Jack-o had managed to save his backpack, but in return, it had cost him the fabric on the back of his shirt as well as part of his flesh. In the summer’s he would play around the lake with friends and every time he went out his mother heeded him to, ‘lather up so you don’t catch a mean sunburn.’ He fought back a pain filled smirk, those days seemed far in the past, and the word sunburn would never carry the same meaning for Jack-o again.
His skin was so sensitive on the least burnt parts of his body that it seemed like it hurt to even think about. Whereas on the most burnt parts, he knew it hurt to think about. Sitting perfectly still, the only thing keeping the tears from flooding down his face was the intense burn the salt would inflict on his cheeks. Possibly the worst part of the burning for Jack-o was that no matter what, unless he was ready to die where he sat, the burns were not severe enough to keep the man and boy from moving on.
He glanced over at Temron, who still sat as he had since they were safely out of the sun’s most harmful rays. As he stared at what could be the statue of a burnt, tattooed man, taking deep hot breaths of air that felt so thick you could pluck it from the nothingness and breathe it in by the handful, Jack-o knew all of this was his fault. Inside, the boy had known since the first minute he entered, Into Gold, that his interaction with Temron would alter everything about it. Or at least he’d suspected. Now he was certain.
Saving his backpack meant there was still another option for Jack-o, he had lost his library, but there was still one book left. Though it wasn’t for himself he considered running from the scarred and desolate land that Temron called home. It was for Temron. In, Into Gold, none of this happened. The man next to him had rough times but they were his own, none like what the two had seen together. There was no Destroyer, no obliterated portal gate, no little boy. And at that moment a thought crossed his mind. He saw his parents on their farm walking happily hand in hand before the world began to shake. Then Rona’s final courage shown on the reel in his mind, next the Destroyer and his many broken worlds, and finally to where he currently sat in pain next to a man he may have condemned to death. Was this all because of him? A deepness was growing inside of him and filling with more sadness and guilt than the boy thought his small body capable of holding.
“I don’t know where to go,” Temron said, finally breaking the silence. His voice was weaker than it had been the entire time Jack-o had known him. In it there were no traces of the man who had taught him to fight, growling at him to center his core and keep his hands up. No sign of the hardness that was there when he had said, utter sincerity he would never wait for the boy again. In fact, if it hadn’t only been the two of them in the world at that exact moment, then he may not have recognized it at all.
Jack-o searched for words. Not necessarily the right words, just any that would come. The boy had lost everything, true, but he still had his bag, so he still had hope. The equipment Temron had used to build his portal gate came primarily from his escape into the world of the Outliers. Of course, there was a possibility that somewhere, somehow, he may come across the right materials again; but it was not a probability. Jack-o knew that, and he could tell by Temron’s demeanor that he too, had figured out the same. Which meant there was not even hope left for the man. He had nothing, and in his eyes, the small glimmer beneath the toughened face of tattoos that occasionally surfaced was gone.
Jack-o looked back toward the newly formed rash in the distance, the glow dulling slightly, but only just. Taking a deep breath, burning his lungs with thickness and heat, he finally said,
“Morning will be coming soon,” and the two stiffly got to their feet.