Once upon a time, there was a baseball team.
This baseball team wasn't the richest team, though it wasn't poor by any means. It wasn't the strongest team and it wasn't by any means the fastest team. It wasn't even considered the best team within its region, much less in all the land.
This team had many players that made up its merry band. It had the Warrior, who could battle teams with amazing firepower and also could undermine them with guts and guile, depending on the situation. It had the Young Gun, a man who started building his legend early and then continued to develop it.
There was the Legend, one known far and wide as the most intimidating, the most amazing, the most everything of players. Aiding the Legend was the Hired Hand, imported indirectly from the mountain tribes to help the Legend in his times of trial. To go along with these two was the Rival, a man that had started out as a fierce member of an opposing tribe, only to become a trusted member of this team.
There were others, of course. The Local, the Phenom, the Lefty, the Poet, the Gunslinger, the Finisher. All sorts of names and characters made up this unique team.
Every year, the Lords of Baseball held a contest in the fall of the year, when the leaves were changing and the north winds began to blow. This contest was to see just which team would be able to hold the title of Best Team and feast on the adoration of those that followed these brave and intrepid men. Teams came from far and wide, down long and winding roads, to get to the tournament, well knowing that only eight of them would be allowed inside the gates once they arrived at their destination.
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After a winter of rest, the members of this team gathered together in the warmth of the south to practice their talents and prepare themselves for the long road ahead. They had barely begun to do this when tragedy struck the group. The Young Gun, the one expected to lead the charge over the walls to get them into this vaunted tournament, would not be making the trip. Prior battles had wounded him, and he would not be able to go on. The team mourned their loss and regretted that their road had gotten that much rougher.
Still, this club, these men, they knew they had to press on. There are no easy roads to the Lair of the Lords and while the team knew that the bumps and twists and turns would be tougher this year without their key member, they also knew that if they did not attempt the journey, they had no chance of reaping the reward. And so they set off.
In this land, teams in a region tended to walk the road together. Our heroes walked with beermakers and buccaneers, with spacemen and socialists and even a band of bear-like warriors. These teams had walked together many a time before and knew each other well. That did not mean they liked each other, as tempers would flare before this journey would be completed.
The team faced many battles and were not always successful. They would often seem to be leading a fight, only to have the Poet or the Finisher be unable to seal the deal. They would set a team up for a killing blow, only to see the Legend or the Hired Hand take out a couple of their own men, missing the opportunity to sway a battle to their advantage.
Even with these issues, though, the team was able to stride the road at a rapid pace. Soon they left behind the spacemen and the bear-men. While it was only one full turn of the calendar ago when they had had such battles with the socialists that the woods had reverberated with song, this season our friends pulled ahead of them as well.
As the teams were about halfway down the road, the buccaneers, the beermakers, and our favorites were walking three abreast. It seemed like the last half of the road was going to be interesting, as it narrowed down through the mountains to push one team ahead of the others.
Watching the team, the Overseer was uncertain that this group would be the one that would make it through the gap. Using a runner, he contacted another group, a band of bird men that were walking a different road and were well behind on their path, and suggested a meeting. The Overseer met with his opposite number and, after discussions, an exchange was worked out.
The Phenom was sent up the mighty river to the bird men, hoping that he could learn their ways and become a legend in his own right for them, helping them overtake the northmen and the bean eaters in another journey. The bird men, for their part, sent over the Traveler, the Gamer, and the Old Man to see if they couldn't shore up the team's defenses and help them gain time on the road.
Those that were following the teams on the side of the road, those that waved their banners and played the trumpets for the squads when they did battle, were not amused. This rearguard of watchers complained about how much they liked the Phenom, how much they thought he could help this team in years to come. Could this Traveler, who flitted from tribe to tribe, help as much? Wasn't the Old Man someone that had already fought his best battles? Could this Gamer really be what the team was looking for?
The Overseer heard all of these complaints. He heard them louder when, as the buccaneers stumbled, the beermakers pulled ahead, outdistancing our team as they could only catch a glimpse of their backs in the setting sun. The road was getting shorter, much shorter, and it looked inevitable that our heroes were not going to be getting through the gap first.
There were six different roads to the fall tournament and every one of them had such a mountain gap. The Lords had decreed that whichever team made it through the gap first were eligible for the tourney, but they had left one lifeline for those that might have been trailing behind.
The paths ran in two groups of three. The first team outside of the winners to come out of each group was also allowed into the tournament. All others, though, were left outside for the cold winter, forced to trudge back to their homes as the snows began.
So, with just one sixth of the road left and the beermakers out of sight, the Warrior asked that the tribe circle around him.
"Men," he said, "it's very possible that our quest has failed. It could be that we will have to brave the snows to return to our loved ones, having no chance to drink from the Lords' cup. I tell you this, though. As long as there is an open slot in this tournament, I intend to battle like never before. I will treat each battle that comes our way as if it is the last battle we have to fight to get into the Lair of the Lords. I will wake each day with the determination that, this day, we will see those walls and know that we are entering them. What say you, my friends? Shall we fight?"
The roar reverberated through the mountains, down all the roads, including one where another tribe, those of men native to that land, walked. These men were also trailing in their path, well behind those who took their fill, but they felt confident that they would beat anyone else through the gaps. When they heard that roar, though, they realized that things were not over.
And so the race began. The natives stumbled. Our heroes did not. Every day the gap between the two closed. Our men could see them now, see the natives on their road across the way, continuing to lose their battles and being forced farther from the mountain gap. Every day our heroes continued to press on to their goal with determination and sure-footed speed.
Finally, the last steps of the road were in sight. The weather was changing--cool breezes blew through the trees and the first leaves were falling to the ground. The Warrior stepped in front of the tribe and said, "Today, we get into that tournament. I will lead you."
The Local stood up and said, "No, today we will lead you. Save your strength."
The Warrior responded, "I do not know how to do that. We will fight together."
And so the battle was joined. The Warrior was brilliant, allowing no slings and arrows to get past. The Local, the Legend, and more from the tribe poured on the boiling oil, dominating the last battle. Would it be enough? Could they finish off this last step of the amazing journey?
They looked from afar and watched. The natives fought well against those of the fill. They fought long and hard. But in the end, they fell, and our heroes slid into the last slot of the Lords' Tournament.
Inside the walls of the Lair of the Lords, the tribe looked around. They noticed that there were some strong tribes here. The filled ones, the snakes and the beermakers would be their first priority. They would worry about the tribes from the distant lands soon enough.
They squared off against the filled ones first. They took a strong blow when the Slugger of the filled ones blasted the arrow of the Crow Eater, giving them their battle. Then, the Warrior tried to go again, but he went too soon and the tribe was on their back, with the filled ones looking to place a mortal blow.
The tribe remembered the Warrior's speech, though, and they refused to take that blow. They battled back, turning the tide and taking a battle that was thought to be unwinnable. The teams exchanged victories in the next battles, setting up one climactic duel between the Warrior and the Ace.
Our heroes quickly got ahead in the battle. Not much, just a small edge. That was all they needed, though. The Warrior turned back onslaughts, fought off battlers, and even though the Ace did the same, that one chink in the armor proved to be fatal. The filled ones were filled with defeat, and our heroes moved on.
The next battle, as expected, took place against the beermakers. These two teams knew each other well, having fought many times over the years. The beermakers got to the Lefty early, but our team bludgeoned them in the second match and eked out a win for the Warrior in the third. While the beermakers tried to rally and were able to take another engagement, this tribe was too much for them this time. The beermakers were shown the door, with the Jester fully cowed.
The tribe looked around. There was only one group left. The lawmen were tough, focused and more than a match for our men. The teams went back and forth, with one team winning a battle, then another.
Finally, after five such matches, it looked like the lawmen had finally done it. They were ahead in the decisive battle. There was nothing this team could do. It was over.
Until the Local stood up and said, "No. No it is not."
He grabbed that last incoming arrow, turned it around, and plunged it into the lawmen. The lawmen screamed, but then threw another mortal bolt into the tribe. Surely, surely, this was the end of the line.
Until the Rival stood up and said, "No. No it is not."
He turned the last incoming shot around, putting the teams back on equal footing. This was the epitome of the Warrior's call. If there was to be a battle lost, it would not be lost with any breath, any ounce of strength left in this band of brothers.
And then the Local said, "There will be no losing today."
His bolt knocked the lawmen into the soft grass. The battle had been one and that meant there was just one more battle to be fought.
The lawmen did give it their best. They jumped on our heroes early and looked poised to finally do what no one else could do. Again, though, they did not anticipate the Local, who quickly put things back even. After that, it was a matter of time. The team wore down the lawmen, made them to make mistakes and, at the end of the match, at the end of these epic battles, these battles they had been fighting for months on end and the battles that had pushed them to the edge of defeat time and time again, at the end of all of that, this team was still standing.
The Lords of Baseball awarded their cup. The tribe drank in the adoration.
And they lived happily, so very happily, ever after.