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A note from James Northman

Release Schedule Update

I'll be posting new chapters once per week, on Fridays. It's been 9 days since the last chapter, and I've received quite a few messages of support and some of anger that I'm not updating more regularly. After a lot of thought, and some great advice from my Patrons, I've decided that I'll be moving to a set cycle for releases.

I'm hoping that by September, I will be in a position to give Patrons early access to chapters of Wildcards.

Here is the link to my Patreon if you would like to support my writing. 


General Update

The story hit #11 on Royal Road. Which is absolutely incredible! I read every single comment that is posted on each of the chapters. I try my best to get back to every PM, and I'm always available to chat to my Patrons.

I love seeing the engagement and discussions around the characters and storylines. I'm really happy to see so many people enjoying the story. To everyone that has left ratings, reviews, comments and supported me. I just want to say thank you! :) 

James

"I want you to select Dervius here as your God."

Locke said simply as the screen appeared in front of James.

"In exchange, I will give you a demon contract in addition to a few other benefits."

James started reading immediately and knew that if he had his heart in this game, it would be thundering in anticipation right now.

Wait.

Pausing for a moment, James looked down at his chest before placing his open palm against it.

It wasn't just his imagination. There was definitely a beating sensation coming from it.

He shook his head and focused on the screen in front of him.

Locke wishes for you to choose Dervius as your Deity.

She believes that your goals align and that your partnership will prove to be very interesting.

"My goals?"

James asked aloud, but it was Dervius who answered his question.

"Yes. I wish for you to kill Calista."

The God of Dexterity said simply before falling back into silence.

Waiting politely for a few moments, James eventually ventured a follow up question.

"What's your reason for wanting her dead?"

Dervius gripped the scythe in his hands tighter before answering.

"The Disciples I raised as my own were killed by her hand."

James actually felt sympathy towards the cowled man, but suddenly remembered a fact from earlier.

"Calista said you have no race, no disciples and no temples. Is all of that true?"

Dervius gave James a solemn look before finally nodding his head.

"I don't intend on deceiving you. The benefits of joining my Faction are quite low. My children are the Vampires, from the City of Endless Night. They were all massacred in an unjust war that Calista created for her own entertainment."

James tilted his head in confusion. It made sense in a way, because he had never seen the Vampire race in any of the Abidden broadcasts over the years.

None of the Paragons or Heroes had ever interacted with anyone from that race. The Gods and the Pantheon, as far as he was aware... were all new.

"Okay, let me get this straight in my head. You have no temples, no disciples, no worshippers and your race of Vampires are pretty much extinct?"

James asked in exasperation.

Locke's voice sounded in his ear and James jumped in surprise. She had blindsided him.

"Sounds like the perfect underdog opportunity, doesn't it?"

The E-Classer turned around to look at the Goddess of Charisma.

"Show me your offer."

Locke's Special Quest
 
Conditions:
  • Select Dervius as your Deity
You will gain:
 
Base Stats Change:
  • +10 Charisma
  • +9 Charisma (Formerly Intelligence)
Equipment Granted:
  • Charlatan’s Cutlass (Unique Heirloom Grade) Level 1
    • 12-18 Slashing Damage
    • 8-12 Piercing Damage
    • Skill Steal - 0%
    • Skills Learned: (Fake Slash)
Abilities Granted:
  • A Good Eye For People
  • Roguish Charm
  • Villainous Flair
Faction Reputation Change:
  • Demon Starting Reputation
    • Honoured (Eligible For Contract)

"A Good Eye..."

James repeated in a deadpan tone.

Locke's laugh was infectious.

"I couldn't resist, I'm sorry."

James could tell she wasn't sorry at all. His eye scanned across the details on the page when something occurred to him.

"You mentioned a Demon Contract, what does that mean?"

Locke twirled her hand and her appearance changed. Her perfect skin was suddenly adorned with a series of intricate tattoos all written in an unknown language. Symbols and diagrams littered the skin he could see. The Goddess touched one of the symbols and James nearly fainted.

Within the shadowed darkness of the Pantheon, a pair of gigantic yellow eyes glowed brightly. Each black pupil was completely inhuman and looked like a jagged slit that had pierced through the eyeball. The most terrifying aspect of the demonic eyes, was that they were locked onto James.

The Goddess tapped her arm again and the demon disappeared immediately.

"He's a little bit overprotective. Give me a moment, I'll find someone a little more fun."

Locke teased as she raised her finger over another diagram on her arm. As soon as her finger touched the symbols, James felt incredibly at ease.

All fear, anxiety and confusion was lifted.

He started to wonder why he worried so much about things outside of his control.

"It would be so much easier to just... submit, wouldn't it?"

A soothing voice called out from behind him. James felt himself nodding in agreement, a relaxed smile on his face.

"Yes, that sounds... much easier."

James admitted with a laugh. He couldn't recall a time he ever felt this at ease.

A warm set of arms slid over his shoulders and embraced him from behind.

His senses were being overloaded by the figure and he was loving it.

"Hey, don't go all goofy on me... we're in the middle of your character creation!"

Locke chided James as she clicked her fingers.

The atmosphere changed immediately and James whirled around in panic, only to come face to face with an ashen skinned succubus. Her predatory smile and smokey eyes threatened to ensnare him once again.

"Any longer and she'd have eaten your soul, you can thank me for saving you later."

Locke explained as she gestured at the beautiful demon to leave.

"You're no fun..."

She complained playfully before disappearing into a wisp of smoke.

James steadied his breathing and looked back at the grinning face of Locke.

"Just to clarify, your Demon won't be that powerful in the beginning. You'll need to increase your Rank and Level to have a Dragon or Succubus contract."

With her being the Goddess of Charisma, it was only natural for her powers and demons to be centered around persuasion and attraction.

Snapping back to attention, James shook his head and berated himself for once again getting consumed by Locke's tricks.

"Dervius will give me two Heirloom Grade pieces of equipment, and you'll give me one too."

James started as he looked at the two screens side by side.

"Aimpatch, Moonlight Pistol and the Charlatan's Cutlass... I'm starting to see a theme here."

Raising his hand to his missing eye, James couldn't help but suppress a groan.

"Are you trying to turn me into a Pirate?"

Locke laughed as though it was obvious, but Dervius was the one who answered the question.

"The Dread Pirate."

James continued to look at the stats in front of him. Multiple thoughts were running through his head which was of no use to him. He decided to brainstorm out loud and hope the answer would make itself clear to him.

"Heirloom items level up with me, which makes them the rarest quality of equipment in the game. Most Heroes have one item. You'd be giving me three..."

Locke and Dervius remained silent as they watched James' reaction.

"If I went with this plan, I would have no strength, wisdom or intelligence... which are pretty fundamental to survival!"

The Goddess shook her head at that last remark which caused James to pause. Thankfully she began to explain.

"Abidden doesn't take anything from you. You will remain as strong, as intelligent and as wise as you are now. You won't become stupid and weak when you enter."

James cocked his head to one side in confusion.

"Then what is the use of the intelligence stat that Calista took from me?"

Locke waved her hand dismissively as though it wasn't even worth a thought.

"You won't be able to read or write in any of the ancient languages in Abidden. Those things require Abidden intelligence. You'll still have that devilishly quick brain of yours."

She finished with a wink.

James still wasn't satisfied, it didn't make sense to him. So he asked a different question.

"Abidden's version of Intelligence is very different to my understanding of intelligence. What ways are the other stats different?"

Dervius pointed at the E-Classer's feet suddenly.

"You were able to dodge and weave around all of Calista's earlier attacks. That falls under Dexterity. Agility, speed, evasion, movement, flexibility... There are multiple skills and abilities that stem from Dexterity. You can do all of those things already, but with the increased stats, you'll be untouchable."

The smile on the Vampire's face was confident and James found it to be very reassuring.

"Strength in Abidden would involve the armour and weapons you can use. Intelligence is comprehension of spells, texts and other boring things. Wisdom is essentially the amount of Mana you can use and how fast it regenerates."

James couldn't help but laugh at the terrible explanation.

"So then, Charisma and Dexterity would make me good at dodging things and talking to people?"

Dervius shook his head before pulling a pistol from his robes. The silver barrell glinted in the light and James marvelled at the mixture of ivory and black wood on the grip.

"The Aimpatch gives you a new attribute called Aim, which is again amplified by your high dexterity stat... and then bolstered by this Moonlight Pistol."

James was still staring at the beautiful gun when he finally realised what the God was implying.

"I'd have really low health... wouldn't I?"

He asked with a grin.

Locke clapped her hands again in excitement.

"You'd be the ultimate glass cannon. You kill or be killed. Just like Aliyah told you... perfectly balanced."

James' eye whipped around at the mention of Aliyah Dreyfus. Locke was clearly comfortable with breaking immersion so he decided to follow her lead.

"Locke. If I did character creation again, would you force me into this character selection again?"

Without any hesitation, the Goddess shook her head.

"No. I wouldn't force you into taking a character you wouldn't want."

Nodding his head, James decided to ask another question.

"Why the Dread Pirate?"

Locke paused for a moment before she raised a hand and clicked her fingers.

Dervius paused as though he was frozen. His eyes, smile and movements were locked into place as the flow of time was removed from the Pantheon.

The Goddess looked around the frozen room for a moment before nodding her head in satisfaction.

"There are no prying eyes watching and no ears listening to this conversation, James. This chat is completely private."

Whatever James had expected, this certainly wasn't it.

Locke's expression was still incredibly warm and friendly as she took a seat on the pedestal. Her eyes were golden and watching James closely before she spoke.

"The Paragons started in Abidden over a decade ago. I remember all of my conversations with them from their earliest moments in the game to each of their downfalls as they were cut by the board."

James was bewildered with the direction of this conversation, but remained quiet. He was interested in this situation. He didn't know if this was a part of the character creation, or if it was a special circumstance just for him.

"All of those players were great individually, yet when they were together there was absolutely no cohesion. I started to test that assumption and pushed them apart for their missions. Each of them thrived with individuality. Something still didn't make sense to me. How did they win the District One Invitational?"

Opening his mouth to answer, Locke held her hand up to stop him.

"The Paragons should have lost in the semi-finals of the competition."

"I've analysed your fights. All of them, every alias... Lord DuFancyArse, Trippy, Slumper, Noddy. All of the fake names you've used over the years, I analysed them all."

Locke's eyes didn't blink in any of the time she was speaking. She just continued to stare at him intently.

"I want to talk about the semi-finals for a moment."

Nodding his head, James didn't really know what to say to her at that moment. She had all of the information she needed, so this entire conversation was for his benefit he assumed. There was nothing to lose, so he decided to run with it.

"What would you like to know?"

He offered enthusiastically, curious where the conversation would lead.

"Team Death-Match. 6v6. Paragon Guild versus Scumlords. Paragon Guild was a newcomer in the District One seedings. Scumlords were favourites to win the Invitational."

Locke started listing off the details as facts which James found strangely amusing.

"Greaves attempts an immediate rush, which pulls Khance along since he's the only one who can heal the tank. Scarr tries to flank the enemy base. Helena is conflicted and wants to stay with Travesty. Varya talks her out of it. Five members of Paragon Guild are killed within the first hour."

James sighed as he rubbed his face with his hand. This topic had been done to death in his head for years. He had to talk about it in therapy and then face it again and again every time he saw a stream or advertisement for Abidden. As much as he wanted to humour her and find out her angle, the current topic was still somewhat painful to him and he didn't want to dwell on it any more than he had over the years.

"Locke, is there a point to this? We both know what happened."

The Goddess ignored his question and continued.

"Travesty alone remained. The Scumlords were afforded the leisure of being able to have members log out and rest. They had a full team still in the match and could alternate as they pleased. You stayed in the game for over forty hours."

James sighed in exasperation as he lay on his back and looked up at the ceiling of the Pantheon. The intricate carvings on the smooth stone surface were beautiful. He idly wondered how many players would look up and notice the little details that the game possessed.

"Regulations on Nexus Rigs state that a user must not exceed the recommended eight hours maximum time limit unless advised by their personal engineer. You exceeded that limit by a multiple of five. When a user remains in the game for too long, their mind begins to deteriorate and their performance within the game will fall until they reach a breaking point."

"Yes, I remember. I hit my breaking point. It won't happen again."

James agreed as he lazily lifted his hand to give her a thumbs-up gesture.

"You didn't hit your breaking point at all."

Locke continued in the exact same tone.

James shot up at those words with an incredulous look on his face. Before he could say anything, Locke continued.

"Your performance got better and better over the hours that you were in the game. To the untrained eye, the footage of your fight is underwhelming and looks like you were simply lucky."

Staring at the Goddess, James reminded himself that she was an artificial intelligence and he needed to stop letting himself get so worked up.

"You watched each opponent until you learned their pattern. You learned how they operate together as a team. You used that knowledge against them and killed them individually. Their complacency in their early victory against your teammates made them underestimate you, which you used to beat them."

Locke summarised before pointing at James. Her expression this time was serious.

"You were going to pick an intelligence based character... Was your plan to be a Strategist or an Arch Mage? Help your friends from the sidelines?"

James finally exhaled in total disbelief. He felt like his choices were being attacked and he had absolutely no idea why.

"And what would be so wrong with that?"

Locke shook her head as though it was the most obvious thing ever.

"I won't allow you to hide in the shadow of the other Paragons."


The Pantheon once again joined the flow of time and Dervius' body moved again. His eyes were curious as he looked at Locke.

"You moved faster than I could see. Impressive."

Locke grinned back in response as she stepped back onto the pedestal beside the God of Dexterity.

James looked up at the two Gods on the pedestals. His face was still a mask of concentration as he went through the options in his head. He had been conflicted from the very start for a number of reasons.

Helena had wanted him to be their playmaker, which is why he was originally planning on using his strengths in intelligence. He thought that having magic would be a good option to compliment his already proficient hand to hand abilities.

James conceded that he had underestimated the role-playing elements of Abidden and how the narratives are completely tied into the whole game. He had only been thinking of how he could be most proficient. The acknowledgement from Jackal that Scarr was in fact the most successful player had made him realise that his plans needed to change. Simply being the greatest fighter or having the best tactics weren't the most important factors for success in Abidden.

"Have you made your choice?"

Locke asked from the dais.

James didn't even look up as he continued to think through his options.

His performance was constantly monitored by Nox and would be under scrutiny from the general public. If he was to take a flashy character like the Dread Pirate, he knew it had the potential to be popular... but it had so many downsides. The balance of the character was that it maximised dexterity and added some charisma for flavour... while everything else was nerfed to oblivion.

Would it really be possible to play a character that far outside of his comfort zone?

James ran through everything in his head as he looked between the stats sheets. The three Heirloom items sounded fantastic and would definitely be a great foundation for the growth of his character.

As he calculated all the pros and cons of the decision, his eye met Locke's smiling face. Their conversation was still fresh in his mind, which only confused him more.

Locke wanted him to play as an individual instead of worrying about the other Paragons.

She wanted him to make his own story and achieve his own glory.

"I've made my decision."

James answered finally with a genuine smile on his face.

You have selected Dervius, the God of Dexterity.

"Looks like we have our newest Villain."

Quest Completion!

Locke's Special Quest: (Complete)

By selecting Dervius as your God, you have received the following from the Goddess Locke as a reward:
 
Base Stats Change:
  • +10 Charisma
  • +9 Charisma (Formerly Intelligence)
Equipment Granted:
  • Charlatan’s Cutlass (Unique Heirloom Grade) Level 1
    • 12-18 Slashing Damage
    • 8-12 Piercing Damage
    • Skill Steal - 0%
    • Skills Learned: (Fake Slash)
Abilities Granted:
  • A Good Eye For People
  • Roguish Charm
  • Villainous Flair
Faction Reputation Change:
  • Demon Starting Reputation
    • Honoured (Eligible For Contract)

"Welcome to the House of Dervius, my Child!"

The gentle tone of the Vampire was incredibly warm and happy. James thought that Dervius' voice really didn't match his terrifying Reaper persona.

Welcome to the House of Dervius!

Choose your Deity: (Complete)

By selecting Dervius as your God, you have received the following from him as a reward for your Worship:

Base Stats Change:
  • +70 Dexterity
  • +50 Aim (Trait Granted via Heirloom)
Equipment Granted:
  • Aimpatch (Heirloom Grade) - Level 1
    • Restores Sight - 20%
    • +10 Aim
    • +10 Dexterity
  • Moonlight Pistol (Heirloom Grade) - Level 1
    • 25-38 Damage
    • +25% Damage vs. Goblins
    • +25% Damage with Crackshot
    • +25% Speed with Quickdraw
Abilities Granted:
  • Crackshot
  • Quickdraw
  • Swift Dash
  • Swift Dodge
Faction Reputation Change:
  • Demon Starting Reputation:
    • Respected
  • Vampire Starting Reputation:
    • Honoured
  • Undead Starting Reputation:
    • Neutral
  • Remnant Starting Reputation:
    • Unknown
 
Unique Quest Line:
  • Unlocked: Quest to become a Disciple of Dervius
Congratulations, your character is now complete.

James watched as the screens in front of him melted away, only to be replaced by a new stat screen which he read excitedly.

Character Name: Sylvian
Character Class:   Dread Pirate
Character Title: God Shamer
Character Level: 1
Worshipped Deity: Dervius
Character Race: Human
Character Rank: Standard
Affinity: Water
Alignment: Villain
Domain: Dread Lake
Character Lair: Unassigned
Contracted Demon: Unassigned

"Sylvian?"

James asked as he glanced up at the two Gods.

Locke raised her hand in the air with a coy smile on her face.

"I picked it. Pirate James is lacklustre and has been done too often in media. Sylvester is too obvious and Travesty has negative connotations from your past. So I picked Sylvian, do you like it?"

Locke asked hopefully.

"The Dread Pirate, Sylvian."

James said it out loud a few times with a smile on his face.

"I do like it, thank you."

The next screen appeared below the first and James continued to read on.

Stats  Base Modifier Actual Value
Strength 3 0 3
Intelligence 9 -9 0
Charisma 1 19 20
Dexterity 4 70 (+10) 84
Wisdom 3 0 3
Luck   0 0 0

"Unless you have any more questions, you can go to the next part of the Character Creation."

Locke's voice teased from ahead of James.

The E-Classer realised he had been ignoring the two Gods accidentally as he was pouring over all the statistics and menus.

"Aren't we already done? What's next?"

The Goddess of Charisma pointed at the tattoos on her arm as a reminder.

"It's time you made your Demon Contract!"

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A note from James Northman

Thanks for reading the chapter. The next one will be on Friday of next week! 

Let me know what you think! 

Also, if you'd like to support me: This is a link to my Patreon 

James


Support "Wildcards: Book One - The Dread Pirate"

About the author

James Northman

Bio: Irishman struggling to get through the #LitRPG Tutorial Island.

Currently writing Wildcards: Book 1 - The Dread Pirate

If you'd like to support me, here's a link to my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/JamesNorthman

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