He knew his father didn't want him to leave their hidden home, except to power level with Tufflady, but sometimes he didn't care: there was so much to see, and he was missing it!
He wasn't missing it today. After another session of sword drill, his father went off to consult with Finder. Seizing the opportunity, Alex slipped away to indulge his newest pleasure.
He had begun to notice them in Realm of Heroes. Many of the heroes in that Realm preferred the skintight costumes made popular by the graphic novels of the last century. This made sense to Alex. In his view there was no point in having dangling capes and loose clothing that could get snagged on something while rescuing people from burning buildings, or, worse, provide a handhold for an opponent in a clinch.
For some reason, though, the female heroes seemed to wear their uniforms better than the males did. There was something extra in the way the rendered fabric clung to their curves, something he didn't sense when he was with his grandmother Darla. And this was a mystery to him, because she was as young as the others. Somehow, the other women were more interesting...and not just because they uncovered more virtual skin than she did.
Intrigued by this difference, he had taken up girl-watching at a beach in a Realm called Breakthrough, a non-combat zone which Finder claimed was unlikely to be visited by Set even if he learned of it, since it was not on the standard grid of 64 PanGames Realms.
Breakthrough was not a large Realm, as Realms went. It consisted of a single amoeba-shaped island with a coastline nearly as articulated as the fjords of Norway – except that there were no steep cliffs. The articulations were tiny bays and coves added to increase the length of the shoreline and to provide privacy spots for any couples who felt they needed them for romancing. Breakthrough could not be reached from the standard menus, but only from a private one with a age-minimum requirement. Alex suspected it was inspired by the ever-popular adult server Eternium (which he could never visit since it was not on the PanGames server). Perhaps PanGames had thought it needed something for the adults, to pull in more subscribers, before the battling pantheons had swollen the PanGames membership.
In any event, whether Breakthrough represented a bold new diversification for PanGames or merely a no-longer-needed extension, word had trickled out from PanGames employees and the Realm now boasted an average occupation of around ten thousand avatars. The old-timers tended to congregate near the center of the island, where multiple fire pits served up a continuous feast of various roasted and grilled meat and fish and fruits and wines. This part was always more popular with the older visitors, since the imaginary food was 100% tasty and 0% fattening.
The younger visitors, however, tended to gravitate to the beaches. Alex wasn't sure why the young women did, but he was beginning to understand why the boys did. It was because Breakthrough, as an adult Realm, did not require avatars to wear much clothing.
So he, also, tended to hang around on the fringes of the beaches, taking every opportunity to indulge what he told himself was a scientific exploration of comparative anatomy. It never occurred to him that he himself might be the object of a similar scrutiny.
As his rendered body matured, his mental processes likewise grew swifter and more focused. Strangely, the females avatars did not lose their interest as his mind grew. Quite the contrary. The simple curiosity about a difference in anatomy had grown, little by little, into a deep and mysterious yearning, a yearning that was made both simpler and more complex by the fact that he had no sisters.
And so he had continued, until recently when She had appeared. An avatar so perfect that from the moment he laid eyes on her he was stuck. The rest of the males and females on the beach faded into background as she strolled into view, apparently oblivious to all around her.
Alex was used to the tweaked avatars that abounded on PanGames. This girl was different. If her rendered appearance was contrived, it was by a master of the art. Either she was simply that beautiful...or she could afford the best in custom avatar tweaking. Her hair was the first thing you noticed from behind, because the reddish-brown glory extended down far enough to cover her derrière.
When she turned around, it was her eyes that pulled you, large and sea-green and bright with intelligence, with the hint of epicanthic fold that made them exotic. She had the figure of a model, and it was a joy to watch her body move, but it was the eyes that pulled you.
Unfortunately, she did not appear to be on the beach today. Perhaps he should go back to his sword practice. It was not as if he would know what to do if she noticed him looking.
Rising to his feet to leave, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Startled, he nearly jumped out of his skin. It was her!
His heart pounded. “How did you know I was up here? I only saw you yesterday!”
She laughed. “I've been watching you for a week. Why do you stay up here on the dunes instead of coming down to the water?”
He stared at her. “It's complicated,” he mumbled, at last. “I'm in training and I'm not supposed to talk to strangers.” Idiot! Now she'll complain that you consider her a stranger.
She smiled. “Then what are you doing here?”
“Girl watching,” he said, automatically replying truthfully, then blushing. Smooth answer, moron.
She giggled. “I knew that. Were you watching me yesterday?”
He blushed darker. Finder, he thought, we're going to have to have a talk about suppressing my visible reactions. “Yes. You were hard not to notice.”
“Well I certainly hope so,” she said. “I'd decided to make you notice me, so it would have been sad if I were easy to ignore.”
“Well, you weren't.” he said. “But why did you want to be seen?”
She just smiled. “Have you ever been to Eternium?”
“No. Have you?”
“Of course,” she said, as if that explained everything. “Wanna see it?”
“I can't,” he said sadly.
She looked at him. “What do you mean, can't?” She looked around them. “Too busy?” She looked back at him. “Or do you like guys? Did I read you that wrong?”
Now they had wandered off the familiar path of conversations into uncharted jungle. What did her question mean? “It's not you,” he told her. “It's me. I'm confined to the PanGames server, so I can't get to Eternium.”
She frowned. “That has to be the lamest turn down I've ever heard,” she said, and vanished in a FLASH of light.
Alexanor sighed. So much for the truth. It only sets you free mentally.
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