Chapter II


It was around six o'clock in the Volpe household, as Cloud and his friends were gathered in the basement surrounding a large brown table. Cloud himself had a pair of cardboard folders standing up in front of him on the table, as sort of a makeshift screen. His friends, Jesse, Chris, Bill, and Mike, were sitting around the edges of table with various books, dice, and papers in front of them and were holding their heads in what appeared to be mental anguish.

"Well?" Cloud asked after a long silence.

Bill raised his head from the table and looked at him. "So what you're telling us is that we're trapped in a room with ten red dragons who just happen to have wraiths as their kin, and none of our spells work?"

"Yup. That about sums it up."

"We're fucked," Chris commented. "Just like Cloud's mom on a Friday night, we've been fucked in the ass."

"Hey!" Cloud yelled, ready to throw a twenty-sided die at Chris. He regained his composure. "Besides, it's not totally hopeless. You're got Elves in the party. Has anyone tried searching for secret doors in the room?" He lifted his eyebrows, as if this was a good idea.

Everyone's eyes brightened. Hands reached across the table to pick up various dice. Jesse screamed in triumph as he rolled. "Yes!" he yelled. "A one! I rolled a one! We're saved!"

Cloud shook his head. "Congratulations. You successfully discover that there are no secret or hidden doors around you."

A simultaneous moan escaped from all four players. "Oh, look at that," Cloud said, glancing at his watch. "Looks like it's time for the dragons to begin their attack. Everyone roll to see who goes first." Begrudgingly, each person rolled a die, then flipped off their die as it rolled horribly. "So," he said, "Anyone get less than a two?" Heads shook. "Oh, good. That means all twenty dragons get to attack first." He picked up a handful of dice and began to shake them.

"Wait a minute!" Mike yelled. "Twenty? You said there were TEN!"

Cloud paused. "I did?"

"Yes!" Chris agreed. "I specifically heard you say ten."

"Did I mention the other ten that just teleported behind you at the beginning of the round?"

A large, thin, black, hardbound book flew at Cloud from across the table, hitting him in the shoulder. He yelped in pain. "All right, fine. Since these are red dragons, they're all going to use their breath weapons! Everyone roll to see if your characters can get out of the way of twenty jets of flame." All four players gave Cloud the finger, then rolled. They all yelled in excitement as the dice produced satisfactory results.

"In your face!" Bill chanted. "We all rolled twenties! Nothing beats a twenty!"

"What a shame," Cloud said. "These are the special kinds of red dragons. None of you seem to be able to dodge in time, and all of your characters suffer…" He looked around the table. "Which one of you is playing the high hit point fighter?" Chris raised his hand and scowled. "And how many hit points does your character have?"

"One hundred and twenty," Chris replied.

"Oh, what a shame, these dragons did one hundred twenty-one hit points of damage to all of you." Various pencils, books, and blunt objects flew across the table at Cloud. A good number of them hit him. "Hey, don't blame me! Just roll up some new characters now so I can kill them too."

"Cloud!" a voice from upstairs yelled.

Cloud sighed. Great. Now what did she want? "What mom?"

"Did you send for another mail order bride?" she yelled.

"Look mom, I told you, I don't know where that last girl came from! She was lying!" He noticed his friends snickering, and promptly flipped them the bird. "And no, I didn't order another one."

"Oh," his mother said. "Well, in that case, there's someone here to visit you… and she looks trashier than that last one."

"Coming!" he yelled. He turned to his friends. "Okay, I'll be back in a minute. No one better touch my notes while I'm gone!" He walked up the stairway.

"Man," Chris commented. "That was one of the worst games I've ever played."

"Yeah," said Bill, "But compared to the games Mike has run, it was freaking great."

"Hey!" Mike yelled. Within seconds, the table had erupted into a flurry of fistfights.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Cloud answered his front door. Standing outside was none other than Ginger Spice herself. "Are you the guy who runs that website?" she asked.

"Oh shit," Cloud said, sweating. "I never thought one of you would actually find me." He laughed nervously. "Um, you do know it's a joke, right?" He felt slightly nervous. "Er… how the hell did you find me?"

"May I come in?" she asked.

"Um…" He thought for a moment. It was either allow a fairly attractive (if not oversexed) celebrity into his household, or go back downstairs to hear his friends complain about their Armor Classes. "Sure, come on in."

She walked into the house. "Have you seen the news lately?" she asked.

"Oh yeah, that's right," he said, remembering the news reports from earlier in the day. "Didn't you supposedly die or something?"

"Almost, but fortunately I landed on top of a huge, soft pile of trash, and it saved my life."

"Newark?" Cloud asked.

"No, Camden," she replied. "Well, quickly, turn on the television! There's something I want you to see."

They walked to the sofa and sat down in front of the television. "Turn on the news," Ginger said. He grabbed the remote control and turned on the TV, just in time for the evening news to start.

A cheery reporter popped up on the screen. "Good evening," she said. "This is Amanda Berkinsack-Jones-Devereau with the evening news. Our top story today is from Ontario, Canada, where a fatal plane crash has claimed the lives of two people no one in this world cared about."

An image of Marilyn Manson appeared on the screen. "One victim was noted Antichrist Marilyn Manson, whose urine-soaked body was discovered in the cockpit of the plane. Experts on the scene concluded that Manson had turned into a little chickenshit and pissed himself right before the impact. Jokes have already begun circulating around the Internet." Manson's high school yearbook photo replaced the current glam-rock photo on the screen. "Those of you with Internet access may want to look at this nerdy picture of Manson back when he was a teenager. Experts believe that many more hilarious posthumous jokes may be crafted because of it.

"The other victim was a young girl, identified by police only as 'Katie.' When a local cashier was asked how she felt about Katie's unfortunate death, she had this to say."

A video clip of the Virgin Records Megastore cashier filled the screen. "The celebration party will be at my house the night after the funeral," the cashier informed the world. "Everyone in town is invited on the condition that they bring prune juice and Mexican food, so that we can go to her grave that night and shit all over it." The video froze, then was placed in the upper left corner of the screen. The newscaster was on the screen again.

"The girl's only living relative, a slack-jawed cousin whose parents were siblings, told the press this."

The upper left corner image was replaced with the image of an older man missing most of his teeth. His left eye was lazy, and his lower lip seemed incapable of meeting his upper lip. The image zoomed in to fill the entire screen, and animated itself into a video. "Well, shit," the slack-jawed inbred said, "now I ain't got no one to screw no more… 'cept that damned cat."

The image disappeared to reveal the newscaster once again. "Authorities have informed Channel Five that this man was subsequently shot, and his body was thrown into a lake in order to prevent his genetic material from being passed onto another generation.

"In happier news, not all passengers aboard the aircraft were killed. The Spice Girls, whose popularity has been dwindling ever since earlier this afternoon…"

Ginger smiled at Cloud and said, "That was my fault. Virgin Records stock dropped faster than I did when I fell out of that plane."

"…were found alive on board the wrecked private jet," the newscaster continued. "Details are sketchy, but sources say that the Spice Girls were saved by a large cushion of inflatable sex dolls, which prevented the foursome from becoming a stain on the walls of the plane at the moment of impact.

"This same aircraft was responsible for Geri Halliwell, a.k.a. Ginger Spice's rumored death earlier today. Experts speculate that if Geri did not die from falling from the plane, then she is probably alive. Virgin Records merely commented that Ginger left the group over creative differences in a press conference held shortly after the incident was reported by locals who witnessed a woman fitting Ginger's description fall from the plane as it flew over New Jersey.

"Despite this unfortunate news, fans all over the world rejoiced that their beloved Spice Girls were still alive.

"In a related story, Atheism took a dramatic rise late this afternoon, as young people across the world simultaneously denied the existence of any form of justice in the unive…"

Cloud turned off the television. "So that's what you wanted me to see?"

Ginger nodded.

From the basement, sounds of yelling and fighting and cursing pierced the air. "No, damn it! Put down my mage!" "Fuck you, you greasy bastard!" "Hey, these notes all say, 'Chris is gay!'" "Let go of that book! It's worth more than your life!" "Oh shit, I hope that lamp wasn't valuable!"

Cloud sat silently for a moment, listening to his friends before asking Ginger, "Why???"

Ginger smiled. "Well, I want to get revenge on that bitch Posh for pushing me out of the plane."

Cloud waited. "And?"

"Well, I figured you'd be the best person to help me, considering I was stuck in this wretched little state."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Cloud said. "Help you? I just write stories for my website. I'm no revenge-for-hire person. Get someone else!"

"Look, there is no one else." She paused. "Well, not around here anyway. Besides, it'll be fun for you. Gather up some people, crash a wedding, make a statement, get hits to your page…"

"Well… I don't know…" He looked confused, wondering if something of this magnitude would be morally wrong.

"Well… I'll throw in a bonus…" she said. "You've obviously heard about those circulating pictures of me from before I was a Spice Girl, right?"

"Umm… yeah…" he replied hesitantly.

"How'd you like a firsthand, behind-the-scenes tour, if you know what I mean?"

Cloud didn't even pause. "Hey guys!" he yelled to his friends in the basement.

"What?" came the reply from one of his friends… he didn't really notice which one.

"Fuck off. We'll finish playing another day!" he yelled.

"What? But we only got through the second level of the dungeo…"

"I said get the hell out!"

The four men came charging up the stairs and headed for the front door. Chris was in the lead; he pulled it open and said to Cloud as he left, "Great game, assmaster. Thanks for killing off my twenty-fifth level fighter." He stormed out.

Bill followed, adding, "My mage had lots of good years left in him, and you had to go and send him against an army of dragons! Jackass!"

Mike stepped out behind Bill, saying, "Don't worry, Cloud. We all have our bad days with this stuff. Of course, not quite as bad as yours, but hey…"

Jesse left last, behind Mike, saying, "Well, I still think it was a lot more fun than one of Mike's games." A heavy bag of dice hit him in the back of the head from outside. "I heard that!" Cloud heard Mike yell.

Jesse closed the door behind him, leaving Cloud alone with Ginger in his living room. "Well, I guess I should start making some phone calls," he said. "Do you have a plan for this revenge of yours?"

"Well… sort of," Ginger said. She proceeded to tell Cloud what she had in mind.

"It's a start," Cloud said as she finished. "Well, I guess I'd better get in touch with my co-conspirators." He picked up the phone and began dialing.

At that moment, Mike burst back through the front door. "Cloud?!?! Is that Geri Halliwell standing in your living room?!?!?!" Before anyone could answer, he began running towards Ginger like a dog runs to a fresh, plump sausage. Fortunately, the rest of Cloud's friends had foreseen this, and dashed through the front door after Mike. They tackled him to the ground, a mere inch from Ginger's sequined shoes, his claws digging at the ground as if magically, through some miracle, his arms might grow that extra inch. Jesse, Bill, and Chris hauled Mike up to his feet and dragged him, kicking and screaming back out the front door. Cloud flashed a thumbs up to them as they left, and they merely nodded in compliance.

Cloud resumed his phone call. A weary voice picked up on the other end of the line. "Hello?" it asked.

"Oliver!" Cloud exclaimed.

"Um… yes, speaking. Who is this?"

"It's Cloud." There was a long pause. "You know, the guy who puts your stories up on the web."

"Do you have any idea what bloody time it is?" he asked, sounding irritated.

"Why sure," Cloud said. "It's only nine o'clock at ni…" He realized. "Oh… oh crap. Lousy time zones. I'm really sorry…"

"How the hell did you get this number?"

"Look, I'll get in touch with you tomorrow. There's a situation arising that you'll probably be interested in…" He paused for dramatic effect, then heard the snoring on the other end. "Er… right, get some sleep." He hung up.

"Well?" Ginger asked, after he put the phone back in its cradle.

"This is going to be interesting," he said, then smiled. Yes indeed, this was going to be one heck of an adventure.

On to Chapter III: Resilience.

Trademark and copyright 1999, CloudVader Productions. Do not reproduce without giving the author, Cloud Volpe, due credit.