❯ .hack//SIGN – Chapter 1

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Disclaimer: .hack//SIGN and its characters were created by project .hack. They belong to Bandai and CyberConnect 2, and are used here without permission.
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Once More
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I logged in today. For — I want to say, for the first time. It wasn’t, of course, but it felt like it. I could barely even remember how to use the controller. The famous Wavemaster, Tsukasa, stumbling around and walking into things like a complete newbie.
Sora would probably’ve gotten a kick out of it, but apparently he’s not around these days. I tried sending him a note, after I got out of the hospital, but he never wrote back. Mimiru says he must’ve given it up when they disabled PKing… I guess none of the current players even remember him anymore. If player killing’s ever re-enabled, and he comes back, boy, will they be in for a shock.
Of course, nobody remembers the famous Wavemaster Tsukasa, who couldn’t log out, either. Funny, that. He caused such an uproar, at the time, when all he wanted was to be forgotten. Now he’s gotten what he wanted, when he’s not around anymore — but I am, and a part of me can’t help feeling… well, almost a little annoyed, I guess, foolish as that probably is. Everything that happened is faded into nothing, now.
Ah, well. It’s only a game. Now.
Walking through Mac Anu again — once I’d got the hang of the controls — it felt like I was a ghost, wandering through the city crowds, unseen and unheard. With the city all around me, just as it always was — but not real. If real was ever the word to use. All of it just pictures on the inside of a visor, and sounds through headphones. No smell, no touch, and their absence made everything alien. Gone were the scents of the flowers around the Elf’s Haven; gone, the thick moisture in the air by the river.
Gone, the rough wood of the bridge railing under my hands, where I — or Tsukasa — stood and watched Subaru go by on her riverboat with the Knights. Replaced now by a few buttons and a joystick.
Somehow, though, it wasn’t until a firefly landed on my hand, and I’d stared at it for a while, that it really sank in… if I were to meet Subaru in The World now, I wouldn’t be able to feel her touch anymore. No leaning my head on her shoulder, no hugs, no holding hands — none of it. It doesn’t matter, of course. We see each other in real life now, if not as often as I wish we could. Still, in real life, it’s hard to find a quiet, grassy bank on which to sit at dusk and watch the fireflies dance and flicker. I wouldn’t trade real life for a fantasy world, not anymore, but I couldn’t help but reflect that there were some things that the Wavemaster Tsukasa did not properly appreciate while he had the chance.
I suddenly thought I was glad Subaru wasn’t there. It would have been very strange.
Though maybe it wouldn’t seem so to her; she was never really here, like I — or at least Tsukasa — was. And yet that never seemed to matter to her — she always treated it as if it was every bit as important as real life.
We don’t talk about it much, but I think that’s why she’s stopped playing, now; she cared about the game so much that it started to consume her. Not like it did to me — or maybe I should say not like I did to myself — but perhaps it wasn’t so different, in a way. Perhaps coming back would seem just as strange to her as it does to me. She disbanded the Crimson Knights, and I woke Aura; The World stopped being anything but a game, and we — who’d known what it was to live it — lost our purpose, our reasons for staying any longer.
So why was I back here at all?
I didn’t know, really. I just… wanted to see it, one more time. To see if it was as I remembered it. But, of course, it couldn’t be.
I found that as I’d been lost in my thoughts, my feet — well, no; they might have been Tsukasa’s feet, but they were only my hands on the game controller — had taken me to Mac Anu’s Chaos Gate of their own accord. The city was all well and good, but there was someplace else I wanted to see.
I stepped through the Gate, and even from my desk chair, a part of me still couldn’t help but expect to feel stone slabs under my feet and a warm, dry breeze against my face. Any second now…
The sensations weren’t there, of course, and it was strange, again, how disorienting their absence was. I walked up to the thick, heavy doors of the Hidden Forbidden Holy Ground’s cathedral, and they opened at the touch of a button.
I stood in the aisleway and gazed at Aura’s statue for a while, remembering when it wasn’t there and I used to sit up on the altar, watching light filter in through the high, ornate windows. This was such a peaceful place… and it still is, but it’s not the same. I can’t feel the echoes of my footsteps ringing in the still air, anymore.
And yet it occurred to me, as I stood remembering, that in a way I’m glad that The World can’t transmit, to everyone, what it’s really like to be here. If it could, this place would probably be overrun with sightseers, and that would destroy everything that is, or was, so wonderful about it. As is, people don’t come here all that often, I don’t think. And I think I’m glad of that. Perhaps the ringing echoes and the dancing motes of dust and the still, timeless feel of the air are still here, buried in the coding somewhere, even if I can’t sense them anymore. And if they are, I think I’d rather they’re not disturbed.
It’s funny. I never really got to enjoy the game simply as a game before, and when I listen to the way other people talk about it, a part of me thinks I missed out on a lot. But then… as I stood there, I didn’t know if I really wanted to come back, and be a ghost, wandering through the World of which I used to be a part. If I played for long enough I might start thinking that it was all just pixels on a screen, like everyone else did, and I didn’t think I wanted that. The things that happened here — they’re too important to be so easily dismissed.
I smiled and waved to the statue; I knew it wasn’t Aura herself, but somehow I expect she saw, anyway. And then I gated back to town. I thought about going for one more walk around, or maybe going out treasure-hunting just for the sheer novelty of being able to fight without fear of getting hurt, but… there didn’t really seem to be much point in it. I found what I was looking for a long time ago, after all.
I logged out. Somehow, I doubted I’d be back.