“Which one d’ya think he’ll like more?” Emma asked. She held up a pair of very different piggy banks, one in each hand, for Thomas to compare. The pair stood in the back corner of a thrift shop trying to avoid being seen by the clerk.
“It doesn’t matter,” Thomas whined while peeking around the shelf of piggy banks.
“It totally matters,” Emma said. She tapped his chest with a blue ceramic pig to get his attention. “C’mon. Which one would you have picked when you were his age?” Thomas sighed and looked Emma in the eyes.
“I can’t remember a thing from when I was your age, much less his.” Thomas regretted it almost instantly when her eyes softened and she looked at a very interesting spec on the floor.
“Sorry,” he grabbed both of her hands and pushed them up in front of his face to take a good look at the banks. The blue ceramic pig in her left hand resembled a basic cartoon pig with over-sized eyes and a perfect circle for a snout. The bank in her right was made out of shiny brass. It was an abstract pig with tiny brass pegs sticking out of its barrel-shaped body for legs. The face consisted of indentions in the metal where the eyes belonged and a snout that looked like it was hammered from the inside.
“Who’s back there?” the clerk shouted from the front. Thomas tapped the brass pig in her right hand.
“This one. Let’s go.”
“Why?” She asked as she returned the ceramic pig to its shelf.
“What? I picked one! Let’s go!” Emma shook her head.
“Nope. You need a reason for picking this one. You can’t just pick whatever one because you don’t want to get caught stealing.”
“I picked it because it’ll sound better when it’s got change inside,” he whispered. “Can we leave?” Emma seemed satisfied with the answer and lifted her hand to make a gesture in the air. A tall black portal appeared and Thomas dashed through without waiting for Emma. He stepped out into a bustling city plaza on a sunny day and heard Emma giggling behind him.
“It’s not like they can hold us,” she said, then patted Thomas on the back. He shook his head.
“That’s not the point. You can never tell how things will go and I’d rather not have to kill anyone,” Thomas explained. He looked around the plaza. ‘Anyway, do you see him?” he changed the subject.
“Hey!” She started running and Thomas followed automatically without knowing why. He looked ahead of her and spotted the familiar young, black-haired cherub talking a lanky, pale man in a navy-blue suit. Thomas recognized a pink pig in the stranger’s hand and picked up speed.
“You promised it to us first!” Emma said when she reached them. The pale man turned to look at Emma, then he glanced at Thomas and grinned.
“This quest is open to anyone, right?” he asked the boy. The winged child replied with a nod, and the stranger shrugged at Emma. “First come, first serve.”
“Wait!” Thomas shouted, then paused to catch a breath before he addressed the cherub.
“You’re not an NPC,” he said. “You can choose which one you like better.” He held out the brass pig and flashed a hopeful smile.
“A piggy bank is a piggy bank,” the stranger said.
“That’s not true and I’ll prove it,” Emma said. She reached into her pocket then gave the boy a quarter. “Put it in,” she said. The boy smiled and slipped the quarter into the slot on the pink pig’s back. Thomas realized the pink pig was made out of plastic when the quarter landed inside it with an empty thud. Emma handed another quarter to Thomas and smiled. “I told you it was important,” she winked.
Thomas pushed the quarter into the brass pig. It made several small, loud bangs as the quarter settled in its belly. Thomas held the pig by its feet and shook it to get more noise out of the quarter. The cherub decided he wanted to play too and shook the pink pig, but he frowned at the several hollow thuds the quarter made.
“I like that one better,” he said and pushed the pink pig into the tall man’s hands. The stranger let the pig fall to the ground, sighed, then made a gesture in the air to open a black portal.
“Consider yourselves lucky that I don’t have an AlterNet character,” he said then stepped through the hole.
“Now I got two!” the boy said as he crouched down to pick up the pink pig. “Thank you,” he said. Then he reached a hand out to Emma. “I’ll show you where my Earth is.” She took his hand and a pulse of purple light flowed from him to her through their joined hands. “You’ll find El Cantarito next to me,” he said. Emma nodded.
“Thank you,” she did not waste any time in opening a black portal. The boy smiled at her then walked away. Thomas went through the portal first, then Emma followed.
They stepped out into a dim, grimy, rundown house. A large soil pit sat in the center of the room they landed in. Thomas spotted the pitcher first. The bright red ceramic pitcher rested against a boy’s body. Emma gasped involuntarily when she spotted a tall sapling with red leaves was growing out of the boy’s chest.
“Ohhh. So that’s what ‘Blooming’ is,” Thomas said. He walked to the pitcher and pulled it from the corpse’s stiff arm. “Man,” he shook his head. “He permanently lives in the AlterNet now. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it.”
“I don’t want to think about it. Let’s go,” Emma opened a portal. “Please.” She stepped through first then Thomas followed.