"Thanks so much for meeting me here. Helena is getting ready for her Heroic raid tonight, so she's not going to be joining us today."
Quentin explained to the group of Paragons that sat in anticipation.
All of the players had been invited along for a briefing on the new Villains expansion that was being released.
James was grateful that he wasn't the only one with an anxious expression on his face.
As he looked around at the assembled group, Don Orso gave him a thumbs-up gesture while Khance waved and Varya smiled.
Greaves' eyes were locked on Quentin, listening to every word that came from him. Surrounding the CEO were a group of unfamiliar faces.
"I'd like to formally introduce you all to Jasmin and Aliyah Dreyfus, who will be joining our team."
Quentin grinned as he stepped to one side.
Aliyah's wide smile was warm as she introduced herself. Jasmin was practically jumping with excitement as she too greeted the group.
The black couple studied each of the Paragon's politely as they spoke, before their eyes landed on some unfamiliar faces.
"And who might you two be?"
When Aliyah's brown eyes locked onto him, James felt no hostility from her. Instead, he could sense her genuine interest.
"James Sylvester, nice to meet you."
Recognition dawned on Aliyah's expression which was then replaced by excitement.
"Yes! Excellent, I look forward to seeing which design you'll end up with!"
"Which would make you, Elvira Corbeau, am I correct?"
Jasmin asked as she made a beeline toward a young woman that James had never seen before.
"That is correct, Mrs. Dreyfus."
Eivira answered with a smile of her own. If she was in any way uncomfortable with Jasmin sitting on her desk, she hid it masterfully.
Aliyah turned to look at Quentin with a curious expression.
"I'm only counting two, where are you hiding the third Wildcard?"
James and Elvira looked at each other for a moment. Whilst James was seeing her for the first time, Elvira's gaze indicated that she knew exactly who he was.
"They won't be joining us for this part of the training."
Turning back to the seated players, Quentin began to elaborate on Aliyah and Jasmin's role in the company.
"Aliyah is going to be our chief Villain designer while Jasmin is going to be heading up our environments. We're not going to be showing you any of the new character classes yet."
A collective groan emanated from the group, which only caused Aliyah to laugh.
"Many of you have preferred playstyles. If we present you with them now, you'd only make them conform to what you're already familiar with. We don't want your Villains to be an extension of your Heroic persona. We want this to be an evolution."
Aliyah explained before pausing briefly. She glanced at Quentin who gave her a nod to continue.
"For that reason, I will only be sharing the new Villain classes with Locke. Each of you will have a unique character selection interview with the Pantheon of Gods. That is when your new identity will be revealed!"
She explained excitedly with a beaming smile on her face.
Not to be outdone by her wife, Jasmin piped in too.
"Oh and there are going to be completely new starter zones too, that you've never seen before... which I made."
The black woman admitted nonchalantly as she pretended to brush dust from her shoulder.
Whilst James and Elvira were excited by the prospect of joining the game and having their own class, the Paragon's were practically on the edges of their seats. They had spent years with each of their characters, in the same world with no real changes. What was being presented to them here was the complete unknown. They'd get to create their own character, that was designed around them instead of whatever the business decided for them.
"Ah yes, the Pantheon of the Gods! That's a good segue."
Quentin mentioned as he gestured towards a small crowd of people that were standing nearby.
As the group stepped forward, James couldn't help but study them. The Dreyfus women were charming and bubbly, but these people gave off an air of quiet confidence.
"I'd like to introduce you all to Abidden's Official Loremasters!"
Recognition washed over many of the Paragons, and the two Dreyfus women moved back from the group to stand beside Quentin.
"They're going to be giving you a crash course on the history of Abidden and some of the new additions we'll be making with this expansion. You'll get caught up on political structures, betrayals in court, new bosses et cetera, et cetera."
Quentin started to explain as though he was in a rush to get all of the words out. It was clear as day that he was still very uncomfortable giving presentations or speeches.
"James and Elvira will be allocated a personal Loremaster for the next few weeks, so they'll have a firm grasp of the landscape and systems in Abidden."
The CEO finally took a deep breath and paused for a moment while he collected his thoughts.
"Yes, sorry, I forgot! James, your custom VR Rig will be delivered by the end of the day. Helena also mentioned that you're officially a resident of District 6!"
Before James could say anything, a brief round of applause coupled with a few cheers echoed around the room.
"Since you have more experience of playing VR games, Locke will be handling your induction into the game. I think it will be a few tutorial scenarios from previous quests in Abidden to give you a good grounding on how our mechanics work."
Smiling broadly, Quentin turned his attention to Elvira.
"I got confirmation that your custom VR Rig was delivered earlier this morning. Since this will be your first time in a Virtual Reality Gaming environment, Helena is going to be giving you a crash course personally."
For the first time, Quentin saw a look of panic on the lawyers face.
"Helena? Herself? There's no need!"
The CEO raised his hands defensively.
"Don't shoot the messenger! Helena arranged it herself. After Helena shows you the ropes, you'll get access to some custom tutorial missions from Locke just like James."
James looked around at the other excited faces in the room. He found it funny that Elvira was clearly panicked at the prospect of having Helena as a personal trainer. Practically all of the Paragons looked to be ecstatic, with the exception of one.
"I have a question."
He barked from his seat with his hand raised into the air.
Quentin indicated for him to continue.
Crossing his arms, the former Paragon turned his gaze towards Elvira who he stared at passively.
"Who is she, and why is she joining our team?"
Quentin glanced between Elvira and Greaves for a moment before sighing in exasperation.
"Sorry, I should have communicated this better. Elvira will be joining the game in the same capacity as James, as a Wildcard. She is also working as our general counsel."
Turning to see if there were any other questions, Quentin wasn't particularly surprised to see Greaves raise his hand again.
"What makes her any different from taking on Ethan, Troy, MamaBest, ShieldBro, Percivus... She's not a gamer, not an eSports professional, completely unproven and we don't know her."
Many of the Paragon's paused at the sentence. It was clear from their faces that Greaves brought up a topic that they hadn't been conscious of.
Elvira leaned back in her chair, and watched Quentin intently.
The CEO nodded in agreement.
"I was a bit apprehensive about it too, but a few things changed my mind over the last few days. Elvira, in her short tenure as my legal advisor has gotten James' licence reinstated and his shady therapist dismissed from her post."
Quentin raised his hand and started counting off his fingers as he listed the Wildcard's impact so far.
James' whirled around to look at Elvira who returned a slight nod to confirm that it was true. Pushing his interface, James wanted to see it with his own eyes.
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Looking back to Elvira, James mouthed the words 'thank you' which got him a playful wink in return.
Quentin was still speaking, and James listened intently, wanting to know more about the other Wildcard.
"She managed to create a class action lawsuit against the investors for wrongful termination of the Paragons which has given us much needed breathing room. While they squabble and try to protect their own asses, we've been able to expand our teams, contact new sponsors and meet with you all frequently without it raising suspicions."
Quentin added with a smile of his own at the end.
Greaves didn't raise his hand this time.
"You created a lawsuit... just to buy more time?"
He was staring at Elvira who nodded in affirmation.
"I might even win it too."
Don exhaled loudly as he looked at the Wildcard who remained sitting politely.
"That is so badass."
"Indeed it is, Don."
Quentin agreed as he quickly checked his wrist. After the briefest of moments, the creator of Abidden nodded his head and sighed in relief.
"I was hoping that we'd be able to do it today, but you'll all have your Sponsorship interviews in the next few days. As I've mentioned before, you're under no obligation to accept terms you're not happy or comfortable with."
Looking around the assembled faces, Quentin's eyes landed on James' very confused expression.
"Ah, it's nothing to worry about! Elvira has drafted up the sponsorship agreements to protect each player. They've also been vetted by Kell, so there's likely going to be a few interesting ones in there."
James looked around him, but nobody was asking the question that was tugging at his mind.
"Mr. Bell, why would we need sponsorship if the main intent is to remove the sponsors from the company?"
"Great question, James. Please don't ever call me Mr. Bell by the way. Quentin is completely fine."
Quentin laughed as he leaned back against one of the tables in the room.
"There's a fundamental difference between investors and sponsors. An investor buys a part of Abidden and elects an executive to manage it's interests in the company. I meet those executives each week and they bring a list of concerns or suggestions their bosses want implemented. The current state of the company is down to the decisions made in that boardroom. The executives are colluding with each other to overturn my decisions for the direction of the game."
Raising one open palm into the air he demonstrated the imbalance of the decision making power.
"As we brought on more investment and expanded our reach, I had less and less of an impact in what happened in the game. Sponsors are a very different situation. They don't invest in the game. They invest in the individual players. A lot of the time they are attracted to players with specific personality types that align with their interests. If I was to pick a specific example, Khance was consistently targeted by the Healthcare and Pharma industry because he was the Divine Healer. I don't actually recall the stipulations..."
Quentin looked at Khance who was shielding his face in embarrassment.
"How did it go again?"
Don teased from the back of the room.
"Prepare for full revitalisation... through the power of Vitalitex."
Khance muttered as he rolled his eyes.
"If he didn't say that line, he didn't get his royalties!"
Quentin reminded Don who was still laughing.
"So, we can get paid royalties from sponsors?"
James asked aloud before the question was fully formed in his head.
"Yes, but that's a conversation for another time... we've kept these fine Loremasters waiting a little too long."
Quentin laughed apologetically as he gestured for the group of Loremasters to join the conversation.