The Spirit Without
by ketsugi

Jan 24, 2064 A.D.

I am standing on an alien planet. I think. It is like nothing I have seen before on Earth, and yet it feels strangely familiar. There is a sense of belonging, of rightness here, that I haven't felt in a long time.

I am carrying something in my hands, a weapon, I think -- a beautiful sword with a pistol grip melded into its handle. Though peculiar to my eyes, it is comfortable in my grip. My coat is white, an almost pure ivory. It is plain and simple, the way I like my clothing.

Another man stands before me, a similar weapon in his hands. He speaks, but I cannot hear him. He raises his blade, moving forward to attack. All I do is laugh.

Our blades clash in a furious and spectacular duel. I am fighting as I have never before. My training in hand-to-hand combat never included such archaic weaponry, yet I move as one with the sword, striking and parrying as though I am but an extension of the blade.

I drive my opponent back. He stumbles, falls. I laugh in scorn and derision. Everything is moving faster now. I raise my hand, there is heat. My hand is aflame and yet does not burn. The flame erupts from my palm, striking him full in the chest. I raise my blade, then slash. He is hurt, but not subdued. Blood drips from his face. His own blade sweeps up, arcing, toward me. I do not block, I cannot. A flash of pain, and I scream...

...I awake, my pillow and sheets drenched with perspiration. It is not the first time I have had this dream, nor, I suspect, will it be the last. The dream haunts me by night in my sleep, and by day in my thoughts. I have never had a dream so intense, so vivid, like a surreal fantasy.

I must stop obsessing about this. Dreams are for women, and fools, and weak-minded people who find insufficient meaning in reality. I am none of these. I would not be where I am today if I were.

Feb 12, 2064 A.D.

The dream is different. The planet is no longer as alien as it seemed; it is lush and vibrant, a reminder of an Earth long gone. This time I stand on the edge of a beach, salty waves lapping gently against the sand. Behind me a rocky path leads up to an old wooden house overrun with weeds. Beyond that I can just make out the beginning of a meadow, dotted with a multitude of flowers. It has been a long time since I have seen so much life in one place.

I look down at the water, studying my fractured reflection. My features seem somewhat softer, less pronounced than the finely chiseled face I see in my mirror, but for the long scar running down the center of my face. Given the ending of my previous dream I think I know its origin.

My hair too is different, short-cropped like a private soldier, and hued a golden blond that I find frivolous. The white coat I am wearing billows in the gentle sea breeze. A pointed red cross adorns each side of the coat's breast. I have never seen such a design before, and it is as fascinating as it is strangely peculiar.

I kneel down on one knee and dip my hand into the sand. I lift my hand, letting the miniscule grains slip through my gloved fingers. Like sands through the hourglass... are the days of my life, I think to myself, blinking in the artificial fluorescent lighting of my room. For the first time this year I wake peacefully. The dream is still perplexing, though, and perhaps even more so now. Why has it changed? Why now?

It has a meaning, it must. I can no longer attempt to ignore that the dream is trying to tell me something... if only I knew what.

Feb 21, 2064 A.D.

It is the dream again, the same as before, yet it has changed. The sky is dark, the coast foreboding, the rocks threatening. The beach is strewn with dead bodies, each clad in a uniform of some kind. Huge chains anchored to rocks on the beach link to an eerie floating castle in the distance. The whole scene reminds me greatly of something from one of those old Gothic books I had to study in high school.

As before I stoop to one knee, but instead of scooping up the dirty sand I dip a gloved finger into the water. I pause for a while, just watching the ripple expand, then die away.

'I know you're there. I can feel you.' I hear the voice come from my lips, yet it is not mine. I realize, not without shock, that it is another man whose body I inhabit in my dreams, and he is aware of me, and he is talking to me. The dream has taken a turn for the stranger, and I am unsure if I like this new development.

'I don't think you can respond to me, but it doesn't matter. I don't really want to know who you are anyway. I just want to get you out of my mind and my world.'

He pauses. I try to speak, but I cannot. I have no control over this body. His body.

'I suppose some introductions are in order. My name is Cipher.' he says. I want to laugh. His name seems wildly appropriate. These dreams have been, if nothing else, a series of complex puzzles for me. If what he is about to say provides a clue as to the reason for these dreams, then he will truly have been a cipher for me.

Then, abruptly, the dream comes faster. The scene fades from my mind's eye… I am standing in a battle-damaged town. A training mission? No, a field exam. Ideas and memories flow into my mind as I watch the scene unfold, and I find myself liking Cipher less and less. No soldier under my command would so flippantly disregard direct orders. The images continue to flow, and I watch Cipher's fall from grace, his misguided attempts to redeem himself, his seduction by a powerful woman, his salvation by his friends.

And once again I am Cipher, and Cipher is me, and together in one body we stand by the water before the castle.

"This is all Ellone's fault," he says, though I have no idea who this person might be. "She's using me to get to you. She thinks she can save your world, because for once it is the future she's trying to change, not the past."

"Your world is in danger, Hein. Not from the Phantoms, the ones you seek to destroy. Your world is in danger from you. In seeking to destroy the Phantoms, you will destroy the very planet you love."

I do not understand. Nothing makes sense. How could I do anything to harm the Earth? How could I?

Cipher laughs, and I feel our lips twitch into a sardonic smile. "It is ironic. In my world we have a creation myth. The Great Hyne destroyed the world and rebuilt it. It seems you are destined to do something similar, Hein."

I wake. I still do not understand. This is the last dream.

July 27, 2065 A.D.

I understand it now. Even as I target the Leonid crater and prepare to fire the Zeus Cannon, I understand what Cipher meant. I am the destroyer of the world. My love for the Earth, my impassioned, misguided love, will be her downfall. But it is too late now for understanding. I am on a path that I cannot retrace. There is no turning back now.

I hear the warning sirens and I know I am dead. Desperately I fire again, and again. There is nothing left for me. There is an explosion behind me, and I slip into darkness.

I stand at the edge of the sea again. The gothic castle is gone; the scene is a study in peacefulness. I hear a rustle of sand, and I see Cipher next to me. I glance at my reflection in the water; I am myself, this time.

Cipher looks at me. His face is sad and disappointed. I understand. Behind him I see a girl, and instantly I know she is Ellone. She too is disappointed, but there is a hint of brightness in her eyes that suggests all is not lost.

She explains to me that my world lives on, thanks to Aki and Sid, and Gray. I am relieved, somewhat, though irked that they were right and I was wrong. I ask if I am, then, dead. Ellone shakes her head. She says something about a sorceress and combining powers and using magic to bring me here. I do not understand everything that she says, but I do understand this. My dream is now reality.

This is my fate, my destiny. This is my final fantasy.