Informal Introductions

“We should’ve had these on before we got here,” Alliane said. She struggled to secure the royal blue bowtie around her throat. The sweat pouring down her ruddy face and hands made the task more troublesome than it should have been. Her long, black hair irritated her more by sticking to her hands and face.

“I don’t know why you didn’t,” Jonah said. He slapped her hands away from her neck. “Let me.” Jonah’s hands felt cool against Alliane’s skin while he adjusted the strap around her neck. Of course, he had his bowtie on already. “There.” The moment the bowtie was secured around her neck Alliane felt instantly cooler. It protected her, and Jonah’s protected him, from the heat of the volcano.

“Thanks.” Alliane leaned upward to reward him with a peck on the cheek, then she looked further down into the volcano. Her portal left them on a rocky outcropping inside the mountain about 30 feet above the lava lake. She saw their next object, a wooden single-person canoe, floating on the bright orange surface. She looked back to Jonah and tugged at the bowtie. “Think these’ll protect us from the lava too?” Jonah placed a hand on her shoulder to make sure she did not jump in without the answer.

“Probably not. The ladder might,” he said. Jonah slid his leather rucksack down to the rocky ground and rifled through it. He pulled out a black metal rod with the number #07 engraved in red on it. “Here.” Jonah handed the bag to Alliane then walked to the edge of the ledge. He held the rod over the side horizontally, then shook it. The action released a heavy cloud of black dust that fell straight down into the lava. As the dust fell it left behind fully formed ladder rungs down to the lake’s surface. Jonah then lifted the ladder to adjust the angle. He dipped the ladder into a spot next to the canoe and placed the top against the ledge at a 45-degree angle. He shook it several more times against the ledge until it would not move anymore.

“Wait here,” he said, then backed himself off the ledge onto the ladder.

“Why?” Alliane asked. She dropped the sack and took a step toward the ledge. “I’m lighter and quicker. I should go get it.” Jonah shook his head.

“I’m already on the ladder,” he chuckled and continued to climb down at an angle.

“Look!” Alliane blurted. She pointed at the canoe, and Jonah turned his body keeping one hand on the ladder. A black portal appeared in the canoe, then a lanky young man wearing a navy business suit stepped out onto the canoe. He noted the ladder and looked up it to see Jonah and Alliane.

“HEY! THAT’S OURS!” Alliane shouted. The man looked down at the canoe, then at the ladder, then at Alliane.

“Based on what?”

“We were here first!” she shouted. “Keep climbing down,” she whispered to Jonah. He started moving down again.

“You say that,” the man smiled. “But I’m actually in it.”

“Scavenger Hunt rules! We saw it first.”

“Scavenger Hunt?” The man noticed Jonah continuing to move toward him. “I’m not part of your childish games,” he said. “Your rules don’t apply to me.”

“If you’re not playing why do you want it?” Alliane yelled from the ledge. Jonah was close enough to see the man roll his eyes with an exaggerated gesture.

“I don’t need to answer, I’m already here. So, if you’ll excuse me…”

“Wait!” Jonah said. “I’m Jonah, #02 El Diablito,” he said and kept climbing down. It was a desperate move to stall the man even just a couple of seconds, and Jonah was pleasantly surprised when it worked. The man narrowed his eyes and sighed.

“I’m Billy, #14 La Muerte,” he said.

“I’m Alliane, #35 La Estrella,” Alliane called out while Jonah kept climbing down. It was a little-known subtlety that Mundo explained to Jonah and Alliane. A majority of Uniques are compelled to introduce themselves to other Uniques.

“I’m Billy, #14 La Muerte,” he glared up at the ledge. Billy seemed to know he was in the majority. Jonah was almost at the canoe. He began to wonder what exactly he would do once he reached it. Pushing Billy into the lava seemed extreme.

“I’m Jonah, #02 El Diablito,” he repeated. Billy smirked. He wiggled his fingers at the canoe under him and a black hole formed underneath it. The flat hole floated upward to swallow the canoe with him in it. It left nothing but lava and empty air under it. As Billy’s head disappeared he smiled at Jonah.

“We’ve already met.”

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