Chapter 8: Burning Time

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The volcano was a massive, smoke-billowing mountain, so tall that I might've snapped my back had I tried to look at the top. I questioned why I wasn't sweating up a storm, and why the area wasn't even unpleasantly hot like you would expect an area with a volcano to be. But then I remembered that things are typically the way I want them in this world. "We just need to go in there." He pointed to a shabby station at the foot of the volcano. "The elevator runs up through the volcano. Don't worry about it being too hot. It's got an AC." I tried as hard as I could to accept these facts as common sense.

We walked into the station, typical 80's groove booming out the deskman's radio. A scruffy man in a hawaiian button-up shirt looked up from his magazine to give a half-hearted, "Hi". He motioned to a mechanical door to his right. "Elevator's there. 30 minute trip. No animals in my elevator. Got any critters? Nah? We can be friends." He went back to his magazine. I walked around the store, looking at volcano souvenirs. Tuck bought a couple pretzels from the deskman. "Well, Marion, if you're ready, we should probably begin our flight." Tuck called as he chewed on his snack. I forced myself to pull away from an Uruthyn's Hottest Volcano t-shirt. "Uh, yeah, of course."

Sure enough, the elevator was air-conditioned. Tuck clicked a button marked "Ascend" and our trip began. I leaned against the wall and wiped my boots on the carpet, making a muddy mess out of what would've been a decently attractive facility. Tuck pulled out his notebook and made a few checks. I put my hands together and said, "Well, apparently we have a while. This is good bonding time!" Tuck looked up from his book to look at me. He looked alarmed. "Yeah, of course." He put away his notes and threw his pack on the ground. We both sat down on the carpeted floor, and I tried to avoid the mud. "So, this has been an interesting stage of my life so far. I mean, my life is in jeopardy, the lives of the Forest folk are in jeopardy, and dear god, all this lack of sleep will probably give me wrinkles! This truly is a catastrophe!" I interrupted my ramble with a bite of pretzel. "Yeah, I understand that our current circumstances are a bit rough, but I assure you that we'll manage to get through it."

Tuck eyed the ground. I stared at him, but he didn't look back. "You okay, man? You've been acting a little strange lately. I mean, you've always been a stick in the mud, but this is different." Tuck closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. "I'm fine, really. Just a little stressed." I scooted next to him. "That's understandable. All of this must be a lot for you to deal with, but it's like you said, together we can get through this." Tuck took out his notebook again. "Thanks, but I'll be fine." I watched as he continued to write, paying me no attention. Why was he being so distant? In fact, the more I thought about it, there were a lot of things I didn't understand about what had happened. "Tuck, I have some questions." Tuck looked up from his book, almost alarmed. "Of course. What's on your mind?" Tuck began. I shuffled through a maze of questions, ideas, and memories, trying to decide which one to bring up first. "I thought you said we were the first of the Forest folk to cross the border? If that's so, why is there an average joe running an elevator for a volcano? And how do you seem to know everything about this place?"

I must've stumped him, because he stared at the ground, sighing. "This world isn't normal. It doesn't really have a set of rules. There are a lot of things that just can't be explained." I frowned, trying to comprehend everything. "What is this world? It's like I know it, but I don't. Things are always the way I want them, in fact, convenience is almost what I expect in every situation. Like, the glistening pool in the catacombs. I feel that I possess knowledge of this place, but also ignorance." I was starting to confuse even myself. Tuck was quick to respond. "You do belong here. Never doubt that." I grabbed my head in frustration, "Is any of this even real? Is this some kind of dream or-" Tuck grabbed me by the shoulders. "Marion! You're just digging yourself into a hole! You need to relax!" I banged my head against the wall. "I just want answers, dammit!" I started to cry into my arms. He had refused to answer my questions, then again, maybe even he did not have the answers I wanted. I felt Tuck hug me. "I know this all seems confusing. But you just have to trust me. I will help you. Besides, aren't you the one who told me that worrying gets you nowhere?" I looked up at him, and laughed slightly. "Yeah, that was me, wasn't it." "You wanna know something that I've been a little hesitant to admit?" Tuck said as he ran his hands through my hair. "What?" "I'm terrified. Of this world. Of losing the Forest. Of losing you, Marion." I watched as a tear ran down his face. I know I had stated that it wasn't in my interest to be with Tuck in a romantic way, but no matter what, he was my dearest friend, and I loved him. I wiped away his tear with my thumb. "There's nothing to worry about, Tuck. I'm here now, just as I'll always be. You can be sure of that."

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