Episode Narrative Guide - Arc Aria

Chapter 1 Summary: The Monstrous Vision

One bright afternoon, a warrior takes a seat on a stump in a safe, shaded region of the Forest of Echoes. He carries a spear and shield across his back, while he carries a bag of freshly picked berries and walnuts in his hand. He tosses a berry into his mouth and reaches for a second when he hears a faint doorbell.

Mike realizes his pizza has arrived. He taps logout using his neural controller, but the button doesn't work. He tries again. Is there a bug in the game world of Evergreen?

Suddenly, the sky darkens with an orange glow. A massive, powerful figure appears in the sky. This figure confirms the inability of all players to log out unless and until a daunting challenge is completed: the 100th floor boss must be defeated. Further, given the changes made to the neural software each player is using, death to a game character may lead to a damaged brain or nervous system on the part of the real-life player, including the possibility of death.

The mysterious and monstrous figure warns of the extraordinary power of these floor bosses, advising players to form parties, guilds, and inter-guild alliances for survival. The figure notably empowered these bosses, making them unbeatable by even the most powerful players alone.

Chapter 2: Of Leaves, Town, and Squirrels

Eidolon reels in shock as the monster vanishes from the sky, taking the sick orange light with it. He wonders to himself, "What should I do?" It dawns on him that he can't remember what he was doing in the first place. In fact, he doesn't remember logging in at all.

"I need to find a town," he decides. That will be the best way to form a party and survive. Unfortunately, he has no clue where the nearest town is.

Exploring the forest, Eidolon encounters a plant monster. Revealing his agility and combat prowess, he deftly dodges and overcomes the creature. The final blow is dealt by an arrow shot empowered by the spiritual energy of his fae ancestors. He pillages a poison fang from the corpse. Later, he reflects on the fact that he cannot remember logging in. Is he real, or merely a digital construct?

Aria, a charismatic spellcaster already within the Town of Echoes, immediately and succesfully seeks to rally local players into a guild of her own name. Within a day, Aria's Guild swells to about eighty members in a town of about three hundred residents.

Tank, the spearman played by Mike, shelters for a while in a safe portion of the forest then decides to return to the nearby Town of Echoes to seek a party. As Tank returns to town he encounters an enormous and territorial squirrel-like monster. While he is unable to defeat the squirrel, he eventually safely retreats toward the town.

Eidolon, seeking answers, scales a towering tree, glimpsing the serene Lake of Whispers, Tank in his tussle with the squirrel, and the distant town. Eidolon heads for the town, deftly avoiding a pack of wolves.

Chapter 3: Preparation and Search

As Aria's Guild leads the search for the first floor boss, Tank seeks a guild to join. He finds a strong fit with The Shield Bearers, who welcome his membership contingent on passage of a trial of initiation.

In the course of the trial, Tank is violently cut in half by a powerful water and metal elemental. Elara, a priestess of light, a healer, and the leader of the guild, revives him the next day and congratulates him on his succesful demonstration of commitment.

The next day, the warriors seek and gain approval from Elara to take up a training expedition at The Lake of Whispers. As the group advanced along the verdant path to the lake, Tank learned a bit more about his new party.

Elara, the Healer-Leader, walked with an air of serene authority. Her stories, woven from the fabric of her distant village and her journey into the healing arts, floated around them like a gentle melody. Her leadership, firm yet suffused with empathy, painted her as the guild's guiding star.

Gavriel was always near her side, looming with few words. His simple and large robe, a curtain to his past, fluttered each step on contact with the upper portion of his plain tanned boots. His common attire did little to mask an aura of intense magical power, the kind of which was lost on Tank.

Lyra, an agile warrior, danced around the group as it proceeded, her twin swords catching glints of sunlight as she shared her tales of battle. Her laughter, light and spirited, broke through the group's focused march, injecting moments of levity.

Kael marched directly, embodying a veteran, stalwart, serious, and perhaps slightly annoyed counterpart to the frontline of the guild. He exuded a sense of unwavering loyalty and deference to Elara. The clink of his heavy armor punctuates his every word, a reminder of his dedication to guild and mission.

As they reached the lake, Gavriel's keen eyes fixed on a medium-sized wingless lizardlike monster near the water's edge. "That one," he said, his voice low yet carrying an undertone of challenge. The group, with Tank at its heart, moved in swiftly but clumsily, utterly lacking organization or strategy.

Kael's voice, gruff with encouragement, broke the momentary silence. "I'll take it head-on!" With a decisive gesture, he led the charge towards the unsuspecting lizard.

The ensuing battle was a maelstrom of instinct. Lyra, the only contestant capable of graceful blade movement, struck first, and followed quickly, and again, so that a blur of silver seemed to appear before others had landed a single strike.

Kael followed, his strength channeled into a crushing blow from above. Gavriel's presence, though silent, hummed with latent power, his eyes aglow with the promise of unleashed magic.

As the lizard fought back, spraying a jet of water in defense, Elara stood like a beacon behind her companions. Her staff radiated healing light, weaving a protective tapestry around them.

The confrontation at the water's edge was a dance of elements - steel, water, and arcane energy. The lizard, realizing the futility against such formidable opponents, made a desperate dash for the safety of the lake.

But fate, or perhaps Gavriel's will, had other plans. With a mere gesture, a bolt of lightning arced from the mage's fingertips, striking the fleeing creature with unerring accuracy. The battle was over as swiftly as it had begun.

In the aftermath, the Shield Bearers stood united and momentarily cheerful. Then, on reflection, the frontline was briefly visited by embarassment before it turned into convicion for further training. Lyra set her swords on the ground and practiced with Tank's spear and shield for a bit. By the day's end, the Shield Bearers' signature Phalanx move had come to life, and Lyra had retired from her beloved swords for the foreseeable future.

As they returned towards the Town of Echoes, the world around them seemed to take a quiet breath. A cool mist followed from the lake to the edge of town, kissing their ankles with an acknowledgement of victory and whispering of the adventures that lay ahead.

In town, Eidolon seeks information about the spear warrior he saw from the top of the tree. He sells the poison fang looted from his fallen foe for a few gold pieces. Unable to rally the party he seeks, Eidolon joins up with a different guild called The Elementalists. They perform a training mission at the Crossroads of the Elements, where they unexpectedly come upon a merchant being robbed. They defeat the robbers, but Johan, their fire mage, is fatally wounded during the battle. Eidolon notably recovers a magical earth crystal among other prizes. From a distance, Gavriel somehow senses the fall of Johan.

Chapter 4: The Clash of Titans and Unification

The land trembles. From the Lake of Whispers, Tank spots a dark mushroom cloud erupt from the heart of the forest. Aria's Guild, it seems, has found the first floor boss.

The Shield Bearers approach the location carefully. Scorched trees, dark energy, and the sound of battle make the location obvious. They find the Dark Paladin locked in active combat with several guilds including Aria's Guild and the Crimson Vanguard.

At Tank's suggestion, the Shield Bearers set up a station on the outskirts of battle, collecting and treating the wounded to the best of their ability. They patch up many, several of whom are willing and able to return to battle. Perhaps most notable is Vaelor, a Dragonborn Paladin.

Vaelor was recovered like shrapnel as the sole survivor of a direct blast from the Dark Paladin. His wounds first appeared most grievous and he was clearly exhausted. While Elara began to work healing at the station, Vaelor took a moment of rest. After a moment, with his eyes still closed and his arm laid across his own chest, he struggled to hinge his hand upward. Healing energy slowly creeped out from his own hand, intersecting with and quickly catalyzing the work of Elara. Their spells seemed to ignite in a healing flash, and Vaelor was struck with vigor in the aftermath.

The air continued to crackle with dark energy as the Paladin unleashed blasts of shadow magic, tearing through the ranks of the brave combatants. The ground itself seemed to weep at the devastation wrought.

At an opportune moment, the Shield Bearers form a phalanx and rush in, bolstered by some of the wounded they have healed. Vaelor bore his shield beside Tank, joining the signature formation as if he had used such a technique a thousand times before.

The Dark Paladin succumbs to a final blow, his figure shimmers in bright light and bright smoke seems to escape his armor, leaving a trail of magical energy.

The cost was grievous. Fifty-four brave souls from across four guilds fell that day, their sacrifice a somber echo in the hearts of the survivors. Among the dead were Briar, Kaelen, and Eryndor, three of the patched wounded that returned to battle as allies of the Shield Bearers. Many of the survivors felt relief at the end of battle, some collapsed from exhaustion, some burst into tears for their fallen allies, and many also felt the sting of guilt for their survival.

Overcome with guilt, a swordsman near the front line takes his own life. His body, blood, and tears fall near the damaged armor of the defeated Dark Paladin. After a brief moment, his blood and tears seemingly grow as a vine along the trail of energy left by the Dark Paladin. Then, seemingly under the weight of gravity, the trajectory arcs sharply down, running back into the ground. A dark purple light flashes under the blood vine and when the flash subsides an intricate purple doorway remains.

Counting the losses of his own guild, and impressed with the performance of the Shield Bearers, Vaelor revealed that he is one of The Council of Three that leads a notable guild called The Crimson Vanguard. He invites the Shield Bearers to join forces with his guild. Elara and the others unanimously agree. This new alliance, born from the fires of battle, was a fusion of hope, strength, and determination for the journey ahead.

While occupied with discussion, Tank notices a few figures launch into the portal. "What in Evergreen are they doing?" he thinks. Many survivors gather into impromptu burial ceremonies. Soon Tank, his allies, and many others make for town.

Chapter 5: The Gate Calls

After a day of rest, Thane calls for a training exercise for the newly restructured Crimson Vanguard. Thane, another of The Council of Three of the Crimson Vanguard, selects the Whispering Woods as a training location. The battle party departs northeast from town, making way quickly at first over a gravel trail, then departing the trail for grass to head due north to the woods, an east bank of the Lake of Whispers now to their left side.

The group pierces the treeline and their view is quickly shadowed. The group cautiously browses for a target, progressing deeper with nothing besides plants yet seen. As the group ventures deeper, the shadows turn darker as the canopy grows more dense. A humid warmth and a musty smell tickle Tank's nose. The tickle peristed a moment, seemed to vanish, then returned with a blinding burst of force across his head.

This new migraine brought with it a new vision. A vision of the Purple Gate adorned with black vines in the field of the recent traumatic victory swirl through his mind. This time, the gate was open and a hand reaches out, slowly at first, then accelerating with a grasping motion toward Tank. The vision is abruptly interrupted by a hazy view of the forest and blurred shouts. Figures like creepy men walk about lazily, and one figure darts like a cat. As Tank's vision cleares, he sees that battle has already begun. His allies express a range of emotion from fear and surprise to the readiness of pleased hunter in Thane.

The dark shapes are slowly clarified. Several ghouls swing empty fists with little skill. The panther-like Shadow Stalker is another story. The dark, predatory, territorial beast seems to match or even overwhelm Selena, an elegant and talented blade dancer.

Selena continues undeterred, and with good reason. Her allies steadily take down the ghouls one at a time, and she is increasinly supported in her assault of the powerful beast.

The battle proceeds as a dance of steel and magic. Selena's two blades whirl in a deadly ballet, cutting through the darkness. Besides the armored and skillful Thane, perhaps Ivar is the most notable. A half-orc bearkin, Ivar not only lacks but seemingly abhors the skillful use of blade and shield his allies practice. Ivar's roars matched the ferocity of his blows, each strike a testament to his barbarian might.

As steel meets shadow, the woods themselves seemed to hold their breath. Each parry, thrust, and incantation was a stroke in the grand tapestry of battle. The clash echoed through the woods, a symphony of conflict and survival.

In the end, the shadow was dispelled, the foes vanquished, but the questions lingered like the remnants of Tank's vision, hinting at a destiny intertwined with the mysteries of this digital world. The journey of The Crimson Vanguard had taken a turn into realms both wondrous and daunting, where each step forward was a step into the unknown.

Chapter 6: A Hope of Resurrection

The Elementalists and Jacob, the merchant they defended, return to the Town of Echoes with the torn body of Johan wrapped in salvaged strips of his own clothes and those of the defeated robbers. Jacob thanks the group, offering a mysterious teapot and a discount at his local shop. The group obtains some basic supplies and heads hastily for a stiff drink at the tavern.

While some of the group drink in pity, their sorrows are quickly outmatched by the stories of others, the pain sewn by the the Dark Paladin. Eidolon seeks further information about the spear warrior he watched enter town days ago to no avail, but he does hear rumors of a possible resurrection for Johan.

He hears about two rumors in particular. The first is a Tome of Resurrection held by a collector of rare items in another town of the region. The second is the existence of a powerful mage near the Obsidian Forest. The Elementalists decide to seek aid to their now-weakened party. Working their persuasive abilities, the group identifies two potential allied groups: The Knights of the Silver Dragon and the Order of the Azure Lily. At the mention of the Obsidian Forest, the Knights of the Silver Dragon abruptly reject talks of a joint venture. Presenting a different pitch to the Order of the Azure Lily results in a more positive outcome. The guild will head for Yr Adlais Olaf o Ddŵr, which humans call Adlais, an elven village to the east of the Crossroads of the Elements.

Chapter 7: The Wanderers of the Echoing Vale

As Tank and Thane exit the forest, heading towards the Town of Echoes, their journey seems initially uneventful. The echoes of their recent battle still linger in their minds, mixing with the rustling leaves and distant bird calls. The forest, with its deep greens and shadowy underbrush, seems to watch them with a myriad of unseen eyes.

As they approach the outskirts of the town, the tranquility is abruptly shattered. A sudden, ear-piercing shriek slices through the air, originating from a nearby clearing. The two warriors exchange a glance, an unspoken agreement passing between them. They cautiously move towards the source of the disturbance, their hands ready on their weapons.

Peering through the dense foliage, they spot a group of adventurers surrounded by a swarm of Harpies. These creatures, with their grotesque bird-like bodies and screeching voices, are attacking relentlessly. The adventurers, clearly overwhelmed and fatigued, are struggling to fend off the assault.

Without hesitation, Tank and Thane burst into action. Tank, with his spear and shield at the ready, charges at the nearest Harpy, drawing its attention away from a fallen comrade of the beleaguered party. Thane swiftly runs in for a melee assault, easily unleashing a cluster of magic missiles with one hand as his other grips the sword, each finding its mark with deadly precision.

The battle is chaotic, the air filled with the sounds of clashing steel, guttural cries, and the fierce battle cries of the two warriors. Tank's shield becomes a bulwark against the Harpies' talons and beaks, while Thane's arrows thin their numbers with each precise shot.

As the tide of the battle turns, the adventurers regain their footing, joining Tank and Thane in a united front. The Harpies, sensing the shift in strength, begin to retreat, their screeches fading into the distance.

With the threat dispelled, the adventurers express their gratitude. They introduce themselves as members of the guild "The Wanderers of the Echoing Vale," a group known for exploring and mapping the uncharted territories of Evergreen. The Echoing Vale, they share, is in the northeast of the Coast of Echoes, the region to the south of the Forest of Echoes, and the only other land region named after the phenomena. Large waves will crash against the coast, the sound will become somehow magnified by the magic in the Lake of Whispers, then bounce back off of the eastern mountains toward the coast from which it came.

They share tales of their travels and mention a peculiar anomaly they encountered along their journey north to the forest - a crystal formation unlike any they've seen, radiating an eerie, pulsating light. It seems to glisten in the evening, diving under the well-beaten path to the forest, then emerging briefly near the lakeside before continuing apparently into the lake. Rather than investigate the lake, the group had journeyed somewhat toward the mountains before being attacked by the harpies.

This information piqued the interest of Thane and many in the party. Could this mysterious crystal formation be related to the unfolding events in Evergreen? The possibility of a new discovery, perhaps a clue to the deeper mysteries of the game world, prompts a decision. After ensuring the Wanderers are safe and offering to escort them back to the Town of Echoes, Tank and Thane decide to investigate this anomaly themselves, hoping it might lead to new allies, enemies, or insights into the challenges that lay ahead in Aria's Tale.

Their journey back to the Town of Echoes is now marked not only by a sense of accomplishment from their recent battle but also by the anticipation of what this new discovery might bring. The path ahead is uncertain, but one thing is clear – their adventure is far from over.

Chapter 8: The Collector of Adlais

In their relentless quest to resurrect Johan, the Elementalists and the Order of the Azure Lily embark on a joint venture from the Town of Echoes to the mystical village of Adlais. Their journey, marked by the lush landscapes of Evergreen and the anticipation of the unknown, brings them to the doorstep of the Collector. In the haste of the situation, no one bothers to ask his name.

Adlais, a serene elven village known for its deep connection with nature, welcomes the group with its tranquil ambiance. Nestled in the heart of the village is the Collector's Shop, a treasure trove of rare artifacts, ancient tomes, and mystical relics. Here, Eidolon and his companions seek the elusive Tome of Resurrection, hoping it holds the key to restoring Johan.

The Collector, an elderly elf with a profound understanding of magical artifacts, greets them with a mixture of curiosity and caution. He reveals the existence of the Tome, but with a solemn warning: the power to resurrect comes with significant risks and consequences. Each use of the Tome risks unforeseen side effects, a warning that weighs heavily on the group's conscience.

Seeking alternatives, Eidolon inquires about other means of resurrection. The Collector speaks of powerful healing magic wielded by mages in distant cities, mysterious artifacts scattered across Evergreen, and risky pacts with celestial beings or devils. He advises visiting major cities for further assistance, where knowledgeable mages and scholars might aid their quest.

Amidst these revelations, the Collector offers a glimmer of hope. A local elven healer, skilled in nature magic, might aid in the resurrection with the Tome's assistance. The Collector offers the use of the Tome to Eidolon's group, conditional on their assistance with an important task. The Collector asks the group to obtain a rare herb called Aeloria's Whisper from the nearby Whispering Grove. Eidolon eagerly accepts, feeling no need to consult his team.

In turn, Eidolon presents the magical teapot he received from Jacob the Merchant. The Collector identifies it as an enchanted item of endless refreshment, capable of producing healing teas.

After discussing the quest, Eidolon presents the magic teapot given by Jacob the Merchant. The Collector examines the teapot closely, muttering incantations and performing a series of intricate gestures. After a moment of concentration, he reveals that the teapot has the magical ability to produce tea.

It is enchanted with a charm of endless refreshment, so that it can produce a variety of teas without need for the input of organic material other than water. Further, it will make a high-quality tea with even dirty or low-quality water, at an increased magical cost. It can produce a few flavors of healing tea, a tea that is an antidote to certain poisons, and a tea to aid in sleep. The teapot has a seemingly endless capacity to produce tea, but it requires proper care and respect for its magic to continue functioning.

The chapter closes with the team preparing to venture into the Whispering Grove, their resolve strengthened by the Collector's guidance and potential of new possibilities in Adlais.

Chapter 9: The Search for Vaelor

In the wake of their return, the Crimson Vanguard, alongside the Wanderers of the Echoing Vale, found solace in the familiar embrace of the Town of Echoes. For Tank, this respite was a tranquil harbor in the storm of their recent endeavors. The town, with its cobblestone paths and warm hearths, offered a much-needed reprieve from the rigors of their journey.

Days passed in gentle languor, filled with the simple joys of rest and camaraderie. The Wanderers, with their tales woven from the threads of adventure and discovery, shared stories that danced through the air like leaves in a soft breeze. Tank, often a silent observer, found himself lost in thought, his mind meandering through the labyrinth of his experiences. The clangor of battle seemed a distant echo, replaced by the soft strumming of a lute and the laughter of his guildmates.

Amidst the tranquility, whispers of unrest and change began to ripple through the town. Tank hears murmurs of political upheaval in certain far-off capitals and major cities, tales of strife and discord that seemed to cast long shadows across the land. Eastgate is the nearest of such major cities, residing at the easternmost part of the Coast of Echoes.

Mixed with these harbingers of turmoil were reports of unusual happenings in the Whispering Woods. Travelers spoke of trees that moved of their own accord and of shadows that danced in the absence of light. Such mysteries beckoned to Tank, igniting a spark of adventure in his heart.

Other grand rumors concern the interpretation of celestial events and the heavens themselves."Astronomers and mages," a gossiper reports to Kael, "speak of a rare alignment of stars, a convergence that promised to bathe the world in a cascade of cosmic energy. The event will amplify magical forces, opening doorways to untold power and possibilities."

Tank laughs as he hears Kael retort, "You don't really believe that nonsense, do you?" the gossiper, a low ranking fighter in the Crimson Vanguard, seems somewhat taken aback and struggles to come up with a compelling argument. "Well, you never know with these things. Strange times."

As night descended upon the Town of Echoes, a cloak of stars enveloped the sky, and the world slipped into a realm of quietude. Tank, weary from the day's reflections, retreated to his quarters, where the soft embrace of his bed beckoned him to rest. It was in the arms of slumber that visions began to dance behind his closed eyes once again.

In his dream, Tank found himself once again in the Forest of Echoes, this time at night and the woods full of mist. He stood in the meadow where the Dark Paladin had fallen, bathed in the silvery luminescence of moonlight. The air was thick with an otherworldly energy. There, in a moonlit clearing, stood a shadowy figure, ethereal and ghostly, its face obscured yet its gaze piercing into Tank's very soul. With a silent gesture, the figure pointed to the heavens, where a constellation shifted and morphed, forming an intricate and mysterious symbol.

Tank awoke to the first light of dawn, the remnants of his dream lingering like morning mist. The vision of the forest and the cryptic constellation clung to his thoughts as he prepared for the day. He gathered with the guild for the usual morning meeting, noticing unusual tension in the group. "Vaelor is gone," Lysandra, second in the Council of Three, announced. Clearly upset, she continued, "We will dispatch two search parties immediately. One led by myself and one led by Thane. Before we go further, does anyone here have knowledge on the whereabouts of Vaelor?"

Two recruits, their faces solemn, spoke up. They had heard tell of Vaelor heading toward the heart of the Forest of Echoes, possibly with others. Lysandra, determined and focused, gathered half of the guild to search that area.

Thane's party included Tank and the other former spearmen of the Shield Bearers. For Thane's party, the Whispering Woods called. The mysteries of the woods presented a path rife with potential discoveries and challenges. Thane, recognizing the value of covering more ground and the allure of the woods' secrets, made his decision.

As Thane's group assembled at the town's edge, a sense of shared purpose united them. Their hearts beat in unison with the rhythm of adventure, their eyes set on the dense, whispering foliage that stretched before them. With a final, lingering glance at the Town of Echoes, they stepped into the embrace of the unknown, their steps echoing with the promise of untold stories.

The journey through the Whispering Woods was marked by an eerie calm, the only disturbance being a distant altercation among the forest's ursine inhabitants. Thane, ever the strategist, opted for a detour, leading his party westward, away from the bears' fray.

Their path brought them to the serene shores of the Lake of Whispers. The water, a mirror to the sky, lay undisturbed, its surface reflecting the quandary that now faced them. To the north lay uncharted territories, their secrets veiled by the horizon; to the south, the familiar path back to the Town of Echoes; and behind them, the enigmatic depths of the Whispering Woods.

There, at the water's edge, Thane's resolve wavered. The decision of whether to venture into new lands, return to the forest's embrace, or follow the lake's edge back to town weighed heavily upon him.