[This work is inspired by the images, gameplay, and story of Atlus's Etrian Odyssey, as well as its sequels.]
You find yourself again in Wyvern's Roost Tavern after an unsatisfying day of bird-watching. Few birds exist to flutter through the wilderness these days. Even fewer are bold or foolish enough to sing, but there are people, perhaps you among them, who would kill to hear just one more birdsong.
The bartender, Maurice, sees you coming as he sets out your regular evening meal. He asks if he can pour you anything.
"There was a trader in here earlier, selling books and things. I bought something for you, something to occupy your mind besides those damned birds of yours."
Nice of him, eh? He drops, with a plop, a thick, black, leather-bound tome. It is tied with a leather belt, which is easily enough undone. A biscuit gripped between your teeth, you open it up to the first page. It is a bracket of time: "Lapin 13, Year 1212 to Lapin 13, Year 1214 – From Ethereal Academy to Etria and back again."
You nearly choke on your biscuit. Ethereal Academy is supposed to be nothing more than a myth. The book in front of you must be fiction, you assure yourself.
There is a challenge below the bracket of time: "If you are like me and wish to penetrate this decaying world's secrets, read on. If you are so convinced by the implications of 'myth' as to be blind, then sell this book posthaste – it has nothing for you."
Still coughing, you turn the page and read on. The first pages are dingier than the rest and are torn around the edges. They seem to have been stuck into the journal after the rest of it had been written. The weak, reddish glue used to stick it into the journal is giving out, and so you must turn the pages gingerly…
Lapin 13, Abandoned Cave Near Ethereal Academy, Year 1214
My first memories are of fire – of a white hot, all consuming, uncontrollable passion. At first it was weak, blind, and searching - like some newborn, cavern dwelling creature. But as the years passed the creature grew stronger and opened his eyes, and with them his ears, and he turned his attention to the mouth of his cavern home. From outside, in the vast, unending wilderness, he heard the call of power and he saw the blinding light of truth. Filled with the discovery of a new direction, he burst out of his cavern in a torrent of violence, like a lightning bolt, and realized that his destiny was to devour this infinite expanse of mystery that had been hidden from him for so long. Nothing occult will survive his wake.
I will satisfy this hunger of mine, I will feed this fire within me, or else I will be overwhelmed by it.
Today is my twenty-fifth birthday. I am reminded on this occasion of a story I once heard from one of my mentors here at the Academy. According to an ancient myth, the world is a giant walnut. As the nut ages and as the corrupting bile of mankind spreads across its surface, it will inevitably begin to rot…and as it rots, the ancient myth holds, pieces of its outer shell will begin to crack and fade away. The world will become less habitable, more and more fractured, until the shell of the world has become soft and bruised like the chest of a dying man. Vegetation will shrivel up and wilt, the seas will evaporate, the sky will become clouded and the sun will cease to smile. Just as it seems as if the world is to end, though, the world's shell will split and fall away – revealing a miracle, a divine truth which will envelope every living thing. I hear this truth calling to me in my dreams. When I close my eyes, sometimes I can behold the miracle. There is a piece of something divine inside of me, longing to make itself whole. That is not to imply that I myself am somehow divine…just that I long to submerge myself in the feeling of revelation.
We are living in a time of great rotting. Farms are drying up. Wild beasts run rampant through a malignant wilderness which is encroaching upon civilization. Sometimes the alchemists of the Academy receive a distress call from a city far away, and by the time they arrive to provide assistance the entire settlement has been destroyed by twisted, black, razor-branched trees. These engulfed lands, called "The Reclaimed" are always abandoned. When a body is found, and it is always a body and never a living soul, it is usually in such a state as to be unidentifiable. "Torn to ribbons", some of my more poetic colleagues say when they sadly shake their heads. "The earth revenges upon us."
But they only care for their poetry. And no matter how sweet, poetry will never satisfy me.
I studied here at Ethereal Academy for nearly fifteen years. I have studied countless tomes of alchemy, biology, ecology, mathematics, and history - and yet I have not even nearly exhausted the Academy's sources, nor have I studied as much as my colleagues. I have worked closely with elderly men and women who have devoted their entire lives to the study of myth - of that mist which humans have spread over true history so as to make the realities of life more palatable. You may imagine that this sentence is a bitter one, but I tell you it is not. Life is full of frightening realities, and I begrudge no man his right to soften the blows of cruel destiny upon his mind and soul.
In fact, I am particularly fascinated with myths because they are the key to illuminating the truths I wish to chase.
Notice that I have addressed you. This is not some sort of fantasy wish-fulfillment I am penning. This is not a journal in which I can create my own myth, generate my own mist to settle over my broken failure of a history. If you are reading this, it means that I am dead. If you are not a poet, if you are not an apathetic, if you are one of this world's true sons or daughters, you must continue in my footsteps. I am sorry to say, however, that first you must allow me a single indulgence – you must retrace my path, see what I have seen, learn what I have learned, feel what I have felt before our quest will have any meaning.
Tonight, I lie beaten and bloody in a cave approximately five kilometers from Ethereal Academy. Outside, it is raining. I can hear the patter of raindrops upon the parched Reclaimed earth, though I cannot see it. I can smell the deathly black soil as it recoils in horror from the possibility of purification. Is it raining where you are as well?
Hidden in one of the world's few remaining natural forests, far, far from the Academy, southwest of the Tellius Range and just north of Lake Agajio, is a village called Etria. The first crack has formed there, and they call it the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. At its very bottom is not a miracle, but the echo of a miracle. Travel to Etria, learn what you can about the Labyrinth, and then begin to read my journal.
I can hear footsteps outside of the cavern now, hissing upon the ground quite unlike the rain. They are either the footsteps of my companions or of my executioners. Either way, they will not find this journal. You will.