[20th of September, 2740 AD; on the outskirts of Glora, Ahnlikohn]
Johan reached into his carrier bag and pulled out a cookie. He looked outside the window of the bus as Glora began to appear in his eyesight. There was one thing that he had to do now that he was working with Lauren Ahga and the Neu Thekohnian Order. According to Ahga, a speech from Queen Amelia was to take place tomorrow and Johan had to confirm that both Amile and Amos would be attending. At the moment, the two princes were currently doing time in Aesker for their crimes, but were to be transferred tomorrow to a high security prison just outside of Glora.
“It’s strange, though,” Johan said.
He took a bite out of his cookie as he continued to think. Despite what was said, Ahga informed Johan that the two princes would attend the speech anyway. For Johan, though, he just had to make sure that they were there. Still, there was a suspicion that Ahga was not telling him everything that he needed to know. It was not Johan’s place to question, however, so he just decided to take on the task for himself. Besides, once he was finished with his mission, Johan was free to move about on his own.
“I’ll just have to give him a call once I’m done,” Johan said.
With nothing else to do, Johan devoured the rest of the cookie as the bus finally entered the city of Glora. He thought back to the last time he was in this city, which happened to be when he met Kiku. Being with her was an experience that Johan could not forget about, even though he had been nervous at the time. Johan did not believe that he would see her in Glora again. It was not important, though, as he still had his mission to complete. If he wanted to make his dream a reality, he had to minimize the distractions no matter what.
“Still, it is interesting,” Johan thought. “If he was here right now, what would he say to me?”
There was a part of him that had regret about leading Sorin on, but Johan knew that he was making the right choice. There was no reason why he needed to doubt himself. It was just something that Johan hoped Sorin would come to understand in the future. He knew that Sorin and his friends would be able to escape from Wihll, which led to Ahga betraying Victor after the confrontation. Johan did not want to see Victor executed, but he had come to realize that in the greater scope of things that some sacrifices had to be made in order for his dreams to be realized. Hopefully it would be the last sacrifice, but Johan had a feeling that that was a long shot.
The bus eventually stopped at the bus station, where Johan hopped off. He was in the heart of the city and needed to secure a place to stay for the night. Luckily for Johan, he remembered the Sparrow Hotel, which happened to be only a couple of blocks away from where he stood. At least, he would be able to secure a good night’s sleep.
Johan entered through the doors and was greeted to a commotion as several Ameci soldiers walking about. He knew that they would come to occupy the area, but Johan did not think that it would be this soon. Over towards the direction of the bar, Johan saw a couple of soldiers head inside. The likelihood of being found out was low, but Johan had to keep his wits about him, regardless whether or not Korbin was inside. That was when Johan got an idea, and waltzed his way into the bar.
“Hello, everyone!” Johan exclaimed.
Everybody turned to look at Johan as he spread his arms open and sported the most jovial smile upon his face. After a few moments of silence, everyone turned back to what they were doing, except for one man.
“Look who decided to show his face,” Korbin said.
He stood up from his table and went to greet Johan. Johan shook his hand as Korbin offered him a spot at his table. Alongside him were Bradley, Erik, and Lance, who were busy tending to their drinks.
“You seem pleasant today,” Johan said.
“Is that meant to mock me?” Korbin asked. “It’s not like matters anyway, right, Johan Kuu?”
“I’m afraid that you’ve lost me,” Johan replied.
“Look at this guy,” Erik said. “You’re lost? I thought that you were a spy; how could you possibly be lost?”
“I’m sorry, I think I should reword that,” Johan said, “What do you mean when you say it doesn’t matter, Korbin?”
“Let’s just say I’m very happy you decided to show up,” Korbin answered. “I’ve been going about our relationship all wrong, you know? I think that this could be a good opportunity to get things off on the right foot!”
“It’s a pretty good idea,” Bradley said. “You wouldn’t turn down a chance like this now, would you?”
“He’s got all sorts of secrets to tell, I’m sure,” Lance said. “Maybe get Johan some drinks and he’ll tell us all we’ll need to know!”
Korbin pounded his fist on the table. “Shut up, Lance! I’m sorry, but he’s just being crazy right now.”
“So you say,” Johan said.
“But you do enjoy a good drink, don’t you?” Korbin asked. “These guys are pretty good when it comes to alcohol, so I think you ought to try a sample of the local brew.”
Korbin snapped his fingers as he gestured one of the servers to come to him.
“Get this man a glass of your finest,” Korbin said. “Actually, make it two. I have a feeling that he’ll really like this!”
“You don’t need to do that,” Johan said.
“Nonsense!” Korbin exclaimed. “Now go ahead and get him his beer, right now!”
The server went off to get Johan’s drink as Korbin turned back over to him. The air had gotten thicker as Johan kept his composure. He knew that Korbin was setting up something, but it almost seemed too easy to spot.
“Is this all you want from me?” Johan asked.
“Now it’s my turn to wonder what the hell you’re talking about,” Korbin said. “Is it too much for me to treat you? Well, is it!?”
“Not at all,” Johan replied. “In fact, I rather enjoy it. I’m just wondering what you’re really doing in this country.”
Korbin let out a small laugh. “That’s to the point,” he said. “Gotta admire the balls on a man who keeps it direct.”
“I suppose I can take that as a compliment,” Johan replied.
“Well, if you must know why we’re here, it all has to do with that little ‘incident’ that happened,” Korbin said. “That prince is currently headed here, after all.”
“Yeah, let’s just say we were sent here to do some ‘damage control,’ if you will,” Bradley said. “Make sure everything gets taken care of good and well. You understand that, don’t you, Mr. Kuu?”
“I get the general gist of it, yes,” Johan answered.
As the server arrived with the drinks, Korbin took a drink from his glass and set it back down. Johan eyed the two alcoholic beverages before him as the others at the table had their eyes on him as if they expected him to take a drink as well. Johan closed his eyes and smiled as he looked down at one of the mugs and picked it up. There was no way that the drinks were tampered with, yet still, all Johan could do was remain skeptical. Still, he had no reason to believe that Korbin had the ability to mess with the drinks since he was sitting in right next to him the entire time.
“Who am I to turn down a drink?” Johan asked.
He placed his lips on the edge of the glass and began to down the drink. The eyes of the Blood Ravens continued to remain focused on Johan as he kept downing the beer without stopping to take a single breath. If there was one thing that Johan knew about Korbin, it was the fact that he was aggressive in his approach. The only way to best him in this manner, Johan thought, was to taken on an even more aggressive approach. Soon enough, Johan finished his drink and sat the glass back down on the table with a prompt force as Korbin and the others looked on at him in astonishment.
“I gotta say that was mighty impressive,” Korbin said.
Johan let out an exasperated breath as he eyed the other beer. “Don’t be so foolish,” he said. “You’re the one who suggested this, so why don’t I return the favor?”
He whistled over to the nearby server and demanded some more drinks for Korbin. The server took the order and walked away as Johan stared directly into Korbin’s dumbfounded eyes.
“I bet you can’t outdrink me,” Johan said. “If you really love a challenge, you’ll take up my offer.”
Korbin chuckled. “Hell yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about! These are the balls that I’m talking about!”
“Excuse me, Korbin, but we’ve got a mission tomorrow,” Lance said.
“Shut the fuck up, Lance!” Korbin yelled. “You should just sit back and witness a true battle of wits! Which man will outdrink the other, you see?”
“I hate to say it, but Lance is right,” Bradley said. “It would do you no good if you woke up tomorrow with a hangover.”
“Oh, I see,” Korbin said. “Is that what you were trying to do to me, Johan Kuu? Were you trying to make me look like a fucking dumbass!?”
“Perish the thought!” Johan replied. “I was only suggesting a competition between us; it doesn’t have to be a drinking contest, obviously.”
Korbin closed in on Johan, their faces only inches apart. “I’m not as dumb as you think I am, motherfucker,” he said. “I should just just run right through you and pound your ass myself!”
“Nowhere did I ever suggest you were stupid, Korbin,” Johan said. “I think we should just change the game being played, that’s all.”
Korbin backed off. “Do you, now?”
“Listen, do you happen to have a deck of cards?” Johan asked. “I was thinking instead of drinking ourselves silly, we’ll settle our challenge with a different battle of wits: poker.”
“That’s a challenge if I ever saw one,” Korbin replied, “I think I might just take you up on that after all!”
“Great,” Johan said.
“Well, I’ve got a good deck right here,” Erik said as he pulled the deck of cards from his pocket. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any chips that you two can use.”
“That’s not going to be a problem,” Bradley said as he placed a bag filled with coins on the table. “This is my pocket change; don’t go around losing it, though, or I’ll be really pissed.”
“Good, good,” Johan replied. “Looks like it’s settled, then. Is that good with you, Korbin?”
Korbin laughed. “You’re really raring to go against me, huh? Fine, let’s fucking do it already!”
Johan and Korbin pushed their drinks to the side as Erik shuffled the cards. Once that was done, Erik then gave each man their hands. As for what both men started with, both Johan and Korbin had twenty-five coins each. Korbin picked up his hand, took a look at it, and then looked back at Erik. Meanwhile, Johan looked at his deck to see what he had: the five of clubs, the six of hearts, the two of hearts, the jack of clubs, and the king of diamonds.
“Hey, Johan Kuu, do you think I can swap these cards?” Korbin asked, his fingers on two cards.
“Why are you asking me that?” Johan asked.
“If you have something good there, I want to beat it,” Korbin replied. “Erik! Change these two cards out!”
Korbin handed the two cards back to Erik, who put them back in the deck and gave Korbin two new cards. Johan looked at his hand again. There was nothing of worth to him.
“I think I’m going to make a change,” Johan said as he handed his entire hand back to Erik. “I’m certain I’ll get a good hand this time.”
“The balls on this man!” Korbin said. “Your big balls are on display yet again, Johan Kuu! I like it!”
Johan received his new hand from Erik and took a look. The only cards worth of note were the pair of threes: the spade and the heart. Not much else could be said except that it was only slightly better than the hand Johan started out with. Still, Johan had a way to maneuver around this, he thought.
“Well, what are you going to do?” Korbin asked.
“Let me raise you,” Johan replied. “Fifteen coins will do, won’t it?”
“Fifteen coins!?” Lance asked.
“I see, now,” Korbin said. “Fine, then, I suppose my hand’s good enough to match what you got, anyway.”
“You sound so sure about that,” Johan said. “Be careful when putting your hand to the fire, Korbin, because you might just get burned.”
“I’m not a fucking idiot like Lance here,” Korbin replied. “Fire doesn’t scare me at all, so why should I be scared of what you have in your hand?”
“You’re right,” Johan said. “If it’s all so simple, then maybe I ought to just give up.”
He looked down at the remaining ten coins he had at his side and then to the pot. It would be easier to fold and rely on the next hand in order to win, but Johan was not concerned about winning this game. Johan was certain that Korbin felt the exact same way, too. This was more than a card game for both men at this point and Johan knew that.
“On second thought, I think I’m going to go all in,” Johan said. “Everything is going to ride on my hand, win or lose. Your move, Private Mars.”
Johan pushed the rest of his coins forward and sat back. Korbin stared at the growing pot and looked back to his cards.
“Do you really think he’s got a winning hand?” Bradley asked. “I’m starting to believe he’s not fucking around with us.”
“He’s pulling a fast one,” Korbin replied. “This is the kind of trickery that this son of a bitch pulls all of the time.”
“There’s no trick here,” Johan said. “I’m merely raising the stakes. If you really think you can win, you’ll put everything on the line, won’t you?”
“I’m not going to lose to you,” Korbin said. “You’re really becoming a pain in the ass right now. I bet you’ve got something planned, don’t you? That’s why you’re here in Ahnlikohn, right?”
Johan had him now. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t fuck around with me,” Korbin said. “You’re here to hinder our mission, aren’t you?”
“Is that so?” Johan asked. “What makes you think that?”
“You’re going to be there at the queen’s speech tomorrow, and I don’t like it one bit,” Korbin answered. “We have a very special task on our hands and we don’t want anyone getting in the way, especially not you of all people!”
“Oh, well, I was only curious,” Johan said. “I have no reason for attending the queen’s speech tomorrow. Actually, I came here upon the request of the Neu Thekohnian Order.”
Korbin looked at him with a dumbfounded expression on his face and then laughed out loud. “Oh, now you’re really fucking with me, aren’t you? You would just admit that to my face?”
“What do you think?” Johan asked.
“I think you’re full of shit,” Korbin replied.
“No one would be foolish enough to say what you just did in this country,” Bradley said. “If this is your idea of a joke, it’s not a very good one.”
Johan laughed. “Right, right. I really should have thought before I spoke,” he said. “The real reason I’m here is to gain information on the Neu Thekohnian Order. I have a good idea on who’s helping them and I feel like I’ll find my answers here.”
“That reminds me,” Korbin said. “You had that man beside you the last time I saw you. Why is he not here with you?”
“It’s complicated,” Johan said.
“That’s all you’re going to say?” Korbin asked. “Fine, I don’t give a shit, anyway.”
“I feel like we’ve gone completely off track,” Johan said. “Are you going to call or fold?”
Korbin scoffed. “Son of bitch,” he said. “You put everything you have on the line, didn’t you?”
He looked at his hand and to the pot, then back to his hand. Johan could only grin as Korbin looked at him, then once more to his cards. Finally, Korbin spoke again.
“You must really have something good,” he said. “You’re one lucky little son of a bitch, you know that? I fold.”
Korbin laid his cards face up on the table. He had three 10s: the heart, the diamond, and the spade. The other two cards were the ace of diamonds and the queen of clubs, both which did not help him. Johan had won, after all.
“Well, I showed you my hand,” Korbin said. “Are you going to show me yours, Johan Kuu?”
“I’m surprised,” Johan replied. “It doesn’t matter, I guess, but read them for yourself, my friend.”
He laid out his cards for everyone at the table to see. Bradley had his eyes wide open and jaw dropped while Erik and Lance looked at Johan in disbelief. Korbin gawked at the cards Johan had laid out before him, sitting in silence until he stood up and pushed the table aside.
“Motherfucker!” Korbin exclaimed.
He grabbed Johan by the collar and shoved him until he was up against the wall. Johan maintained his composure, smiling while Korbin had him pinned.
“You think you can just take me for a fool?” Korbin asked. “No one around here has bigger balls than me! No one! I’ll fucking show you, Johan Kuu, whose balls are the biggest in the world: me!”
“I think you’re overreacting,” Johan said.
“I’ll show you who’s overreacting, asshole!” Korbin said as he slammed Johan’s head against the wall. He attempted to do so again, but was stopped by Bradley.
“Korb, I really think you should calm down,” Bradley said. “Everyone is staring at you and Johan.”
Korbin panted as he let Johan go. “Fine then,” he said. “As for you, Johan Kuu, get the fuck out of my sights or I will fucking pummel you!”
“As you wish, Korbin,” Johan said.
Bradley led Korbin back to the table as Johan left the bar with the same amount of eyes focused on him. He had won the battle, that much was certain, but the war was only just beginning. Korbin and his men were up to something, though Johan had no desire to interfere with whatever he was planning. No, Johan had other plans, first of which was an important call to Lauren Ahga. That was the number one priority on his mind.
To be continued…