In the time that it took James to blink, he had been transported to another realm. Gone was the towering columns of the Pantheon and the pedestals of the Gods. Instead, his feet felt a slight sensation of weight being pressed down upon them.
Glancing down, James saw that his boots were half submerged in water, but in a very strange way. The water wasn't following the normal rules of gravity, and was instead flowing all around him, as though he was in a bubble of air... surrounded by water as black as night.
"Where am I now?"
James asked aloud in the hopes that a notification screen would appear in front of him to enlighten him.
After a few moments of standing awkwardly in silence, the Dread Pirate realised that he wasn't gong to be rewarded with the easy answer.
James realised as he glanced down again at his feet. He knew for a fact that his previous avatar had just been wearing a simple pair of pants and a shirt. His entire appearance had completely changed since he left the pantheon.
As if by reflex, his hands went to his head to see if there was a hat, but only coarse hair met his hands.
"What sort of pirate doesn't have a hat?"
He muttered to himself as his hands flowed down his face and lingered on the material that now covered his eye socket. The Aimpatch was already equipped and James wondered if the 20% it offered to his vision was really terrible or if it was just because he was surrounded by darkness.
"Aimpatch, check. Shirt and... vest?"
James admired himself as he turned the fabric on him every which way he could, admiring the details.
"Let's see, how good are you?"
He idly wondered as he took off the long leather coat and held it up in front of his good eye.
|You do not have the required Intelligence to Inspect this item.|
James stared at the message for a few moments before he tried again.
The same message appeared.
Silence enveloped the bubble of air and James just smiled humorlessly.
"I do not have the required intelligence. Okay. Good to know."
He winced slightly as he dismissed the notification and pulled his coat back on. Only his jacket and boots were made completely of leather. His vest and pants were made of a comfortable fabric. Almost everything was black except for the shirt under his vest.
"Because fuck camouflage, right?"
James muttered as he picked at the white shirt absentmindedly.
Sighing to himself, James knew his recent sour mood had nothing to do with the shirt. He was at the end of his character creation and was now the Dread Pirate, Sylvian.
Without taking a step forward, James crouched down and took a seat at the base of the barrier. Water sloshed all around him as he made himself comfortable in his little bubble. All around him was darkness and a stifling sense of foreboding that James had been trying to ignore.
|Dread Sense has been Activated|
Just as quickly as it had appeared, the unfamiliar anxiety and foreboding that James had been feeling vanished.
Wanting to understand what just happened, James checked his status window.
Dread Sense: (Active)
The Dread Pirate is immune to the psychological effects of the Dread Lake.
Looking up and studying the moving shapes in the water, James started to understand what was happening.
"I'm the Dread Pirate... so it would make sense that my Demon would be from the Dread Lake. So much for getting a flying animal."
James began excitedly before realising the limitations of only having a water based Demon. The simple fact of him being at the bottom of the Dread Lake finally tipped his mood over the edge.
"Should I just wait here while you pick this for me too?"
James shouted in the bubble, wondering if he would be given any form of agency throughout this whole process.
"Character creation? More like allocation..."
He muttered as his eye darted around the darkness, looking for any sort of movement.
Suddenly a flicker occurred to his left and James turned immediately to check what it was.
Whatever he had hoped for or expected, the awkward fish that flopped enthusiastically against the side of the barrier was not it.
James barked as he shook his head.
"I will not have a contract with a damned jumping fish!"
Turning completely around so he wouldn't need to look at the stupid fish anymore, James almost let out a gasp.
A set of red eyes were quietly inspecting him from the other side of the barrier.
The creature they belonged to was female, with a humanoid torso that looked to be a combination of skin and scales.
Her lower body swayed behind her but was hidden in the murky darkness of the water. Each of her clawed fingers were tapping delicately against the barrier and James knew exactly what she was doing.
She was looking for a weakness in his protective bubble, so she could get in and kill him.
"Well, aren't you just the most terrifying creature I've seen today?"
James laughed as he watched for a reaction on her face. The red eyes glanced at him for the briefest of moments before darting back to the barrier.
Roguish Charm: (Failure)
Sirens are the masters of deception and allure, you will not be able to sway them with words alone.
As the notification came up in front of him, James found himself grinning widely. He was so relieved to find out that the charm skill worked passively. He was worried he'd make a fool of himself in a tavern trying to activate it, and then have a recording of his terrible efforts going viral and then being seen by Nox just before he was due his bonus payment.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The recurring noise immediately snapped James out of his momentary reverie as he focused his eye back on the creature in front of him. If he had been able to attempt a charm, then he figured that he should try another skill to see if it would work.
"Villainous Flair is useless to me right now, so how about..."
James started to say to himself, but the moment that his intent was recognised, the skill activated.
|A Good Eye For People has been activated.|
An aura suddenly appeared all around the demonic creature in front of him, and James found that he could now see her clearly. The lower body that had been covered in darkness was now revealed to be a fish like tail with forked fins. It was completely adorned with reddish scales that melted into the darkness. The sharp features of her face were illuminated and James could see her high cheekbones and piercing red eyes. Her face was a deathly white, which was a stark contrast to her black lips that were curled into a dissatisfied grimace.
The creature knew she was being inspected and she didn't like it at all.
|Assessment:||Neutral, Calculating, Dangerous|
"Stronger rank, higher level... and a crew position?!"
James was reading through the stats calmly until he let out an excited exclamation at the end. His whole idea of the Dread Pirate had just been turned on his head, and he immediately started brainstorming ideas about how he could potentially utilise a full crew and a ship.
"Imagine if I had a Siren as a Demon Contract..."
James' grin grew even wider as he looked at the still illuminated Maris in front of him. If he had a Siren as a Navigator, that was stronger than him and a higher rank... it would make the early game a lot easier. She was also attractive, which would probably boost his ratings. It was a sad fact that attractive female characters drew in huge segment of the ratings.
He made his decision immediately and extended his hand, not sure exactly how the ritual was supposed to occur.
"Maris, I would like to make a Demonic Contract with you."
James stated as he pressed his hand against the barrier.
|Would you like to leave the protective barrier?|
Wondering if he was doing it right, James' best guess was that he needed to make some form of physical contact with the demon to create a contract.
The fact that Locke had so many tattoos that represented her links, and the fact that she had to touch them to bring forth the demons... James surmised that he needed to touch one to start the contract.
The next notification stopped him immediately.
|Warning: You will die.|
James recoiled from the barrier as though it had shocked him.
"Aren't the notifications usually vague and cryptic?"
The intent look in Maris' eyes flickered with disappointment before a new expression crossed her face.
|Maris is curious about you. She is considering your contract.|
|Maris thinks you are weak. She doesn't respect you.|
"Little bit insulting, but okay..."
|Maris doesn't want to kill you anymore. She is curious about your future.|
"That's progress, I guess."
James laughed as he opened his arms wide.
"So would you like to partner with me?"
Looking down in anticipation of another notification popping up with her response, James was surprised to hear a beautiful voice echo all around him.
Maris' black lips swayed in the darkness as the eerily beautiful song swam around them. James couldn't pick out a single lyric, but enjoyed whatever language it was that she was singing.
The Siren's eyes widened in shock as her lips continued to move and James was rewarded with an additional notification.
|Maris is alarmed that you can resist the Siren's Song.|
Suddenly the song stopped and the Siren moved away from the barrier. Her red eyes that glowed in the darkness darted around before her whole body turned in the water and disappeared.
"Guessing that's a no?"
James sighed to himself as he turned to look behind him again. His eye met the enthusiastically flipping fish.
"Still not picking you."
Something about it was just so unnerving.
|Warning: Your barrier has been breached.|
Whirling around, James lashed out in each direction, threatening to hit or strike anything that dared attack him.
After a moment he looked around and found nothing behind him or at his sides. Glancing up, he couldn't see anything above him nor below him.
Breathing heavily, he cursed himself for the panicked reaction.
Nothing was killing him or attacking him.
He couldn't even see what had breached the area, so instead of getting so worked up he told himself to calm down.
Once he had successfully calmed down, James felt the slightest tingling sensation coming from his right shoulder.
Slowly turning his head, James laughed in embarrassment when he saw the culprit.
A tiny yellow octopus was adhered to his shoulder.
It's little tentacles were raised as though it was celebrating an unknown victory.
James extended a finger to the little creature in what he hoped was received as a greeting.
"And just how did you get in here, little guy?"
The tiny creature vanished immediately and reappeared on James' hand, it's tentacles wrapped around his awaiting fingers.
James just stared in shock.
It could teleport.
The Dread Pirate marvelled for a few moments at the tiny octopus before he tried to learn more about it.
A Good Eye For People: (Failure)
This ability only works on humanoids.
"You can teleport, which is enough reason for me to want a contract with you. What else can you tell me about you?"
James glanced up at the sideways flopping fish that kept hitting against the barrier.
"Please just die."
Without warning, the tiny octopus disappeared from James' hand and the Dread Pirate genuinely felt sad at its disappearance.
Checking each shoulder to make sure it didn't just relocate, James resigned himself to the fact that he had missed his chance.
"I still won't be picking you though."
James grimaced as he turned his eye to the flipping fish, only to find that it was now thrashing around for it's life.
Tiny yellow tendrils wrapped around the larger fish and from what James could see, its scales were eroding rapidly as the tiny octopus unleashed some form of acid from its tentacles.
The wide eyes of the flipping fish looked to be screaming for help or some form of mercy, but the octopus had no intention of relinquishing its prey.
Finally, the fish went completely limp before its body disintegrated into a number of fragments. James didn't want to lose the opportunity again and reached out to the tiny octopus.
"Would you like to be my Demonic Partner?"
The tiny yellow creature disappeared for a moment and reappeared within the barrier, once again on James' right shoulder.
|Otto accepts your offer.|
"Otto? Nice to meet you, I'm..."
James started before he remembered his new identity.
A little tentacle curled upward which James interpreted as a greeting.
The notification that signalled Otto's acceptance disappeared and was replaced by a new sheet that was very similar to the one he had just seen for Maris.
|Personality:||Curious, Protective, Playful|
"Void Demon? Is that why you can teleport?"
As if to answer, Otto disappeared from James' shoulder before appearing outside the barrier. The little yellow blur flashed a few times in front of the Dread Pirate as if it was showing off.
James smiled at the display until his eye caught sight of the corroded remains of Otto's victim.
"Guess that explains the poison and protective qualities. I don't understand these ranks though."
A screen popped up to answer his unasked question, which James was grateful for.
|Loremaster Tutorial Guide: Player & NPC Ranks|
|Master||Standard Level 25 (S25), Completion of Initiate Pilgrimage|
|Unique||Master Level 15 (M15), Completion of Ascendancy Quest|
|Legendary||Unique Level 10 (U10), Completion of Special Class Quest|
|Disciple||Legendary Level 5 (L5), Completion of Special Deity Quest|
James stared at the information in front of him for a few moments before his face broke into a wide smile.
"This is really going to upset the Heroes..."
All of the Heroes he had watched in the online raids had been in the process of completing their Ascendancy Quest. Which meant that most of them were in the bottom half of the Abidden Class Rankings. The Paragons, with the exception of Scarr, had achieved Unique Rank in their time playing the game. It had been the highest achievable grade at the time. James knew that this new set of ranks would create a power gap between the Heroes and the Villains.
"If all the Villains start as Standard Class, then the Heroes will have a short-term advantage because of their higher rank."
James made a mental note to add this information to his 'Threat' guide at the apartment. He didn't realise that there was a complete overhaul to the existing rank structure.
"NPC's can rank up like this too?"
He looked at Otto with a thoughtful expression. If Otto gained enough experience, it could evolve to a higher rank.
"How do you gain experience though? Is it a portion of mine?"
|Loremaster Tutorial Guide: Experience|
|Faction XP||Contributory||Gained by the actions of your Faction Members such as Crew, Followers and residents of your Territories.|
|Alignment XP||Modifier||Amplifies experience gain when the Player acts in line with their Alignment. Villainous acts will result in a high modifier, whilst Heroic acts will offer a penalty to experience gained.|
|Class XP||Individual||Gained by completing Class Quests and missions that are specifically available to the Dread Pirate.|
|Quest XP||Individual||Gained by completing Quests offered by NPC's within Abidden. Experience is determined by the quest difficulty as well as the Player's performance in it's completion.|
|System XP||Individual||Gained from participation in World Events.|
Before James could read the entirety of the screen that had appeared in front of him, his surroundings changed once again and a new notification popped up in front of him.
Congratulations! You are now entering the World of Abidden.
You will no longer receive 'Warnings' and you will be free to do as you wish.
Please refer to your allocated Loremaster if you require any additional assistance.
Good luck and have fun!
James was no longer standing at the bottom of the Dread Lake. The barrier around him was gone and he found himself squinting his eye to block the sudden rays of sunshine. The tranquility of the lake bed had now been replaced by shouts of anger and confusion.
Blinking quickly and shielding his eye, James looked around to see what was going on. He was waist deep in water, at the edge of grey beach. Jagged pieces of wood led towards the shore, which James assumed had once been the home of a dock.
Glancing down, the Dread Pirate saw that the water was black, just like the murky darkness from before. A little movement to his right showed him that Otto was still perched on his shoulder. A few more additions were on his body that weren't present in his Character Creation.
James pulled the Charlatan's Cutlass from his scabbard and enjoyed the reassuring weight in his hand. It was a rough looking weapon with a rusted hilt and cracks littered across the blade. It also created a loud screeching noise as it left the sheath.
"What was that?!"
A voice called out from the shore.
The Dread Pirate looked up to see a dozen armed men staring at him.
Behind them were a huddled group of terrified women and children.
|You have discovered the Escravo Cartel.|
James looked between the armed men and the huddled group of vulnerable people.
"So this is how it is, is it Locke? Are you testing my resolve?"
He muttered as he looked between the groups.
He had just read about the Alignment XP which would penalise his experience gain if he did Heroic acts. If he did Villainous acts instead, he would get more experience.
"But what in this situation is the most Villainous outcome?"
James idly mused as he moved towards them.
One of the armed men edged closer to the shore to get a better look at the Dread Pirate. He cautiously paused before reaching the water's edge as though it were poison.
"What do you want, demon?"
It suddenly clicked in James' head. He was half in the water and appearing out of the Dread Lake just like the Siren had appeared to him.
Just as James was about to answer, he thought about it a little more. Maybe it would be more fun to play the role of a demon?
"I have been summoned by their screams."
James spat as he waded closer to the shoreline, his eye locked onto the armed man while his hand pointed at the group of women and children.
|Villainous Flair has been Activated.|
The man collapsed backward and scampered back to the safety of his group. The sword in his hand started to shake uncontrollably.
James wondered if it was actually that terrifying or if the game just had really over-the-top reactions.
Villainous Flair: (Active)
High Dexterity has caused your movements to flow in incredible and nightmarish ways. Will your Villainous Flair inspire or terrify your audience?
"That seems a bit ridiculous."
James laughed as he continued his approach.
What the men on the beach witnessed was a completely different scene. The Demon from the Lake had risen from the water and was gliding towards them, laughing maniacally as he pointed at the group behind them.
Suddenly, the Demon's eye started to glow a magnificent gold. The armed men felt as though judgement was upon them.
|A Good Eye For People has been Activated.|
James locked his attention onto the man that spoke to him. He assumed him to be their leader.
|Assessment:||Cowardly, Insecure, Brash|
"Affinity switches to Faction when it's a non-demon."
James noted to himself as his feet finally hit the sand of the shore.
"Tell me, Finn. What were you going to do with those women and children?"
|Roguish Charm: (Success)|
The group of armed men shoved Finn in warning, even through their fear they knew that telling the demon would be a bad idea.
Ignoring their words and cautioning pushes, Finn answered immediately and honestly.
"We give the kids to Lucius at the Orphanage so he doesn't cause problems for us. The women go to the Network because Camila pays a good price."
|You have discovered the Alldark Orphanage.|
|You have discovered the Viska Network.|
James nodded his head as he looked at each of the armed men. His eye flashed a few times as he inspected each of them with his skill.
"Where did you pick them up?"
He asked before blinking a couple of times. While there didn't seem to be a cooldown on the skill, he did start to feel some fatigue in his eye from checking them all.
Finn's arm snapped up to point towards a line of trees in the distance.
"Just past the vermin camps, there's a little settlement. It's mostly made up of deserters from our town."
The Slaver then gestured behind him where James could see a rough fortification made of logs. It looked like a makeshift wall that had been hastily erected around a group of houses.
"Okay, and what type of vermin is it?"
James asked patiently, wanting to know as much details as possible before making his decision.
"Goblins, nasty little bastards! They managed to cut ol' Sven over there."
Finn started to gesture towards one of his group but stopped dead in his tracks when he caught the devilish delight on James' face.
"Just where exactly are these Goblins?"
The Dread Pirate's voice was terrifying.
|You have discovered a Quest!|