them to overcome. They're just tigers jumping through hoops for his amusement.

Rico grew tired of their dreary tune. He tried to find a way to rally them but his words held no effect on Bibi.

Though he knew someone who could.

Bibi could hear it over the radio as the mic was passed elsewhere. He took a second to clear his voice. With a somber tone, and an alarming amount of bass Bull spoke. "Yo, Bibi."

The tomboyish girl kept silent. She was still processing the previous event. Bull took it upon himself to continue. "I'm sure you're rocked. I get it. We saw it through this monitor but… hell what was that like?"

Bibi still couldn't manage a response, so Bull continued. "From here it looked like some god was looking down on you about to pass judgment." She could hear him shiver, "That's freaky." Bull took a second to think, "But you know what's worse?"

Bibi intently listened though her body kept her from responding.

"The whole time he was tormenting you. He's been staring at us." Bibi felt her heart flutter. "But worse of all… he won't… stop… smiling." She could hear Bull bang his fist into the table. There were some childish screams audible in the background. "He's just toying with us. He knows how bad I wanna run in there and punch that smug smile off his screen. But," he let loose a deep sigh, "I can't do that. Cause if I mess something up. We might lose you."

Bibi felt a bit better knowing that Bull was holding back for her. Bull saw her eyes sparkle a little through RETRO's pixelated screen. "And you know what's gonna happen if you don't finish this job?" Bull leaned in close to the mic.

"8-Bit's gonna die."

Bibi felt a wave wash over her. She brought her head up as she looked out to nothing. She was able to visualize Bull's features on RETRO's green screen. It felt like the two were face-to-face.

Bull continued, "You're not gonna let this bastard get away with that, right? Not after all the work you've done to save the little idiot."

Bibi worked up the strength to speak, "But… but he's…"

"He's no god, Bibi." Bull stared through reality itself to get this point across. "He's just ones and zeros inside our friend's body. And currently, so are you." Bull looked at the still locked up monster, "Anything he's doing in there you can handle cause you're on equal playing fields."

"Equal?" Bibi racked her brain. She began to tear at her tightened tails, "How can we be equal? He has full control here."

Bull cracked a smile, "Not full control."

Everyone fell silent as Bull put a massive hand on the glass. "He slipped up during his speech. He said that fool inside won't let him kill you." Bibi could feel something awaken in her. "You know who that fool is?"

Bibi stood up, staring past the stars and into the code that made it. "8-Bit," she mumbled.

"Exactly." Before he could continue he noticed something odd. He snapped back at The Virus but found him still sitting with a haunting smile. For a moment he swore he saw the filthy freak frown. Bull focused on Bibi, "If 8-Bit is fighting back even when his body is gone, why can't you keep fighting with him?"

With that Bibi saw what she was looking for. Somewhere far into the distance out of her sight and the foreseeable universe's she saw it. An assortment of stars that linked up perfectly to form a single number. Turn it on its side and it would represent the infinite possibilities of life. But right now she saw it as a sign that he was still standing tall.

8.

Bibi clenched her fists shut. She retrieved Mr. Sword with a powerful swipe and pointed to Tara. "Tara! We aren't giving up!"

The gypsy gave her a sideways stare. Almost screaming, 'You can't be serious,' with her eyes.

But Bibi was all too serious, "8-Bit is fighting him. He's making The Virus give us a chance to reach him." She reached her hand out. "That's why he'll lose. Cause he's underestimating us."

Tara looked back and forth between the stable ground, the infinite skies, and her clearly deranged ally. Tara wanted to believe this was possible, but power like that is told of in legends alone. It wasn't something one just strolled up to and punched in the face.

Bibi snatched up her hand. With a powerful yank she brought Tara to her feet. The taller batter smirked down the magician. "Even if it takes every breath I've got I'm finding that virus and I'm punching him in his ugly, wired face." She presented a close fist, "And I'll either do it with you or die trying."

Tara was stunned, "Mhh'h mhmm mhhm mhmh mhm h mhmhm?"

Bibi squinted at her, "I have no idea what you said, but 8-Bit is more than just a robot to me. He's family."

Tara was moved to a smile. Perhaps Bibi didn't speak her ancient tongue, but their hearts truly were in-sync during the heat of battle.

Tara bumped her fist with a powerful nod. Her silver circlets jangled against Bibi's broad knuckles. They'd either save 8-Bit or they'd die trying.

RETRO flew up to the girls. It did a little circle to express its joy. Bull made a final comment, "Atta girl. I'm gonna pass the mic back to Rico. I got some parents to call."

Bibi quickly radio back, "Hey Bull?" He grunted for her to continue, "Thanks. Ya big lug."

With that, she again heard Rico and Bull swap mics. The robot quickly asked for them to hurry along on their path. Far too much time was wasted on that little episode.

Bibi told Tara to lead the way. Unfortunately, the way meant passing through the densest forest she had ever seen.