There was a moment before Pete Sampras swung when he was afraid he wouldn’t remember how. He hadn’t felt his arm tear through the air with such force since the day he laid down his Wilson for the last time and took his final walk through that gloomy Wimbledon tunnel back to the locker room. The smells of sweat, Bengay and bright green felt wafted through his sinuses as that day came rushing back to him.
Pete may have needed a moment to remember his former glory, his muscles didn’t. His arm drew back taught then slung forward like a tightly wound catapult. Pete’s aim was true. Blood volleyed across the foyer of Pete’s home and with a “smack”, coated the sand brown wall. The sword in Pete’s hand now dripped with a crimson tint. It was much heavier than any fiberglass racquet. The force of blow had shook so hard through the handle of the weapon that Pete almost lost his grip. The soft “thock” of steel hitting flesh wouldn’t be one Pete would soon forget. The victim of his strike lay on the floor, almost in two. The man’s face was twisted into a grimace of pain. His legs were writhing, almost as if to escape the carnage that had befallen the rest of his body.
“You’ll suffer for this!” The man gurgled through the curdled blood and bile that was collecting in his mouth. “That power isn’t yours to keep!” Pete instinctively reached for the base of his own skull where a small green gem had burrowed itself into his flesh. Pete had found the stone as a child. Its glittering glow caught his eye during a class field trip to Poteman’s Cave. The cave hadn’t been prepped for tourists, it’s only visitors were the yearly bus of fifth graders from John Muir Elementary, sent up for one last adventure before heading off into the wilds of middle school. Pete’s parents had been hesitant to send him off spelunking with a bunch of preteens and an art teacher, but in the end, after persistent pleading, Mr and Mrs Sampras gave in and signed the lengthy waiver form.
The legs had stopped moving. The man’s breathing was getting shallower. The man’s face was mostly obscured by his hood on his cloak, but it didn’t matter. Pete didn’t care who the man was. Pete knew why the man was here, what he had come for.
The shine from the gem had wormed its way through the rocks it was buried beneath to catch a young Pete’s eye. Its sparkle drew him to the far side of a low ceilinged chamber. Tiny stalactites broke away as little Pete’s head grazed along the top of the cavern, undoing hundreds of years of geologic toil. No one was there to watch him stoop to unearth the treasure. He had already fallen behind the other children. Pete wasn’t athletic then. He was just a round ten year-old with a penchant for pudding. A light erupted in Pete’s mind when his sturdy little fingers first wrapped around the jewel.
The stone sent images flashing into Pete’s mind like bolts of lightning. Images of an ancient order destroyed by betrayal crashed into Pete’s conscious. Pete could see the gem being hidden away by one of the survivors of the sect, hidden away until it was ready to have its power reclaimed. Pete finally wrenched his hand free from the small green crystal. It hadn’t been said implicitly but somehow Pete knew, this curiosity could grant him anything he desired. Pete plucked stone from the wet rocky floor and almost instinctively pressed it against the back of his neck. The stone took quickly to its new master. Pete howled in agony as he felt the rock tear through his skin and fuse into his spinal column. The shrieks sent the art teacher, Mr. Tumkins, scampering back into the chamber. Tumkins had the same terrified look he got on his face every time Pete started to botch a cup on the pottery wheel, but Tumkins’ concern wasn’t necessary. The pain had already stopped. The stone had found its home and Pete had found his path to stardom.
It didn’t take long for Pete to start reaping the stone’s benefits. Pete had once been stuck on the outside of the tennis courts, a chubby little boy pressed against a chain-link fence, watching the athletes play. Now, he was the star of school. There was no stopping Pete’s rise. He had morphed seemingly overnight into a physical specimen. His mantle grew cluttered first with amateur trophies, then professional ones. Even Pete’s old childhood friend Andre Agassi would find himself crushed and churned out by the gears of Pete’s fame machine. Fans still whisper of the day when after one crushing defeat to Sampras, Agassi tore his entire head of hair from his scalp. It wouldn’t grow back.
Still with every victory, with every sponsorship, with every success, Pete would get a little shiver down his spine.
“They know the power has been found. They will come for it.” And now they had.
Blood soaked into the bottoms of Pete’s slippers the man was barely breathing now. Pete unclipped the scabbard from the man’s waist. The sword was Pete’s now so that should be too.
“There’ll be more.” The man rasped. Life was leaving his body. Pete’s response was little more than a breath, the words barely audible.
“I know” He said.