Aria's eyes opened, but instead of seeing the forest where she had passed out, she saw a strange land that seemed to change before her eyes, yet remained the same. She saw no sign of her companions, but right now that was the least of her worries. She needed to know where she was.
She began to walk, trekking through the weird landscape that was both strange yet familiar. What was this place? It felt... almost like...
"Well, well, well..." A baritone voice suddenly echoed, but the words didn't seem to be spoken... they felt like they just hung in the air, as if they had always existed. Nonetheless, it put Aria on edge. "'Tis about time you arrived."
Aria turned around and was face to face with a man, or what appeared to be a man, slightly taller than herself, cloaked in darkness. He had snow white hair like her own, and eyes as white as her own, but there was a darkness in them that made her shudder. A white mask with blood red markings hid his face, and around his neck sat a mane of fur that moved like hellfire in the wind. Aria's first impression of him was that he was a demon. She reached and drew her sword from her hilt.
"Oh, please, there's no need for that." The man responded to this action nonchalantly, almost as if the threat of bodily harm didn't concern him in the slightest. "You will find that this course of action is completely pointless."
Aria did not lower her guard, not trusting the man before her. "Who are you?"
"My real name has been lost in the depths of eternity, but... if I were to call myself something... I dub myself 'Xeranad Lekard'... yes... that name would do nicely..." The strange man said, almost rambling to himself as if Aria wasn't there.
"'Xeranad Lekard'? The hell kind of name is that?" Aria asked, raising an eyebrow. "And giving me a name for me to call you does not answer my question. Now, I ask again: Just who are you?"
"Not the most patient of people, are you?" Xeranad answered. "Very well, I guess you can say I'm your spirit guide."
"Now, you are going to ask me where you are. You are in the Realm of Dreams and Nightmares. People come here when they are asleep, and the landscape changes to suit their mental states. Of course, most people aren't aware of this place, save for the mages and sorcerers, who have learned to shape it at their will in order to battle demons and the like within this realm, who constantly prey on humans in an effort to gain a physical form." Xeranad explained. "This place is also where the soul goes when the body is killed, to either enter the gates of Heaven, o wander here for eternity, or worse: eternal damnation in Hell."
"Wait, wait, slow down, I'm confused... I'm dreaming?" Aria questioned.
"Exactly. But unlike most people, who dream of things both broad and absurd, you are being delivered a message." Xeranad answered. "The prophecy has begun, with you as the focal point. You are the White Rose, born from humble origins to rise up and stamp out the oppression of Prince Shadis."
"While I agree to that last part, I don't see myself as some legendary hero. All I want is to get Shadis and Cypher back for what happened to my brother, and to prevent others from having to suffer the same fate as I have." Aria answered.
"How... humble of you." Xeranad responded. "However, the prophecy says that six heroes are needed in order to defeat the impending darkness. And I have the location of the next one."
Aria blinked, then nodded. "Go on."
"On Mount Kaija, where the warrior monks of Nihon reside, you will find a young woman with the word 'demon' burned into her left arm. Her name is Shindou Mikiko, and in terms of physical strength and ferocity, no one surpasses her. You will find her, in a trap. Help her out and she may be indebted to you." Xeranad proclaimed.
"Mayhaps she will join you, mayhaps she will not. Nothing in life is certain, Aria." Xeranad responded. "Now go. Your friends are worried about you."
And suddenly, without warning, the landscape around her became a black abyss, and then it was bright. Aria was blinded for a moment, but then she opened her eyes and looked up. Zoraan was kneeling beside her, and Scathe stared down at her. "Aria! You're awake!" Zoraan exclaimed, giving her a hug. Scathe chuckled beneath his cloak.
"How long was I out?" Aria asked.
"About two hours. Why do you ask?" Scathe responded.
"Nothing... I just has the strangest dream."