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Three days after the game, it was finally Friday, and Kory had finally returned to school. As he walked into school, with Khris by his side, Daryll immediately noticed him walking in, running over with an excited smile on his face.

 

“Welcome back! Lunches haven’t been the same without you,” Daryll looked over at Khris, who immediately looked confused at Daryll’s comment. “Not that they haven’t been good. It’s just not the same with him not sitting there reading God knows what.”

 

“Thanks. Feels good to be back,” Kory forced a smile back at Daryll before he and Khris kept walking.

 

Through the school halls, nobody else said anything to Kory, though Khris got a few people saying ‘hello’ to him as they walked. Unlike Michael, this wasn’t because Kory couldn’t make friends or wasn’t social, but because Kory only cared about his brother. He didn’t particularly like other people outside of a few of the Experts. Even Daryll was someone Kory wasn’t a huge fan of, though he does try to be nice to him because Khris thinks of him as a friend.

 

Kory was only in the highest level classes for his grade, even in some higher grade classes. Truly a genius when it came to academics. Throughout his classes, he listened attentively, but at every chance he got, he would go back to reading his book. Nobody knew what the book he was reading was about, only that the cover was black, and the size of the book was ever-changing. Some days, the book would be really large, while other days it’d be short. People suspected that the cover of the book was made by Kory and that he put it on whatever book he decided to read that day, so nobody knew what it was about.

 

During junior lunch, Kory sat with Khris and Daryll as usual, only reading. However, he overheard something that immediately caught his attention.

 

“So, what kind of a nickname is ‘The Heart’ and ‘Dilly-Dally’ anyways?” Daryll asked, chuckling as the names came out of his mouth.

 

“None of us chose our names. Cap did. Some stuck, like mine, and some didn’t, such as the Fletchers. But you can sometimes understand a bit about each player by their names.” Khris ate as he spoke.

 

“Even ‘Macbeth’? I don’t get how that could give a clue to how he plays.” Daryll reached over and took some of Khris’s lunch, which Khris didn’t seem to mind. This was when Kory decided to jump in.

 

“Macbeth gets his name because he’s an actor. Macbeth was the play we all had started reading at that time, and so he got up and performed a speech from the play from memory almost immediately after reading it. That’s when Cap decided to give him the name ‘Macbeth’. Up until then, ‘The Actor’ was his name, but everyone agreed that ‘Macbeth’ sounded much better,” Kory showed interest in the conversation.

 

“You guys mention this Cap guy a lot. Is he that good?” Daryll showed excitement at the possible answer.

 

“We’ll save that conversation for right before we face him. I don’t think it’s something you need to have on your mind right now.” Khris glanced at Kory, seeing if Kory approved Khris’s response.

 

As Daryll kept asking questions, Kory got a text. He drowned out the conversation in his head and checked his phone. He noticed that it was a text from Macbeth.

 

‘Hey Man! The company gave me around 10 tickets for my play tonight and I couldn’t get rid of 4 of them. Want to come and bring 3 friends? I assume your brother will be one, but if you can get 2 more to come with you guys, it’d be lovely. We’re doing Hamlet and I got to play the leading role! Let me know as soon as you can!’

 

Kory immediately had a smile on his face, texted back asking for the details, and then looked up at Khris, interrupting the conversation.

 

“Want to come watch Macbeth’s play tonight? He got four extra tickets, and he’s giving them to me,” Kory showed a rare case excitement as he spoke, which Daryll immediately noticed.

 

“Sure, who are you giving the other two tickets to?” Khris didn’t show the same level of excitement, almost monotone, Kory thought about an answer for a second, then turn to Daryll.

 

“Busy tonight?” Kory asked. Daryll immediately had the biggest smile on his face.

 

“Nope! I’d be happy to come!,” Daryll smiled at both Kory and Khris, which made Khris smile as well. Kory knew inviting Daryll would make Khris happy.

 

“We still need a fourth,” Khris brought up. Kory immediately stood up and walked to the back corner of the cafeteria, where Michael was sitting, alone.

 

Kory sat across from Michael, who immediately had a confused look on his face. Kory pulled out his book and didn’t say anything, just reading. Khris watched, giving Daryll a play-by-play of what was happening. Michael took a few seconds to stare at Kory in confusion but then went back to eating his lunch. For a few minutes, no words were spoken, and neither student looked at each other. Soon, the bell rang. As Michael stood up, Kory finally spoke out.

 

“There’s a play tonight. You’re coming with us. Thank you,” Before Michael could respond, Kory left and sorted walking with Khris and Daryll.

 

“Did you invite him?” Daryll asked.

 

“He’s coming,” Kory responded, and then the three boys broke off to their classes without another word.

 

During the same junior lunch, the Chase twins had also made plans.

 

“I don’t want to go to a party. We should be getting more practice in” Lionel whined, looking down at the folder.

 

“We’re going. Plus, it won’t just be our school. Maybe there will be at least one or two Experts—” As soon as the word ‘Experts’ left Lory’s mouth, Lionel interrupted him.

 

“I’m in,” Lionel still didn’t look up from his folder while he spoke. Lory was shocked for a second, but then couldn’t help but chuckle.

 

Lory got up and walked over to another table, Lionel not even noticing. The table had a lot of people around it, including Rachel and Taylor. Lory stood behind Rachel and tapped her shoulder, which caused her and the guy next to her to turn around.

 

“What do you want?” Rachel had a clear annoyance.

 

“Do you have the info for the party tomorrow?” Lory smiled.

 

The guy next to Rachel stood up and looked up at Lory, not showing fear at Lory, despite being shorter. The guy was lean but in shape. He had an angry look on his face, but immediately put on a smile and gently put his hand on Lory’s shoulder.

 

“Bro, I’ll text you the details!” There was a sense of passive aggression in the guy’s voice.

 

“You don’t have my number,” Lory responded, confused.

 

“I have everyone’s number, it’s my thing,” The guy gently squeezed Lory’s shoulder.

 

“I don’t even know you.” Lory was unsure of what the situation was.

 

“Rachel told me about you before. You’re the twin on the basketball team,” The guy had the biggest smile, but suddenly his eyes turned intense while he looked at Lory. “Well, any friend of my girl is a friend of mine.”

 

Lory immediately figured out the situation. He nodded with a smile and walked back to sit across from his brother. Not another word was spoken throughout lunch.

 

The basketball practice that day was tough on everyone. Each person was pushing themselves to the limit to strengthen their play styles. Kory couldn’t help but take note of it while in the stands, looking away from his book for once. He pulled out his folder and took notes on each player.

 

He started with Daryll, noticing that his mid-range shots were becoming more consistent and that he was passing better in the scrimmage game. Kory noted that this would help ball movement and more options on offence.

 

Next Kory focused on Khris, noting that his dribbling was getting better. He couldn’t write more since Khris’s shooting was near perfect, as he made every shot he took in the scrimmage game.

 

The next to get an update in Kory’s folder was the twins, noting that Lionel’s shooting was slightly better, while Lory grabbed the most rebounds in the scrimmage, fighting a lot harder.

 

Next up was Michael, who was more aggressive in his approach, but also added some intelligence to his play. Michael only drove when a shooter was ready on the outside, so he had someone to pass to if their defender tried to help stop him. Kory noted that this was possibly the most important development for the team, as he saw how good Michael could become in the game against the Guardians.

 

When writing about Russ, Kory saw that Russ started shooting in the mid-range a bit. However, his defence stayed the same. Though Russ had great defensive instincts, his defensive intelligence wasn’t the highest. Kory wrote that Russ wasn’t perfecting his specialty quite like the others.

 

Similarly to what he wrote for Russ, Kory noted that Kazu was focusing more on his stamina and strength than anything. He saw that Kazu was pushing his body much past where he was a month earlier, but that his skills weren’t getting better. He also noted that this may be due to Lory simply being a better rebounder, but Kazu’s rebounds seem to be stagnant.

 

Finally, on a spare page that he never shared with any teammates, he started writing what he thought the best offensive sets would be for the team, figuring out a style he thought the whole team would thrive in with or without set plays in the playbook. Along with all this, he wrote little notes on what his thoughts were on the team. He noted that he was impressed with how much they must’ve pushed themselves in the past three days to show almost immediate improvement, but that they still weren’t ready to take on the top players of the Experts.

 

When practice ended, Kory ran over to Michael, blocking his exit from the door.

 

“Meet here and we’ll pick you up?” Kory had a smile on his face. Michael tried to find cues in his tone to see if Kory was genuine about wanting him to go, but he couldn’t find anything wrong in Kory’s tone.

 

“Uhm, sure? But, what exactly is it, again?” Michael couldn’t help but sound confused.

 

“It’s a play. Just come with us. It’ll be worth it. Tonight at six you’ll meet us here. Don’t be late,” Kory slapped Michael’s arm gently, then left the gym. Michale stood there for a second, thinking about how much he hated plays, contemplating going.

 

When the time came, Michael was, in fact, waiting at the school when Kory came to pick him up, Mrs. McCormick driving. When Michael got in, Kory simply waved and not a single word was spoken between the two. Mrs. McCormick was also silent, but this was because she could tell that the two boys weren’t the most social.

 

When they arrived at the theatre, Khris and Daryll were already waiting in line.

 

“Have fun, I’ll be back to grab you all when Kory tells me you’re done,” Mrs. McCormick yelled out the window after Kory and Michael left the car. “I love you!”

 

Mrs. McCormick drove off, but her words made Michael flinch. He finally heard a proper sendoff from a parent, and it wasn’t even intended for him. He quickly shook off the sadness he suddenly experienced, and all four of the boys headed into the theatre. The tickets for them were set aside, and their seats were in the second row on at the end of the row.

 

Daryll walked into the row first, walking to his seat and sitting down. When he tried to put his arm on the rest, he noticed that a large arm was already there. He looked over to see a muscular guy next to him. Then he heard Kory.

 

“Robin? Good to see you!” Kory had genuine happiness in his voice.

 

“Good. See. You,” Robin waved back, smiling as well.

 

‘Robin?’ Daryll thought, and then it hit him. ‘Holy crap that’s him!’ Daryll looked over at the muscular Expert, wondering why there were so many muscular fourteen-year-old playing basketball. First, there was Tyrell, and now there was Robin. Khris, who was sitting next to Daryll, noticed the shocked expression that Daryll had.

 

“Robin and Macbeth might be the two people that Kory was closest with. Along with High-Rise. Just, don’t comment to Robin about how he talks,” Khris whispered to Daryll.

 

Kory sat on the other end, with Michael next to Khris. While waiting for the play to start, Kory noticed the silence and decided to take action.

 

“So, what made you start playing basketball?” He asked.

 

“Uhm. My father was really into basketball, so I started playing,” Michael looked over, not showing any emotion. “Why don’t you play?”

 

“Because I hate basketball,” Kory quickly responded, but Michael immediately knew it was a lie. “So what do you fight for?”

 

Michael tilted his head, slightly confused by the question, but tried to find the correct answer.

 

“Recognition?” Michael was unsure of his answer, but Kory knew it was the truth.

 

Michael’s answer made sense to Kory. He could tell by the way Michael played, with him constantly attacking and being aggressive. Kory knew that Michael wanted attention, whether from someone specific or a large group of people. Even the joy Kory observed in Michael during the Guardian’s game made sense to him, seeing it as Michael getting recognition from the enemy team, which is more impressive than getting recognition from your school. Kory was also happy with the answer since recognition is a motivation that rarely runs out. Following Michale’s answer, Kory leaned forward and looked at Khris.

 

“What do you fight for?” He asked.

 

Khris and Daryll looked back at Kory, both slightly confused.

 

“Myself,” Khris responded, giving Kory a look to signal him to not ask that question.

 

“For fun!” Daryll joined in, smiling.

 

Michael immediately picked up on the fact that Khris wasn’t giving a full answer, but decided not to call him out on it. Kory was fine with Khris’s answer, knowing deep down what his motivation truly was. Daryll’s answer, however, didn’t sit well with Kory at all.

 

“What happens when you aren’t having fun anymore?” Kory asked.

 

Daryll paused for a second to think, and that’s when the lights over the audience went out, signaling that the play was about to begin.

 

As soon as Macbeth went on stage, everyone was captured by his presence. Everyone hung onto every word Macbeth said, completely drawn into the play. Even the children were silent, and the entire play was enhanced simply by Macbeth’s performance.

 

By the time Macbeth got to the ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ speech, each member of the Mustangs were in the palm of his hand, especially Michael. He was hooked on every word and action Macbeth took. The believability of Macbeth’s performance made people invest in the well-known story as if they’d never seen it before. By the time the play was over, Michael had a tear in his eye. When they introduced the actors, everyone waited patiently for Macbeth’s name to come up.

 

“And finally, Han Lao!” The announcer exclaimed.

 

Everyone jumped on their feet, cheering as loud as they could for the marvelous performance. Even with bowing, Macbeth commanded attention, his graceful movements catching the eyes of everybody.

 

As the boys were getting ready to leave, a security guard came to their row.

 

“Is this the Han Lao party?” The guard asked.

 

“Yes,” Robin yelled out.

 

“Great, Han said he wanted to see you guys privately in two groups of five. So, you five, follow me,” The guard turned and headed through a side door.

 

Kory, Michael, Khris, Daryll, and Robin followed. Daryll looked back, noting that Robin was tall, but not excessively tall. Somewhere between the twins and Kazu. When they went into the private room, Macbeth was standing there, smiling.

 

“Mr. Lao, your first group.” The guard shuffled the students in, and then closed the door behind him.

 

There was a moment of silence, as Macbeth simply smiled at everyone that entered, not saying anything. After a few seconds, he finally spoke out.

 

“I knew you’d bring teammates. You always were smart,” Macbeth laughed, then went to each of the Mustangs, shaking their hands and introducing himself.

 

Daryll could feel the presence of Macbeth in the room, but he noted that it was different from the presence of Tyrell significantly. While Tyrell’s presence was more intense and heavy, Macbeth was more friendly and commanding. Macbeth had to be the focus of attention in the room. Kory noted this as well but figured that nobody noticed it while he was at the Guardian game since Tyrell’s presence was that much stronger.

 

“Was there something you needed specifically or was this just a way to introduce yourself to these two?” Khris asked.

 

“Actually, I wanted to warn you guys. Specifically Kory, but I guess this goes for your entire team. Manny is gunning specifically for you guys,” Macbeth pulled a stool out and sat on it.

 

“Manny? You mean The Villain?” Daryll asked, intrigued.

 

“Exactly. He seems to think that you guys losing will draw out Kory to start playing again. He’s probably going to try to motivate each team with an Expert to go especially hard on you guys. So I’m warning you, you’re all going to have to work extra hard against us. He probably expects me to warn you guys as well, but I had to tell you. Out of respect for my friendship with Kory,” Macbeth wiped the sweat off his forehead as he spoke.

 

Kory wasn’t shocked. He knew that Manny wanted him to play again, but he didn’t expect Manny to try to rally the other players to gun for the Mustangs.

 

“Do you think he got to High-Rise and Trent?” Kory asked, a sense of worry in his voice that Michael picked up on. Macbeth faced Kory.

 

“Well, we’re the only two that you talked to. I can see how others may resent you. Plus, Deadeye is seen as a dangerous opponent but wasted without you, so I’m sure that everyone wants to at least test his theory of beating you guys so bad that you’ll play,” Macbeth’s words ran through Michael, who was getting annoyed.

 

“We’ll be fine. Thanks though,” Michael turned and walked out of the room.

 

Michael was annoyed that Kory and Khris were getting all the attention again. Hearing that the entire team suddenly has a target on their back because Manny wants Kory to play, and the fact that people think Khris is being wasted, he was disgusted. Daryll chased after Michael, followed by Khris, who was oddly silent the entire time. Kory walked to the door, then looked back at Macbeth and Robin.

 

“You’re not going to go easy on them, right? I get that you don’t want to listen to Manny, but they need experience playing against you guys before the season starts,” Kory pleaded.

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll give it my all. But it’s for my reasons. My team needs to have perfect chemistry before the season, so I can’t afford to hold back.” Macbeth gave a reassuring smile. Kory smiled back and left the room.

 

Finally catching up with the others, Kory was about to apologize, then he realized that Michael was venting to Daryll. He could overhear a few of the words but decided not to listen to the whole conversation. His job was done. The reason he invited Michael was that Michael was separate from everybody on the team away from the court. Kory saw this as a disadvantage, feeling that unity amongst players was important to a team’s performance. Macbeth even picked up on the fact that Kory would invite teammates to bring the players closer. In this respect, it worked. Despite the limited conversing between Michael and the others, it was clear that spending free time around each other made them closer. With his job done, Kory called his mom so that she could pick the boys up.

 

When the next day came, the Chase twins spent most of their Saturday training. Lionel worked on his shots a lot more, and Lory did exercises to improve his leg strength. However, while Lionel was completely focused for the entire day, Lory would take some time out to text some of his friends and call some girls that he was trying to flirt with.

 

When the night began to approach, the twins got ready for the party. While Lory was going to socialize, Lionel was strictly going to see any Experts. The twins did have a no-drinking rule, since they felt it may hinder their performance, regardless of whether there is proof behind that theory or not.

 

When the twins got to the party, the first thing they noticed was how secluded the area was. The path took place in a very large cabin inside of a forest. The music was loud and there were plenty of high school students. The twins showed up a little late since the taxi they took had a slow driver. However, the fact that there were already students blacked out surprised them, since they didn’t think they were late enough for people to already have passed out.

 

The two split up, with Lionel going inside while Lory headed towards a group of girls outside of the cabin. When Lionel got inside, he noticed that one corner was open for karaoke, but nobody was using it. The cabin was flooded and the speakers were blaring music. Lionel barely had any room to move, but he managed to push himself towards the stairs leading to the less crowded second floor. When he got up the stairs, he saw Taylor waiting outside of a door. He immediately turned to go back the stairs, but Taylor had noticed him and called out.

 

“Lionel? You came?” Taylor was loud to make sure that Lionel heard her. Lionel turned around with a fake smile, walking over to her.

 

“Yeah, I was hoping some Experts were here.” His voice feigned interest.

 

“Oh, those guys? I heard that Trent Tate was here. He’s here to perform some songs, which is why they have that whole karaoke set up. Apparently, he’s talented,” Taylor walked over and grabbed Lionel’s hand, pulling him towards a nearby window, letting go once they were there and leaning on the open window, looking outside. “I’m not much of a party person, but Rachel and her boo are here, and they dragged me along.”

 

Lionel was leaning out the large window next to Taylor, but he was searching outside for any sign of Trent.

 

“Oh yeah? Cool,” Lionel wasn’t listening to Taylor. Despite this, Taylor didn’t seem to mind.

 

“So, like, we had volleyball tryouts. I think I’m going to make it onto the team. But the other girls seemed good. It’s no wonder that this team hasn’t been cut like the others,” Taylor was trying to make any type of conversation, but Lionel didn’t even bother responding this time. Taylor couldn’t do anything but chuckle, astonished at Lionel’s obsession with both basketball and the Experts. Just then, the music changed and a voice boomed through the cabin.

 

“Y’all ready?” The voice said.

 

Lionel immediately ran away from the window and down the stairs, seeing an extremely tall figure at the mic. The figure started singing, and it clicked in Lionel’s head that he was looking at another member of the Experts. Trent Tate, also known as Dilly-Dally. Lionel immediately looked over the audience to see if High-Rise was present, but he couldn’t find him Then Lionel immediately froze. Trent’s voice was very mesmerizing, almost forcing Lionel to take notice of the talent that Trent had at singing. But, before Lionel was completely sucked in, Taylor tugged on his arm. When Lionel looked over, he noticed that Taylor had a panicked look on her face.

 

“So, like, we need to leave now. Rachel and her boo just left through the window, and we need to go as well. She got a text that someone called the police here. We can’t get caught here as student-athletes,” Taylor pulled hard, and when Lionel realized the stakes, he followed her.

 

The pair jumped out of the second-story window, not wanting to push through the crowd. Taylor led Lionel into the forest, eventually leading him to where Rachel and her boyfriend had been waiting. There were three bikes there, and then Lionel noticed that Lory was with them.

 

“Good, she got you. Rachel saw me and told me what’s going on. I already called a cab, he’ll meet us at the edge of the forest,” Lory had clear disappointment in his voice, but also a sense of relief that Taylor had grabbed Lionel.

 

Rachel and Taylor led the group out of the forest, away from the cabin, and the cab was waiting there, then everybody said their goodbyes. Lionel and Lory took the taxi while Rachel, her boyfriend, and Taylor took their bikes. While in the taxi, Lory had a dumb smile on his face while looking at Lionel.

 

“You and Taylor?” He asked.

 

“No,” Without hesitation, Lionel denied it. Despite his denial, however, Lory continued to tease Lionel the entire ride home.

 

For the next two weeks, things slightly changed. Michael sometimes sat with Daryll, Khris, and Kory at lunch, but it was still a rare occurrence. Only when Michael wanted to ask about Manny and their opponents in the upcoming tournament. Lionel spent the two weeks studying the entire folder constantly, having every detail memorized. Lory took the time to make new friends while Lionel was busy studying. He had his little clique formed within the two weeks. Taylor, however, started sitting with Lionel instead of Rachel on a few lunches, just to keep him company while Lory was gone. Lionel noticed, but never cared nor talked to her.

 

As for basketball practice, Kazu and Russ pushed themselves the hardest. Now that Kazu was well ahead in all of his classes, he had spent all his free time devoted to bettering himself in basketball. Russ also devoted more time to the sport, desperately trying to add more versatility to his basketball game. Michael, Daryll, Lionel, and Khris all worked hard on their skills. Lory, however, wasn’t showing as much effort as everyone else. As the two weeks went on, Lory’s motivation continued to leave, but he still pushed through it.

 

Now it was time for the first pre-season tournament. The team collectively went to the tournament courts together, signing in as a team, but that’s when Khris noticed something baffling to him. He quickly turned to Coach and asked a simple question.

 

“Coach, why does this sign-in sheet have my brother listed on our roster?”

 

Finally, the first tournament is here, the first chance for the Mustangs to save their team. How will they fare against the four Experts that will be at this tournament? Has the team improved enough in the two weeks to put up a good fight? Why is Kory listed on the Mustang roster? Come back and see if these questions will be answered!

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A note from TheMagnificentOne

Next Episode: Coming Together

 


About the author

TheMagnificentOne

Bio: Hi everybody! My name is TheMagnificentOne, but you can call me Mag. I am a film program graduate and want to try book writing instead of continuing scriptwriting. I usually write stories about sports, superheroes, or war. It's my dream to create comic books in the future, despite my inability to draw. I hope you all enjoy the stories I write and stay Magnificent everyone!

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