London, England: August 12, 2012…

"FORTY-SIX!"

"We know!"

"I should, like, get another gold medal for getting the most gold medals!"

"There's a vicious cycle waiting to happen…" England muttered between sips of his ale. His tone was more amused than annoyed—the power-trip of hosting had buoyed his spirits to begin with, and his own medal count was none too shabby.

It's common knowledge that the Olympic Games are capped off with the closing ceremonies, an emotion-laden event wherein the winners are tearfully honored to the strains of stirring orchestral music and the rest are effectively told "Train harder next time, losers."

Common knowledge doesn't know about the wrap party afterwards, when the gathered countries reward themselves for sitting through the closing ceremonies by boozing it up and bragging to each other about their wins, or conversely spreading malicious gossip about the winners. "Yeah, sure…it's easy to take the gold in Boxing when you've had Anabolic-O's for breakfast," is the sort of bitter, catty, and probably untrue thing you might hear once the alcohol has been flowing for a while.

Those who have less to feel embarrassed about just enjoy their drinks and shake their heads tolerantly at America. Or, more accurately, at whoever claimed the most medals and thus has the fattest head. Frequently America.

Then there's Australia, who generally doesn't worry about his final count as long as he defends his title as the world sailing champion. (On this particular occasion, he felt like he had underperformed, but a) at least he was still in the Top Ten, and b) he had come up with a sneaky plan to inflate his apparent numbers in the news—just list himself and New Zealand as if they were a unit. She'd be annoyed, but she wouldn't be able to say baa about it.) He often plays along with America, just to see how far he can keep his brother going before his sarcasm detectors kick in. Sometimes it never happens.

"Tell us how you did it, O Magnificent One!"

"Wouldn't you like to know! Thought you could get me to give up the secret of my success, did you? Nice try, little bro. You'd better stick to your boats, 'cause you'll never have the pure undiluted AWESOME it takes to pull off these kinds of victories! Forty-six! Compared to your what, seven? I got like five times as many gold medals as you."

"That's impressive, all right, mate. Good job there's no Arithmetic event," Australia deadpanned to general laughter.

"Well, duh. It's the Olympics, not the Nerdalympics. Nobody wants to watch Japan and whatsisname over there play chess at each other for nine hours."

Australia glanced in the direction America had nodded. The Nordic table was over that way, making Sweden the most likely candidate for "whatsisname." He hadn't noticed the attention. Sweden the Responsible De Facto Leader of Northern Europe had left the building some time ago. This was Sweden the Enjoyer of Beer—slouching just enough to betray a certain degree of motor impairment and staring blankly but fixedly at a point roughly fifty meters outside the walls of the room. If someone had put a chessboard in front of him, he probably could not have identified the colors on it in less than three tries.

The really scary thing was that he was currently the most sober person in that group. Norway had his head down on the table and was twiddling his fingers in a little puddle of spilt beer and chuckling quietly to himself. Denmark had his head down on…Norway's shoulder, where he was sucking sleepily at his sweater like a clumsy vampire who had missed the neck. And the less said about Finland's state of inebriation, the better.

That left Iceland, who was…absent. Suddenly curious, Australia looked around the room until he located the fifth and final member of Team Nordic, sitting all alone at a tiny table in the gloomiest section of the room, under a hand-lettered banner reading "LEWZERVILLE."

With so many nations competing in a limited number of events, it is inevitable that some will fail to win any medals at all. The banner was America's tactful way of telling them where they should sit for the wrap party. Good old America.

Australia felt a surge of pity. He didn't know Iceland that well—no one outside the Nordic regions did, really—but he knew he was one batshit insane mo-fo, and that gave him a sense of fellow-feeling toward the volcanic island. No one who invented a new way of athletically cheating death every other month should have to walk away from the Olympics empty-handed.

"Hold that thought," he said without really paying attention to whatever America was saying at this point. Something narcissistic, no doubt. He strode over to Lewzerville, exchanging high-fives with anyone who offered one as he went, tipped some passed-out Balkan republic off a chair, and pulled it up so he could join the sullen Iceland at his table.

"Go 'way," Iceland muttered, barely intelligible. He was on Drink #5 judging by the empty glasses at his elbow, but he wasn't exactly drinking it. If he nursed it any harder, it was going to develop a phobia of hospitals. His sparkles had definitely seen better days; they hovered around shoulder level and barely twinkled at all.

"You look like you could use a sympathetic ear," said Australia. "Sorry about that stupid banner, mate; you know how my brother is."

"Stupid," Iceland said. "Thinks he's so great, but he's not. Anybody can win a whole bunch of-of-of thingies if they spend fifteen days a hour inna gym. Some of us hafta work for a living."

"I hear that," said Australia. "I wouldn't worry about it, though. You're not exactly in your element at the Summer Games, are you, mate?"

"Sh'tup. S'not fair. At least you won at your thing. I didn't even win my own national sport! Y'know who won my national sport?"

Australia blinked. It was news to him that Iceland even had a national sport, let alone one that would be played in warm weather.

"NORWAY!" Iceland bellowed, drawing stares. Over at the Nordic table, Norway suddenly sat bolt upright, pitching Denmark off his shoulder and onto the floor.

"My own brother," Iceland continued miserably, "couldn't even let me have my own thing. So now I'm stuck here. In Lewzerville. With all the lewzers."

"Yeah, mate, brothers suck," said Australia in his continued efforts at international solidarity.

"Sh'tup," Iceland said again. "You don't know me."

"Well," said Australia, adjusting his posture in preparation to stand up, "I came over here to cheer you up, but I can see you don't want…" He trailed off, sensing a change in the atmosphere. It had suddenly acquired a certain doom-laden vibe.

Something heavy landed on his shoulder like the Invisible Hand of the Free Market turned visible. Australia craned his neck to see America looming over him, wearing an expression of mixed amusement and annoyance. "Do my ears deceive me? Or did I just hear my little brother saying that I suck?"

Australia reddened, in part because America's grip was messing up the circulation in his upper body. "Might've done…" he mumbled. "But I didn't mean you! I just meant, you know, brothers in general…"

"My brother sucks," Iceland opined right before tossing back his drink.

"You have a brother?" America said, puzzled. "Wait, which one are you again? Netherlands, right?"

"Iceland," Australia corrected him absently. His shoulder was going numb.

"Oh, right. The one with the volcanoes and whatsername. Ba-jork. Dude! What are you sitting over here for? You got a medal, didn't you?"

"No. Stupid Norway stupidly took my gold in stupid handball."

No language on Earth contains a word to adequately describe what happened next, so we'll have to make one up. Let's go with…Nornami. Yes, that will do—a seismically charged wave of Norway rose up behind the unsuspecting Iceland and engulfed him, drenching him with saltwater while shot glasses cascaded to the floor and shattered.

"It's true!" Norway bawled. "I do suck! Leaving my poor little baby little little brother with nothing!" He spun Iceland's chair around and collapsed sobbing against his chest, leaving him just bewildered.

"Hey, man," said America. "Don't cry. That's not very macho."

Norway came up for air and looked pleadingly up at his (poor little baby little) little brother. "I'll make it up to you. Let me make it up to you. God, I feel so awful."

"Cut it out," America frowned. "You're messing up my party."

"It's Dad's party," said Australia.

"Whatever."

"Can I have one of your medals?" said Iceland.

"Uuuhhhhhhhhhh…" said Norway.

America's face suddenly lit up like the Olympic flame. "NO WAIT GUYS I JUST GOT A MUCH BETTER IDEA!" he blurted, flinging his arms ceilingward.

"Augh," Australia muttered, rubbing his shoulder hard as the nerves woke back up in a torrent of pins and needles.

"We'll hold a special event, just to give…uh…"

"Iceland," Australia said again.

"Right. Just to give Iceland a shot at winning a medal! DAD, C'MERE! Because he's really too cool to have to sit over here with all these Third World bozos."

"That's what I thought," said Australia. "Not in those exact words, of course." Some of the so-called bozos were aiming glares in their direction.

England arrived just then, having experienced a thrilling adventure in the form of crossing the increasingly rowdy room. "All right, what is it?" he said. "I don't need to send for more alcohol already, do I?"

"Couldn't hurt," Australia volunteered.

"Okay, Dad, so…this is Iceland," America began.

"Er…yes, I know," said England.

"Notice anything…I dunno…wrong with him?"

"He's still conscious? That's relatively unusual for a Nordic when there's an open tab."

"He's sitting over here in Lewzerville! He didn't win anything!" This cued a fresh round of remorseful sobbing from Norway.

"Yes, and? I'm sure he'll mop the stadium floor with the rest of us in two years."

"Two years?! I can't wait that long! We need to help him win something now!"

"There's nothing for it, boy! The Games are over!"

"I know, Dad! My point is, we should hold a special event, just for Iceland and someone to face off with him! If there's only two countries competing, he's guaranteed at least a silver!"

"That doesn't sound very satisfying…" said England with a skeptical quirk of his eyebrow.

"I'll take it," said Iceland.

"Well, then, perhaps if we rig up something simple. But who would be his opponent?"

America gestured at Norway. "Uh…" he said, snapping his fingers. "…uh, uh, Swe…no, uh, uh, D—Norway! He's your little brother, right? I heard that somewhere. Help us figure this out."

"Wha…?" Norway said slowly, blinking through the fog of beer and emotion.

"Who can we pit against Iceland to give him a good challenge?"

Norway thought about it for several seconds. "Wha…?"

"Why don't we pick this up again tomorrow?" said Australia. "Give everyone's heads a chance to clear."

"Right! Well thought of," said England. "It's nice to know one of my children keeps a good head on his shoulders." America pouted.

"We'll work out something good for ya, Ice-o," said Australia, clapping the other on the back. "For now, why don't you go and get some sleep? You'll feel better in the morning. I'm about head up and catch forty myself."


"And the LAWD said, LET THERE BE LIGHT!"

The bellow and accompanying explosion of light jolted Australia out of a sound, recuperative sleep. He groaned heavily and dragged the hotel bed's second pillow over his head.

"What the fuck?" he muttered, squinting from the safety of his plush fortress at the bedside clock, which read just past eight. "What the actual fucking bloody fuck? Is this your idea of a joke, America? You can't possibly have thought this is what I had in mind."

"Change o' plans, Oz," said America, whipping open the curtains and making the room even brighter. "Dad and I talked it over a little more after you left and we thought of the perfect country for Iceland to compete with. So we pulled an all-nighter and gussied up the stadium for the event! I can't wait to show it to you!"

"Well, you're gonna bleedin' well have to, Yank. Because I am not getting out of this bed this early in the bleedin' morning."

"Okay, if you insist," said America. He flipped up the covers at the foot of the bed, grabbed Australia's feet, and hauled him off. "Yank!"

After the initial shock, Australia lay prone on the floor, wondering if it was possible to legally disown a sibling, and whether said sibling's possession of nuclear weapons factored into the proceedings at all. He eventually clambered to his feet and began to get dressed, deliberately taking as long as he could get away with and muttering all the while.

Perhaps an hour later, they were at the stadium and gazing down upon America and England's handiwork. (Actually, England was still adding the finishing touches.) Australia's jaw dropped.

"Uluru!" he exclaimed. "It's like you stuffed the whole bleedin' planet in here! I thought it was going to be simple!"

The playing field had been transformed into a rain forest. And a desert. And a beach. And a volcano. And a glacier. And even a small grassy sport field, in the center of the jumble of terrain features. They were damn convincing, too. A wave machine created surf on the beach. The air shimmered with heat above the pebble-strewn desert and the gently smoking cone of the volcano. The shifting breeze brought a thousand tropical scents to Australia's nose. Familiar scents.

"Are those…gum trees?" he said.

"Gum doesn't grow on trees, silly," said America. "They're eucalyptus. Good for a head cold and pretty too!"

"You know, mate, after a point I have to believe you're doing it on purpose. So who's the poor sod who gets to knock heads with Iceland on this death course?"

"Haven't you figured it out? It's you!" said America, slapping his brother on the back.

Australia nodded. "Not bad, not bad…you're learning how to tell a decent joke. Seriously, though, who is it?"

America tilted his head and raised an eyebrow.

Australia nearly swallowed his own tongue in shock. "You've got to be bleeding kidding me!" he sputtered.

England came dragging himself up to them, a sand rake laid over one shoulder. He was paler than usual and baggy-eyed from sleep deprivation. "Not at all," he said. "We realized that in order to justify re-opening the Games, the event would have to be nothing short of spectacular. Norway suggested we let Iceland showcase some of his more…unique talents. And it became clear that there was only one country who could possibly rival him for…what was it I said, America? It was rather good, as I recall."

"Sheer unadulterated reckless lack of regard for personal safety," America recited.

"So congratulations, Australia…your immense aptitudes in that area are finally being recognized."

"Oh, no…" Australia said, backing away from the two of them. "I see what's going on here. You've decided this is my fault, right? Because I went over to cheer Iceland up last night. So you're dumping it on me."

"That as well," England admitted.

"Come on, Oz," America said, singsong. "You're not gonna back out after we went to all this trouble, are you? We made you a beach and everything!"

"Emotional blackmail, that's what this is…" Australia muttered. But it was a very nice miniature artificial beach…and then the rest of it… The adventurous nation started to imagine what it might be like to match wits and muscles with an adversary like the lava-walking, demon-taming Nordic on a playing field that so heavily featured extreme terrain… His fingers twitched.

"All right…" he said carefully, giving his relations a bit of the side-eye. "I'll do it."

"YESSS!" America crowed. "High five, Dad!"

A flicker of movement from across the stadium plucked at Australia's attention. Norway and Iceland were over there, the latter presumably getting the same preview of the battle arena that he himself had just gotten.

"I'll do it…and I'll win," he swore. "Ice-o's gonna have to settle for silver. It'll match his hair. How much time do I have to prepare?"

"The competition is scheduled for tomorrow," said England.

"Tomorrow? That's it?"

"After that, people are gonna start to go home," America explained. "We won't be able to sell any tickets."

Australia wanted to toss off a witty retort, but not only couldn't he think of one, he sort of liked the idea of having an audience. And truth be told, he would have done the same thing.

"No worries," he said. "A day is all I'll need." He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled across the miniature world. "OY, ICELAND! DON'T DISAPPOINT ME TOMORROW, RIGHT?"

"Must you shout?" said England. He thrust a thin stack of paper at Australia.

"What's this?"

"The rules of the competition. Familiarize yourself with them. The refereeing will be quite strict."

"Oh? Who'd you get to be the ref?"

England's eye twitched slightly behind his monocle.

To Be Continued...


Coming up next: The competition itself!