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“I don’t understand what happened out there,” Michael mentioned to Lionel as they were packing up their clothes in the change room. “One second I’m running to the basket waiting for a pass, and then in the next instant, I suddenly have the ball. I didn’t see the pass, nor do I remember anyone telling me a ball was coming. It just sort of appeared in my hands. I don’t understand how a pass can be caught if the person catching it doesn’t know they’re catching it.”

 

“I get it. The same thing happened to me. After I set that pick, I didn’t notice the ball coming. I just found myself shooting a ball, almost by instinct. It was perfect. Even as the ball left my hand and I was still gathering what was happening, I knew the shot was going in,” Lionel responded nothing but confusion in his voice.

 

Lionel and Michael weren’t the only confused ones. Daryll was packing his stuff up by himself, the shock of what happened finally setting in. The entire time that Kory was on the court, Daryll struggled to grasp the situations that were happening. Plays happened without Daryll even knowing they were happening. It was almost as if someone was controlling the entire team without them realizing it. The biggest shock, however, was the fact that Kory changed the game completely. The second Kory stepped on the court, the Kraken’s comeback ended. Daryll thought about the words that Khris said to him earlier.

 

"Nobody knows basketball quite like Kory,” Daryll remembered Khris saying.

 

Soon, everybody was packed up and crowded around Coach outside the arena.

 

“Alright, the final game is back here on court one at noon. Be here by eleven, be ready by eleven-fifteen, and warm up until the game starts. Macbeth barely had to play the tournament, so he won’t have any soreness like you all, so this will be a fight. But, I’m sure we can manage. Rest up, see you tomorrow,” Coach said to his team, keeping his voice calm.

 

Everyone separated into pairs as they left. Russ left with Kazu, while the Chase twins left together. Kory and Khris stayed together, while Daryll followed Michael.

 

Russ was helping Kazu walk, as the pain in Kazu’s ankle was still bothering him. However, Kazu didn’t think of the pain too much. He simply thought about what he saw on the court. Russ had the same thoughts as well.

 

“So, did you notice what happened?” Russ asked.

 

“I could barely catch it. They happened so fast, it was almost unbelievable to watch. This is him after a two-year break?” Kazu responded, dumbfounded.

 

Russ couldn’t answer Kazu’s question, not quite believing that Kory had two years off of basketball after the performance he saw in the last few minutes of the game.

 

Lionel and Lory were walking to their parent’s car, slowly. Lory’s legs were still in pain, but he knew it was just extreme soreness from pushing them so much in the last game. Unlike everyone else, Lory wasn’t as concerned about Kory’s game. He expected amazing things from an Expert. However, Lory was angry at himself for not being able to stay in the game against High-Rise.

 

“Can you imagine being a top prospect, only to be shot down and outplayed by newcomers?” Lory asked. Lory was too deep in thought to realize that Lionel was taken back by his comment.

 

“No, I can’t imagine,” Lionel responded, not wanting to start the rant that he knew he could. Instead, Lionel was running through every play that Kory did mentally.

 

Daryll was getting a ride home from the Riley’s, so he followed Micheal. Michael had already snapped out of his trance, knowing that the best players don’t get hung up on things like that. Daryll, however, couldn’t snap out of it. All Daryll could think about was how much better of a point guard Kory was without even practicing. Daryll was almost discouraged, and Michael could tell.

 

“It’s crazy, right? We beat an Expert on our second try! But, I don’t think they were using High-Rise as much as they could. Maybe they wanted to see how they’d fare without him?” Michael tried to get Daryll’s mind off of things.

 

“We didn’t beat them. They had us beat in the final quarter before Kory came in. He walked in and completely changed the game with minimal effort. I’m not even sure I saw him drop a sweat,” Daryll’s voice was empty, his trance leaving his voice emotionless.

 

“He was sweating, you were simply too surprised to realize this. But, he is an Expert, regardless of whether he’s in top form. To not expect this was silly,” Michael responded, realizing that Daryll was too deep into the trance to pull out immediately.

 

“If he is like that, as the lowest-rated Expert, after two years… Imagine how these ‘top five Experts’ are going to be like. Or even any Expert higher than High-Rise and Dilly-Dally. There are others that are unique like Kory, where their skills aren’t just scoring and defence. Imagine how crazy some of these games can get. Can they silence people like Tyrell?” Daryll’s voice turned from emptiness to horror the more he spoke.

 

“Tyrell was a special case. He had a dangerous aura about him that you can’t explain. He made everyone in the gym uncomfortable because his intensity was something they hadn’t seen before. The intimidation he had, I doubt anybody else could imitate that. I’m sure we can handle any type of unique situation that comes our way,” Michael responded, a soft voice to try to counter Daryll’s sudden fear of the Experts.

 

Daryll didn’t respond, silently entering the car. Coach heard the whole thing while he walked ahead of the pair, but even he couldn’t quite shake the uneasy feeling he had about the Experts. All he could think of was one question:

 

How crazy can these guys get?

 

Khris and Kory got into the back of their mother’s car, Khris having a wide smile on his face.

 

“Did you boys make it to the finals?” Mrs. McCormick asked.

 

“We did, and Kory even played today!” Khris responded, not being able to hide the pure excitement he had.

 

“Really? After all this time?” Mrs. McCormick responded, happiness suddenly entering her voice as she started driving.

 

Kory sighed, looking down at his phone. He was happy deep inside, but he didn’t want to show it. He didn’t want to give himself hope that he’d fully return to the sport. To him, he thought of the game against the Krakens as a fix, and that he wouldn’t need another one for a long time.

 

“Kory, do you plan to play tomorrow?” Khris asked.

 

“No,” Kory’s response was quick and emotionless.

 

“Oh come on, your passing speed is still amazing, your vision and knowledge of our team are good enough that you can think of plays on the spot easily, and you’ve got me! This is a perfect situation for you,” Khris pressed on.

 

“Maybe let him decide when he wants to come back, Khris. If he doesn’t want to play tomorrow, he won’t have to. He never officially joined the team anyways, so I’m not sure the coach would want him to play unless she had no other option,” Mrs. McCormick chimed in, almost sensing the sadness filling Kory.

 

As Mrs. McCormick sensed, Kory was becoming extremely sad. All Kory could remember from the game were the looks that Manny gave him throughout. The happiness he had deep inside slowly left him as he remembered some words he had heard a few years prior.

 

You’ll never be able to reach the heights that any of us can see. Pure trash!

 

That sentence ringed over and over again in Kory’s head, and he believed them. Years of Manny beating Kory in almost every situation. The only time that Kory could beat Manny was when his teammates took over the game. Manny would always destroy Kory in basketball, to the point that he made Kory truly believe that he was nothing.

 

“Come on, I’m sure you’ll be back in top form in no time!” Khris continued to press on.

 

“NO! I can’t come back to this game!” Kory screamed in the car, bringing everyone to silence.

 

The only sound in the car was the song on the radio, but to Khris, the silence was louder than the music. In an instant, Kory took out all the excitement from Khris, as Khris realized just how deep Manny had gotten into Kory’s head throughout the years. Khris had never heard Kory raise his voice in anger like he just did. All Khris could do was look down in defeat.

 

Mrs. McCormick could tell how each of her sons felt, but she also knew that saying anything in that instant would do more bad than good. She turned the radio louder and kept driving. While driving, she had a flashback to the day Kory quit basketball.

 

It was two years earlier, and Kory had come home nearly in tears, with Khris not far behind him, also crying. Mrs. McCormick immediately ran to the door and checked both of their bodies.

 

“Are either of you hurt? Need a band-aid?” She asked. Kory shook his head.

 

“I’m never playing basketball again!” For screamed, storming up the stairs of the house and going to his bedroom, slamming the door. Mrs. McCormick turned her attention to Khris.

 

“Why are you crying?” She asked.

 

“B-because Kory is quitting. I don’t want him to quit!” Khris chased after his brother, knocking hard on the door. Mrs. McCormick ran up the stairs and stopped Khris from knocking, hugging him tightly.

 

“Give him time. Pushing right now isn’t going to help him. Let him calm down and then talk to him,” Mrs. McCormick told Khris. Khris nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes.

 

Mrs. McCormick never did see Kory play basketball again. Kory would sometimes watch, and always listened to Khris talk about basketball, but he never touched the ball again. Mrs. McCormick didn’t quite know what caused Kory to quit, but she knew that Kory was extremely conflicted in the present moment.

 

When the McCormicks got home, Kory went straight to his room. Khris was going to follow him, but Mrs. McCormick stopped him. Khris looked down at his mom, and she gave him a soft smile, shaking her head. Khris understood and went to his room. Mrs. McCormick then knocked on Kory’s door gently.

 

“Kory, it’s me. May I come in?” Mrs. McCormick asked.

 

“Fine,” Kory responded.

 

Mrs. McCormick entered the room, seeing Kory on his bed reading the black book again. Mrs. McCormick went and sat next to Kory on the bed, sitting in silence for a moment while Kory read. Eventually, she spoke up.

 

“You know, you’ve been reading those basketball books ever since you stopped playing. So why didn’t you ever play again?” She asked. Kory looked up, startled.

 

“You know what my books were about?” He asked.

 

“Of course I do, I’ve tried reading a few when you finished. I never understood why you always put that black cover on each book before you read them. Why do you hide that you study basketball still?” Mrs. McCormick kept her voice soft, showing clear concern.

 

“Because,” Kory paused for a moment, looking for the words to say. “I don’t think I can handle coming back. Today confirmed it. Every time I saw Manny, I stopped wanting to play. He’s too deep in my head. The few minutes I got to play was enough, but I don’t need to play anymore. I don’t want to feel powerless again.”

 

Mrs. McCormick immediately wrapped her arm around Kory, placing her head on his arm.

 

“So that’s what happened? Khris never told me. Manny got in your head enough to make you quit?” Mrs. McCormick sighed. “You know, you’re still young. Letting one person stop you from doing something you still love is a disservice to yourself. When you look back in a few years, will you be happy that you let one person stop you from doing something you love? Or, you could do what you love, and look back proud that you didn’t let anybody hold you back.”

 

Mrs. McCormick stood up and kissed Kory’s forehead, smiling. She left the room without another word, and Kory was left sitting on his bed to contemplate his mother’s words. No longer completely sure of what he wanted to do, Kory decided to sleep on the decision.

 

The next day, the Mustang players all arrived at the arena, all looking determined. Coach looked at his players, a smile on his face.

 

“Alright boys, it’s the finals. Everybody change and get ready, we have a fight on our hands.”

 

Everybody marched to the locker room, but Kazu was limping and Lory was walking slower than usual. The locker room was silent with determination. Khris and Michael were changed first and walked out. Michael kept the determination on his face, but he was too curious to not talk to Khris.

 

“what happened yesterday. How did all that happen? I didn’t see the pass or know I caught it, so how did that happen?” Michael asked.

 

“Kory knows you well. He knew where to pass it and when. His hidden talent, that gets overshadowed by his genius, is his passing speed. He passed it to you fast enough in the perfect spot for you personally, all from how he watched you since the first practice. That’s why he told you to always be ready for a pass. I don’t think you’ll be seeing those today, however,” Khris responded.

 

As the two of them headed to the court, Macbeth and Robin were already on the court waiting. Macbeth waved at Khris, while Robin ran laps around the entire court while it was available. Macbeth ran over to Michael and Khris.

 

“Khris, I heard that Kory played yesterday. I missed it, what was it like?” Macbeth asked.

 

“Slightly slower and a little sloppier than before, but he controlled the entire game as usual,” Khris responded, his face showing no emotion. Macbeth smirked back at him.

 

“Well, hopefully, he’s warmed up. He’s gonna be playing after the first quarter,” Macbeth responded, staring straight into Khris’s eyes. “Without you.”

 

Khris and Macbeth stared at each other, mutual respect between the two shooting guards. Michael watched the interaction, but then got distracted by seeing the speed that Robin was running around the court. Robin didn’t slow down, a full sprint the entire time. Michael almost felt tired just watching the undersized centre run. What kind of a monster is he?

 

The final game of the first tournament is about to begin. What did Macbeth mean with his words? What type of player is Robin? Will Kory decide to play basketball again? Come back and find out!

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A note from TheMagnificentOne

Next Chapter: Enter, Macbeth, and The Heart


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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