Episode 08: Ultros The Undying
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I awoke early on the sixth day of my journey and wandered around the demolished town as the sun began to peer over the horizon, illuminating the ruins which I began casually looking over. Partially to scavenge for most supplies, but mostly to preoccupy my time before my allies woke up. When I had to work with others in the past, I would often work on my own projects or find some activity to occupy myself during the nighttime. Yet with the world in its current, there was little if anything I could do to be productive while others rested. Especially after I foolishly avoided getting anything from that abandoned book store near Madeco.

As minutes gave way into an hour, I sighed dispassionately, knowing that my search has been utterly fruitless. This shattered settlement had been thoroughly picked over by others and ravaged by my actions. However, it was while walking during what should have been a chilly morning, I realized that I was unphased by the ensuing cold as much as I was the other day. Perhaps, I thought, Marz also inherited a very discrete lesser ability of mine, the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, and I regained it. It would have been sensible, as well as a good explanation for how and why they were able to function so well while being mostly naked.

With that revelation in mind and my hands empty, I returned to my party’s dwelling and waited for them outside. Looking at the rising sun and the array of oranges, pinks, and blues, I reminded myself of my progress and accomplishments. My journey had already reached its halfway point, and I was in such a capable position that I could realistically achieve my goals on my own and without relying on my allies as I’ve had to in the past. The thought of leaving them behind crossed my mind, but I made a promise to these two, and I strive to keep my promises.

As I continued to look at the rising sun, contemplating various stray thoughts about honor and my principles with only a fraction of the thinking power I was accustomed to, I heard a sound rummaging throughout the house. As I approached, the front door was opened and revealed Jack, carrying her folded floral print dress, pressing it close to her body as if she was afraid that someone was going to take it from her. I gave her a familiar greeting while she did the same, her face bearing a cheery smile. After depositing the dress in the car’s trunk, Jack joined me in admiring the sunrise, clearly pleased by the colorful sight before her. Before more than a few seconds passed, I heard somebody walking throughout the house, and turned my head to see a familiar face in far less familiar apparel.

It was Zedaki, but since I saw her last night, she changed her appearance quite notably. She tied her long platinum blonde hair into a ponytail that slid down her upper back. She had taken off her large scarlet jacket, revealing a bright red buttoned blouse that was not quite long enough to cover the entirety of her arms, with a vest of body armor beneath it. It was fairly bulky, likely made to withstand the impact of blunt objects and gunfire, yet it fit her quite well.

Before her large jacket and hat made her look like a drifter, one attempting to loosely imitate the appearance and aesthetic of a cowboy. But now, she seemed more serious and battle-ready. As I looked on at her, I quickly developed a theory about why this change occurred. As a result of our encounter with Marz, Zedaki lost her hat, a memento of her past, and either she wanted to put it behind her more by no longer wearing her jacket, or she wanted to preserve the jacket, potentially the only thing she had to remember her lover by. While I had the opportunity to ask her about her change of wardrobe, neither Jack nor I brought the question up. Instead, Zedaki simply announced that she wanted to “try a different look” for this journey and that she “wanted to wear something more comfortable” if she was going to be sitting in a car all day.

Following that remark, the three of us went over to the car, the Blazing Beelzebub, where Zedaki rearranged things while pulling out something she and Jack could have for breakfast. They ate quickly on the porch of the house before Zedaki entered the vehicle to examine its dashboard.

“Damnit,” Zedaki began, letting out a disgruntled sigh, “this thing charges slower than I thought. We’ll be lucky to travel 25 kilometers before the battery’s drained.”

“Oh, really?” Jack interjected, her mouth still filled with stray bits of dried fruit. “And there probably weren’t any extra batteries when you found the car.”

“Nope! We’re just going to need to hunker down and wait for the batteries to charge, I guess. It sucks, but it’s not like we can just ditch a solar-powered car.”

“We do not need to necessarily drive this vehicle to move it,” I commented.

“What, you mean we should just push it instead?” Zedaki asked, her voice tinged with bitterness.

“That is precisely what I am suggesting. Or did you forget about the strength of the individual we murdered yesterday?”

Before Zedaki could respond, I leaned my arm over her to grab the parking brake, loosening the tires and allowing me to grab the rear bumper and push the car with my restored upper body strength. It was an effortless process for me, and I swiftly pushed the vehicle about 30 kilometers an hour, moving 300 before stopping. The speed was far slower than what we traveled yesterday, but with my regained strength, and what I assumed to be limitless stamina, I could maintain this pace for several hours.

My allies, stunned by my feat of strength yet accustomed to my ability to surprise them, quickly recovered from this display and finished their preparations for another day of vehicle-based traversal. Once prepared, they sat in the front seats while I stood behind the car, my hands latched onto it, and my legs moving us forward and toward the location of my next child. We had been venturing northwest from our southern Arizona starting point, and now we were heading primarily to the north. With only a vague idea of where we would be placed on a map, I could only hazard a guess as to our location, yet there was a distinct possibility that one of my children had traveled to the remnants of one of the numerous cities that resided on the western border of Nevada, or failing that, perhaps they resided somewhere in California.

Thinking about that only served to remind me of how little I truly remembered about the world’s geography, despite having traveled across so much of it and so many times. I let out a sigh as I reminded myself that I was growing closer to my goal and that soon enough I would regain my intellect along with my other remaining abilities, the true extent of my immortality, and the ability to create anything from anything, or Real Booting as I liked to call it.

Thoughts such as these occupied the confines of my mind as I pushed, abiding by directions from Zedaki as she and Jack chatted, with their idle banter filtering out from the open car windows. Most of their conversation during the morning hours seemed to be fixated around technology. How people adapted to going from a world where it was expected for most people to own a smartphone to a world where something as seemingly archaic as a telephone was no longer present. Both due to the solar flare that came with the Cataclysm, and the lack of means to charge electronic devices, with people needing to rebuild generators, siphon off gasoline, and use up whatever functional batteries they could scavenge.

The only other means of gaining power were renewable energy sources, which had yet to be widely adopted, and those that had been implemented were damaged by the Cataclysm. Because of all of this, it truly was a marvel to have something like this solar car, a machine whose origins filled me with suspicions, but there was little sense to worry about it given our current circumstances.

Anyhow, Zedaki mentioned how she encountered many people who seemed to take the lack of technology in their lives seriously, with some developing nervous ticks of sorts from a lack of electronic stimulation and one person who began using a smooth flattened rock like a smartphone. Others, according to Zedaki, simply carried around electronic devices with them, even though they no longer functioned, including smartphones, handheld game systems, or even calculators. Basic calculators were apparently quite common for the citizens of Madeco to carry around because many of them were solar-powered and continued to function under adequate lighting.

Jack and Zedaki then continued discussing their opinions on technology, which both fell into the more pragmatic camp of it being a part of everyday life, but constant and excessive use of it could be psychologically and physically detrimental to people. Jack in particular remarked at how many of her peers seemed to be glued to their phones outside of class, while her parents chose to give her a “flip phone” instead, which Zedaki commemorated, remarking how she actually stopped talking to a few of her friends once they became entrenched in social media. A sentiment that Jack could relate to.

While my thoughts on the matter were of a similar, if more indifferent, outlook, I could not help but be bothered by the two’s mentioning of their friends. With my incomplete memory, I struggled to remember many things I was once able to recollect with ease, including my former friends. While I remembered forging strong kinships with people throughout my centuries on this Earth, many of those memories were decrepit and foggy. I could not recall considering anyone to be my friend in the past few decades, nor could I remember why I felt that way. Perhaps I grew tired of the experience of getting to know someone for years, yet needing to leave them behind in order to hide my immortality from them. Or perhaps I simply grew tired with human relationships because of how finite they could be to me.

Eventually, I crawled out of my internal thoughts with a question from Zedaki.

“Hey, Abigale!” She yelled at me from the driver’s seat window. “Do you have any idea how that kid of yours— Marz, I think their name was— managed to get so huge?”

“No,” I answered. “Their stature, while impressive, was something biologically feasible, but it would be impossible for any child to attain such musculature and features within the span of seven years.”

“Um, I actually know why Marz was so big! Please stop the car so you can listen!” Jack shouted loudly from the car.

Abiding by her request, I let go of the car and moved to the passenger’s side door.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you this before Abigale. To be honest, I kind of thought that you knew, considering they’re your children and all… but I did need to explain that you needed to kill them to regain your powers so… yeah, I screwed up there. Anyways, for whatever reason, your children seem to grow up crazy fast. The Flare Foundation wasn’t really able to track everything, seeing as how the kids kept escaping, but they grow about four or five times as quickly as a regular human. So some of your children are already adults, I guess.”

I let out a sigh as I heard Jack’s explanation. Both due to relief and due to irritation. She must have known that I would want to know about my children, yet had kept this information from me. From the shaky cadence of her voice, as she told me these things, I inferred that she too regretted not telling this to me, so I quickly chose to not hold this against her. However, if she had more information about my children, I wanted to know.

“Jack, what else do you know about my children?” I straightforwardly asked.

“Um, well, I don’t really remember their names, but I know what powers they have. One of them is incredibly smart and knew tons of things she was never even taught or told about. Another is immortal, and can heal from any wounds, and in only a few seconds too. Oh, and then there is one that can transform anything into anything. Kind of like alchemy or 3D printing or something like that.”

The three abilities matched what I was currently lacking, but as I heard Jack list them out, only naming three abilities, I couldn’t help but wonder where my ‘new’ power or powers went. The power that allowed me to create the Cataclysm. Assuming she was truthful though, all I could do was blindly speculate with my limited thinking power, which I would consider to be a waste.

“Do you know why they look so different from Abigale?” Zedaki chimed in as I was about to end the conversation.

“Um, no, not really,” Jack replied. “I think I heard Ma—Miss Flare talk about it though. But I can’t remember.”

“Simply because they are my children and share my genetic information does not mean that they would perfectly resemble me,” I explained. “Genetics are a complicated thing, and certain traits may be toggled between as one goes through their lives. It can be seen in humans as well, with even identical twins developing ever so slightly different physical attributes as they age. While I am unsure if this same phenomenon occurs in me, and by extension my children, it sounds plausible. It certainly is the most digestible explanation I can come to based on the information before me.”

After explaining my theory, I returned to the rear of the car and resumed pushing it closer to my next child, and the act of pushing lasted most of the day. As I had come to expect, the surrounding terrain shifted dramatically after only a few kilometers. The desert environment we moved past was replaced with a large field filled with tall grass and wildflowers whose soft colors created an almost serene setting that, with no road in sight, I had to push the car through. From there, the vegetation grew thicker, with trees and bushes becoming plentiful. Because of this, I was forced to make a detour of sorts, driving around the outskirts of a dense deciduous forest, one that had been covered in red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves emblematic of the autumn season. It was a pleasant sight, yet one that soon became drowned out by the light of the setting sun.

The night was upon us once again, and there was no shelter in sight. While the car would make for ample shelter with its cushy seats, I still carried on, heading in the direction of my next child, and feeling it get closer and closer to me with each passing meter. As I registered this and looked on at the forest to my East, I stopped the vehicle and went up to speak with Jack and Zedaki.

“I am uncertain but I believe that one of my children is inside this forest.”

After exchanging a quick glance with each other, the two opened up their respective doors, bringing their weapons out with them before heading to the trunk to bring additional supplies with them. It was clear that they intended to help me, and after nearly getting pummeled to death during my last encounter with one of my children, I was not in a strong position to deny their assistance. So instead I thanked them as I began leading them through the woods.

The twilight sun shined through the tree branches, glistening off of the multicolored leaves as they fell. The sounds around me were a mixture of the crunching of leaves along with the chirping of small woodland birds as they fluttered across trees. And the forest floor below was seemingly moving, with squirrels and other small rodents scampering across the leaves in search of food and places to hide it. It was a tranquil sight that I trod carefully through, not wanting to disturb a place in the world that seemed largely unphased by the Cataclysm. Jack and Zedaki shared in my reverence of this sight, whispering words of awe over the beauty before us, but despite this, I could still sense that one of my children was near and moved accordingly.

As my allies and I continued to walk towards the heart of this forest, the trees began growing in size, growing from 2.5 meters tall all the way to 4, surprising given how young they appeared to be. As the trees grew in height, their branches grew longer, and our view became more limited. Combined with the continuously setting sun, and our surroundings were becoming cloaked in darkness. This would have normally been a good cause to back down, but I could tell that we were close. That my next child was somewhere near, possibly hiding in some makeshift settlement or in the trees themselves.

Realizing this, Jack reached into the backpack she brought with and took out three flashlights, which she distributed to Zedaki and me. I began waving it around, illuminating the darkening surroundings while I continued to push forward, hoping that the light would draw my child’s attention. And it did.

A few minutes after turning on the flashlight and wandering deeper into the woods, I heard a rustling within the trees, a suspicious jittering that I focused on without hesitation by shining my flashlight on the source of the noise. Before I could make any observations, however, a crudely assembled spear was tossed in my general direction, only to land harmlessly on the forest floor, where it easily broke off into a coarse rock and a crooked stick.

In response, Zedaki quickly holstered her flashlight before reaching onto her back and grabbing her rifle, while I moved my flashlight over to the source of the spear that dwelled within these trees. Unsurprisingly, it was one of my children. Their height and proportions told me that they were among the youngest of my children, resembling a child on the cusp of puberty, lacking any notable secondary sexual characteristics, and having a generally softer look to them.

Their hair was a long and jumbled black mess that had various twigs and leaves poking through it, while their brown skin was covered in traces of black dirt. They clad their body in only a pair of tattered makeshift underwear, while their form was gangly, as if they were unable to find the sustenance they needed to survive in this world. As I glared at them, they did the same to me, piercing my person with crimson eyes, not unlike a predator glaring at their prey.

Recognizing my gaze and numbers, the child yelled something unintelligible at me before they began scampering off into the distance, hopping across the closely placed trees while Jack, Zedaki, and I took chase. It would be a simple task to catch up and apprehend her with my enhanced strength and speed, but right as I was about to tackle a tree in an attempt to stop this child, they caused a branch to snap, sending them tumbling to the forest floor, where instead of landing in a comforting pile of leaves, they landed headfirst on a softball-sized rock.

I paused in after observing such a sight, surprised by my child’s sudden mistake and a subsequent head wound. I could see traces of blood oozing from her skull as the rock had clearly made a large dent into her head, but after a mere three seconds, the child pushed themselves off the ground, turning back to me and my allies, showing us that her head wound was already rapidly healing. It was clear that they were my immortal child, which brought up a daunting question that I regrettably ignored until now. How do I kill that which cannot be killed?

My immortality was absolute. Anything from boundless flames, the wrath of the ocean, pools of acid, the assault of 100 men armed with blades, and nuclear explosions were not enough to kill me. I could be constantly dying, and my body would still find a way to reassemble itself. Even if I were to be placed in the vacuum of space, I theorized that I would live, or at least resume living if I returned to a breathable atmosphere. Even if I were to land on a planet without a breathable atmosphere, I had reason to believe that my body would find a way.

I put such thoughts away at the moment and focused on the one thing I knew I could do. Momentarily incapacitate and overpower this child of mine, and the best way to do so was to sever part of their brain with a Snap Burst. Yet, the tree-trotter proved evasive, knowing the layout of the forest exceptionally well, leaping from the branches above me and shrouding themselves in brightly covered leaves, all while benefiting from the rapid onset of night.

I tackled trees and used my Snap Burst to startle the child, pushing them further and further into the forest, until we came across a large stone structure, where the child fled from the safety of the trees and into a cave. Shining my flashlight into it, I was unable to catch a glimpse of the child, but their now-familiar yell soon resonated through the cave, telling me I was on the right track. I swiftly moved through the cave, needing to crouch in order to squeeze my tall form under the ceilings, darting my flashlight around in the hope of spotting my target. Instead, I saw something else. A bear whose eyes quickly fixated on me. I tried to position myself for close-quarters combat, but the bear struck me first, tackling me before biting into my shoulder, tearing through my shirt. Pinned on the ground by their front paws, I squirmed to free my right arm and channeled some of my strength into a fist aimed at the center of the bear’s mass.

My knuckles tore through the bear’s hide, and they let out a loud groan as their organs and muscles were severed so abruptly and brutally. With their guard lowered, I maneuvered myself around the bear once more and aimed another punch at their head. Teeth flew from their mouth and scattered across the cave floor, while the bear quickly fell down, wrapped in pain from my attack. It was a particularly aggressive assault by my standards, but I lacked the time or patience to care about preserving this bear’s life.

I watched them flee from me while I carried forward, clenching my damaged arm as it slowly, ever so slowly, began to heal itself. Thoughts of avoiding such an experience ever again drove me to press on through this cave, and back into a dark forest.

Unfortunately, my trail had been mostly lost upon exiting the cave. I could neither see nor hear much rustling amidst the various trees and bushes and was instead met with a quiet and black scene. I lowered my brow in frustration as I continued dashing across the forest, hoping to catch or startle my child before they fully fled the area. Unfortunately, after ten minutes of shaking trees and brushing my hands through bushes, I could not even find a trace of the child.

Discouraged and spiteful of my own ineptitude, I tried to recoup with my allies, searching for another artificial light source, which I found not too far off in the distance. As I grew closer, I made out a noise amidst the quiet forest. The sound of metal penetrating flesh. I dashed over to the noise, sprinting through bushes and narrowly avoiding trees before I could make out the dimly illuminated scene. What I saw was Jack stabbing my immortal child with her crowbar, methodically pressing the long part of the tool through the child’s chest, while a familiar sword was stabbed through their head. Looking to the side, I saw Zedaki, lowering her rifle after seeing that I was the one approaching her. An electric lantern was placed near her feet.

“Ah, there you are, Abigale,” Zedaki said with a smirk. “About time you showed up. You know, sometimes I feel that you don’t really pay us enough for all of this. There’s helping you out, and then there’s doing your own job for you.”

I snickered in response, before offering a thank you to both her and Jack, who was still too preoccupied with her repeated stabbings to notice me, only realizing that I was there after hearing my name. Upon registering that, she ceased moving her crowbar and offered me her full attention.

“Oh, sorry Abigale. I didn’t notice you. I wasn’t sure how to, um, stop them, so I just started stabbing them over and over again… was that the right thing to do or…”

I patted Jack on the head as she stammered to me.

“This child is immortal, and while injuries will restrain them for a while, their body will soon shift away from whatever is damaging them. For the time being, it would be best to contain them. Zedaki, do you have any rope?”

“Um, yeah, I have some in the trunk. But if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly do you plan on doing with this kid? I mean, you just said they are immortal, so how do you plan on killing them?”

“It is not possible for me to kill an immortal being with my current abilities,” I explained. “Their cells will continue to replicate and regenerate, even if they are reduced to dust. However… I have an idea that would result in their demise, but I will need to regain another ability of mine first.”

“And what ability is that?” Zedaki asked as she placed her rifle on her back.

“It is an ability I call Real Booting. It allows me to transform one form of matter into another simply by touching it. It allows me to easily change anything from the dirt beneath my feet to the trees around us into anything I desire, from building materials to food to weaponry. It is arguably my greatest ability.”

“Huh… and is that how you caused the Cataclysm?” Zedaki asked.

“No. My Real Booting abilities cannot be used to change the weather, the very fabric of nature, or anything I lack a physical connection to. Though, that is not their only limitation. My abilities may form matter from the atomic level, yet things grow substantially harder when dealing with organic beings. I am capable of creating organic matter in the form of food, but the only living cells I can create must come from a living creature. I may use this ability to, say, help with the healing of wounds by restoring blood, muscle, and skin cells. Yet more complicated procedures, such as healing people with missing limbs or certain physical disabilities, are unfortunately beyond my grasp. Even with my once immense knowledge of human anatomy.”

“Wow, that’s really incredible Abigale,” Jack meekly said as she continued absentmindedly stabbing her crowbar into the immortal child’s face.

“Yeah, it really is,” Zedaki commented as she passively tugged on her ponytail, “but how is that going to help with the immortal kid?”

“I believe that my child will be unable to recover if I transform them into ash and absorb the remains in the instant before the regeneration process begins. I will admit, I do not know this for certain, but I am still confident in this plan.”

“Well, if Abigale thinks it’ll work, I’m sure it will.” Jack nervously replied, showing a great deal of faith in me, considering we have known each other for less than a week.

“Same here,” Zedaki said. “But where is this ‘rebooter’ kid of yours?”

“There are only two of my children that remain unaccounted for. By the laws of basic probability, there is a 50% chance the next one I uncover will be the child I need. It is difficult to sense their current location with my immortal child in such close proximity, but I believe they are fortunately close.”

“Close as in we might run into them tomorrow?” Zedaki asked.

“Most likely, yes. Even if I continue pushing the car all the way there, I would predict that we would get there prior to nightfall. But we should consider that tomorrow morning.”

Upon clarifying my plan before Jack and Zedaki, we began making our way back to the Blazing Beelzebub. I volunteered to hold on to my child while guiding my allies back to the vehicle. It was difficult to ascertain our route, but I was able to recall the vague direction we traveled in well enough to feel confident that we would uncover our destination soon enough. As we did so, I maintained an idle conversation with Jack and Zedaki before being distracted by a noise made by my immortal child, who I was carrying over my shoulder, powerless to do anything but annoy me with their actions. I ignored them at first, expecting them to simply spout a string of incoherent syllables and groans, but they began to speak in a slurred and high-pitched voice.

“You taking me back there?”

I paused before responding, “No. As I discussed with the others, I am going to kill you.”

“Heh. I no can be killed. I Ultros the undying. They put me in acid, stab me with swords, put me on fire. I survive all. Crushed by giant metal, bombed with explosions, gunned in head, stabbed in guts, I get better. They do nothing to stop me. They call me immortal. And I escape them long ago.”

“So, the Flare Foundation imprisoned you and tested your immortality extensively. I know that experience far too well. The act of torture can be maddening. It births hatred beyond anything else in this world, a desire to repeat the actions of others, and have them experience the same pain as you. To think, they did it on someone already so young. It’s no wonder you escaped.”

“But how gonna kill me? Said you gonna kill me.”

“You will find out in due time. I am sorry that your life has been filled with such misfortune, but for my sake, and the sake of all of humanity, your death is necessary. I am sorry Ultros, but it must be done.”

“You uses big words. Did you hurt Ultros?”

“No. This is the first time I have met you. I am not associated with the people that hurt you. They actually want to capture me. At least, I assume.”

Our conversation dissipated from there, and I soon made my way back to the car. After Zedaki and Jack arrived roughly a minute later, we began rearranging our clothing and supplies from the trunk to the back seat, before tying up Ultros and placing them in the mostly emptied trunk. They expressed little resistance throughout the endeavor, and simply grumbled as I placed them beside our belongings, their hands, and feet bound tight.

Content with the progress we made for today, and with the battery more effectively charged, Zedaki began driving myself, Jack, and Ultros away to someplace we may stay for the night. As the headlights illuminated the dark world around us I whispered to myself that only two children remained while sitting in the passenger’s seat. My quest was nearing its completion, and I was determined to end it as quickly as I could. Only then could I begin returning the world to its former splendor.