Lady Hildegard Frompkin von Malatesta awoke on a bright Sunday morning and surveyed from the grounds of her favorite settlement all of her vast domains. In the north a thick forest provided her with a surfeit of lumber, while in the southeast her brickyards every day produced bounteous wares for masons all over the island. It was in the domain where she first landed in the new world, a lush and verdant grassland, where she built her favorite settlement, and even to this day she felt at peace among the gentle braying of her flocks of sheep and goats.
And while her neighbor and rival Lord Candamir Ergonschniff McGorglefont recently laid claim to the lion’s share of precious ore, a worthy boon indeed to risk settling so close to the otherwise treacherous mountain ranges, and while his own settlement produced for him and his own enough wheat and barley to fatten a hundred McGorglefonts, Lady Hildegard never found herself in want. She had shrewdly negotiated trading rights with the homeland and secured a low exchange rate for any other resource she could have wanted, so greatly was this variety of timber valued back in her former homeland. Not to mention roads were easy for her to build, which could then send von Malatesta caravans all over the new world. True, the McGorglefonts had been dealt a lucky hand, and from the settlements they inherited long ago they gathered the raw materials they needed to build booming cities, but Lady Hildegard was a patient woman. She would start from the ground up, expand her domains into other settlements, trade with the others and beat them at their own game. Soon the new world would be speckled with cities of her own.
Indeed, the lady could already boast of having the longest road on the island. She was in a capricious, almost mischievous mood that morning, and soon after ordered the construction of another beautiful road. That will show the other big men on the island, she thought with a chuckle. Yes, rub their big puffy noses right in my long beautiful roads. While reviewing her ledgers she saw to her surprise she also had enough to build another settlement, another beautiful new house overlooking the island shore. As she signed the necessary work order papers and drew up contracts for the laborers she could see in her mind the lovely walks along the ocean she would take, the brisk salty air, the gentle white sand gliding along the shore with the broken waves…
But as the days went on news of the settlement spread like the wind, and eventually blew toward the old ears of Nassir Ibn Farad’hnduul, the ninety-fourth Marquis of Brothenworthfuld. Grumblings could be heard on the von Malatesta and Brothenworthfuld lands alike that the kindly Lady Hildegard had perhaps overstepped her bounds. Something about the construction seemed to foul the air around them, production lagged, the gathering of resources became sluggish, work slowed to a halt.
It became apparent that the Marquis and Lady needed to consult the oracles. They made the proper obeisances and the oracles spoke to the old gods. The oracle of Brothenworthfuld proclaimed that his old god spoke thus: Dude, you’re building a settlement and my road is right fucking next to it. And the oracle of von Malatesta proclaimed that his old god replied thus: You goddamn motherfucker, you did it on purpose, you knew I was trying to get to the harbor so I could trade my bricks. And the oracle of Brothenworthfuld proclaimed that his old god spoke thus: So the fuck what? Rules are rules, now get your settlement off my road before I shove my fist up your ass and all the way through your esophagus and back through your mouth. The Marquis and Lady marveled at the odd language of the old gods but their proclamation was clear, the Lady was to refrain from building the settlement so close to the Marquis’s road, only then could the crops continue to grow.
Meanwhile, Lord Sean made the same donation to the oracles on this day as he did any other: A half bushel of ore, a skein of fine wool, a modest half-bushel of grain. Sean was an oddity among the lords of the island. Failing to develop his two small settlements, only occasionally building roads for what seemed to be the sport of it, he never failed to perform this curious tithe to the old gods each and every day. Once the lords grew impatient with him and asked him the reason behind this curious display of piety. I’m gaining points with the men upstairs, gaining points… was all he said, with a smile and a whistle as he walked away with a spring in his step back to his lands.
Months passed, other settlements were built, and the misfortune between von Malatesta and Brothenworthfuld was forgotten. But unrest was fomenting through the island, for the lords were now at the mercy of a fiendish saboteur: a treacherous thief in the night, sneaking through the lands of von Malatesta, Brothenworthfuld, McGorglefont and Sean alike, marauding and pillaging his fill. Under this pretense the McGorglefont amassed an immense army of knights at a rate that alarmed the other lords. And yet, the von Malatesta estates were attacked more often than any other, and soon Lady Hildegard found her stores depleted, production of wool and timber and brick coming to a halt.
She suspected her old rival McGorglefont, who with his mass of knighted men-at-arms seemed all but immune to the mysterious malfeasor. It was McGorglefont and his army who caught these thieves, and rather than bring them to justice, maliciously set them free and sent them to work for the von Malatesta enterprises, free to reprise their pilfering ways. The Lady accused McGorglefont formally and brought him once again to the oracles. And the oracle of von Malatesta proclaimed that his old god spoke thus: You fatty Cheeto-fingered hairy-necked shit fucker. Why the fuck are you putting the goddamn robber on my hexes every time? And why are there so many fucking sevens being rolled? And how many knight cards do you have, roll up your sleeves! And the oracle of McGorglefont proclaimed that his old god replied thus: go get fucked! You’re on three hexes with six, eight and nine, and you have two cities around them. Where do you really think I’m gonna put the robber? And the oracle of von Malatesta proclaimed that his old god spoke thus: I’m getting really pissed off now, I’m going to do it… And the oracle of McGorglefont proclaimed that his old god replied thus: If you flip the fucking board over again I will fuck you up sideways. Lord McGorglefont and Lady von Malatesta were perplexed by the curious language of the old gods, and also disturbed by its foreboding warning of doom, the faint glimmer of a tumultuous eschaton. Shaken by these exchanges of words McGorglefont muttered something about how his family was committed to bringing all thieves to justice, and that pleased von Malatesta enough. As they left the hall of the old gods they once again witnessed Sean offer half bushel of ore, a skein of fine wool, a modest half-bushel of grain. Gaining points with the men upstairs, gaining points…
Once again time marched on and the quarrel between Lady Hildegard and Lord Candamir was forgotten. The new year was approaching, the tenth since the lords first settled upon the new island. They made a pact with each other to gather ten years after the moment they first broke land, and in that gathering decide who made the most advances to the benefit of the island. Lord McGorglefont pointed to his home settlement, three grand cities, and large army of knights, while Lady von Malatesta praised her nine, small to be sure, but quaint and successful countryside settlements, while the old Marquis of Brothenworthfuld beamed in pride at his lengthy network of roads connecting every domain of the island to each other, finally beating out the Lady von Malatesta’s roads. Sean then appeared, and crowned himself the One Lord of the Island.
The lords were astonished, they demanded he tell them by what rights could he claim such a title, in what way did he develop the island. He smiled and told them, points. I gained points with the men upstairs, once a year, for ten years. You all have only nine points, but I have ten.
Furious, the lords dragged Sean to the old oracles. And the oracles of the lords proclaimed that their old gods spoke thus to Sean’s old god: you are the fucking worst. You are a kitten rapist, you are a fucking ISIS member. And the oracles of Sean proclaimed that his old god replied thus: Don’t you do it, don’t you dare flip that…
Then the world ended with a bang. Up became down, down became up. Gone were von Malatesta’s lovely settlements, her stores of brick and lumber turned to ash, the hordes of McGorglefont’s knighted army laid low in an instant, the roads of Brothenworthfuld twisted into ineffectual Gordian knots. And true, as Sean consoled himself in his last moments of life as he floated in empty space among the remnants of the world and the cold lifeless bodies of the lords and laymen of the island, he had scored points from the men upstairs, but at what boon to him, or to the island, or to anyone?