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402 The Next Day, Explanations and Theories

 Day 68 - 7:22 AM - Maryhill Retreat House, Ortigas Avenue Extension, Dolores, Taytay, Rizal

The night of fear had passed unexpectedly.

As the sun rose to spread its shine, the retreat house already changed. It looked the same, yet different. The eerie feeling that the retreat house that loomed over it before was gone. What was left was a beautiful place. It was a wonderful place to spend a day or two away from the chaos that spread by the apocalypse.

Even the sunrise was a pleasant scene to see from the higher floors of the retreat house. Anyone would forget that they were still in the middle of the end of the world.

Well, that was the case unless they went to the area north of the retreat house. There was nothing there. Literally nothing with almost everything burned to dust.

The forest that covered the northern slope between the retreat house and the seminary was gone. All that was left was the scorched earth that spanned several dozens of meters. There might be a few things left like charred skulls and bones. Nevertheless, their number was insignificant as it would be hard to find one unless they purposedly looked for these things.

***

With a throbbing head, Mark slowly opened his eyes. He pulled himself up and saw that he was currently on a bed. He then sat while he rubbed his temples as his head felt heavy and was aching a bit. A wet tower fell from his head which he immediately caught by reflex. He also noticed that his clothes were changed.

Mark tried to pull his left hand, but he felt some resistance. There, he realized that several people were surrounding his bed. All of them were asleep in poor postures.

Abbygale and Miracle were sleeping on his right side. The two fit themselves in the narrow space beside him. It was fortunate that Abbygale did not fall off being the one sleeping at the right edge of the bed.

To his left, Mark saw Iola, who fell asleep while sitting on a chair. Her neck tilted to her left as she slept. It was not difficult to notice that she would have a painful neck later.

Mark also saw Mei to his right. She was sitting on the floor while her head and arms rest on the bed. Both her hands were holding unto his right hand. No wonder he felt some resistance when he tried to pull it.

"These girls..."

Mark shook his head. It was likely that they tried to spend the night awake. However, they were not able to endure. Yesterday was a tiring day on the road, after all.

Of course, it might be different for Miracle. She probably decided to shut her body down since everyone was asleep. When she did that, she surely slid herself between him and Abbygale. With Abbygale's personality to even cheat to remain close to Mark, she would not let Miracle lie down between.

"Flam."

Mark called out in his mind.

A response came, and Mark was surprised. He did not expect that a sword would come flying in front of him.

"Master, it's not Flam anymore. Don't you remember?"

The sword's childish voice echoed in Mark's mind.

"Ah, right..."

The scenes of what happened last night flashed on Mark's eyes. He definitely had a clear recollection of the events that ensued while they fought and defeated the monster possessed by that evil spirit.

However...

"What happened?"

Mark asked.

"You don't remember?"

The sword asked with worry.

"No, I remember everything." Mark cleared up the confusion. "What I'm asking is what happened to me."

Of course, that would be his question.

That odd behavior, the four voices, and the change in the supposed naming ritual.

He knew nothing about what would have caused those. That was why he asked the Demon Sword in front of him.

"So... Master remembers the name you gave me?"

The sword tried to confirm.

"I remember. Ignis Tenebris. Though, I only planned to give you Ignis."

Mark scratched his head.

"I'm happy about the name though. It really fits the new me." Ignis rejoiced. "Though, I have no idea what really happened. I don't think that the right ritual is like that either. One thing for sure, Master. The thing that happened last night is because of you."

Ignis spoke his deduction with a strong conviction. As the sword who chose its master and wanted to be named, it would not do anything that could possibly ruin it.

Mark stared at Ignis floating in front of him with confusion.

"Uhhnnnn..."

The two heard a faint voice. Mark turned towards the source of the voice and saw that Mei slowly opened her eyes.

Realizing that she fell asleep, Mei suddenly pulled her body. When she turned to Mark, she saw Mark sitting on the bed while leaning on the headboard.

"Good morning."

Mark greeted with a low voice and a smile.

Mei did not respond. Instead, she stared at Mark as her tears flowed out from the corner of her eyes.

Mark then put his right index finger in front of his lips.

"Shhh."

He said and pointed at the three little girls before he signaled Mei to come closer.

Unable to hold back, although silently, Mei jumped to Mark's embrace.

"Sorry I made you worry."

Mark patted her head as she burrowed her face on his chest.

"It's okay..."

Mei replied with a sob. Of course, she said that because she did not want to put blame on Mark.

Nevertheless, Mark knew that it was his fault.

"They are really worried about you Master. They found you unconscious in the middle of the burning forest. For the rest of the night, you are burning with fever and roaring in pain. It was until about an hour before sunrise that you became stable."

Ignis informed Mark.

"I see..."

No wonder Mei looked too tired. Mark could not help but caress Mei's head even more. She might have stayed awake that long to take care of him.

While letting Mei rid of her tears...

"Papa!"

Miracle woke up with a shout. She then jumped towards Mark while waking up Abbygale and Iola in the process.

""Papa!!""

The two also followed suit. They were surely happy to see Mark well.

"You're really loved, aren't you Master?"

Ignis teased.

"Shut up."

Mark replied with an annoyed face as he looked at the sword.

The noise created by the three girls alerted everyone about Mark waking up. Sure enough, it became noisy.

At the same time, Mark was informed about what happened after the fight and when he fell unconscious once more.

Apparently, Miracle and the [Blood Children], even Chaflar, felt the odd incident that happened on Mark during the naming ritual. They had been quite jumpy. They wanted to find Mark, however, Miasma still covered the area they were in.

As the only one able to pass through, Crimson went out. Crimson arrived just when Mark fell unconscious. He even saw Mark talking to Ignis which prevented anyone from thinking that the demon sword was an enemy. After all, Ignis had its appearance changed.

At the same time that Mark fainted, the Miasma protecting everyone vanished enabling them to get out. Mei and the others immediately tried to find Mark since Miracle said that her Papa fainted.

When they found him, Mark was already feverish.

Due to the event, the military surveyed the area if they could prolong the stay here. After all, they could not go on with the journey with the commander being unconscious.

It was a good call. After leaving this place, what they would traverse was the main road going through Antipolo, Rizal. This meant that along almost the rest of the way, they could pass through where the traffic and infected were most concentrated in this municipality. Furthermore, the road they would need to traverse was longer than the previous ones before arriving at the next resting point.

Although it did not mean that they could not do it without him. However, as Chaflar, who was the main firepower, only listened to his orders, things would become harder.

Besides, they found out that the place was safe. That was why some of the soldiers wondered if some survivors lived here before. Not only that but they also found supplies that surely did not belong in this place originally.

If they knew what happened to those survivors, they would not want to stay here any longer. That was for sure.

With the excuse that Mark still needed to rest, he managed to make everyone get out. Especially the noisy Emika and Jaeya who was complaining about what he made her see last night.

After everyone went out, Mei could not help it anymore and spoke to Mark.

"Gege... I getting more worried about you."

"Worried about what?"

Mark asked.

"You faint a lot. If not, you lose control of yourself and go on a rampage."

Seeing Mei with an expression that did not know what she should do, Mark shook his head.

He sighed.

Mark told Mei about a lot of things including about Freed. However, he did not tell everything.

Caressing her head, Mark decided to tell a few important things that Freed told him.

"Mei'er... You know? What fever with pain meant after the apocalypse started?"

"Evolution or Mutation, right?"

Mei answered. When Mutagen invaded the Earth, these two things caused a person to get a very high fever accompanied by pain. It was true as many of them here had undergone such experience.

"That's right." Mark nodded. "Freed said that my compatibility with Mutagen is very high. That is why my body is taking any possible catalyst that will react with it. It became even more sensitive after I took that [Gene Absorption] ability. Other people might also experience these things. It's just that mine is rather fast."

Letting Mei rest on beside him, Mark continued.

"For each Mutation, the pain is multiplied. Since my growth is very fast and abrupt, my mind can't cope with the intensity of the pain my body is having. That is why I end up being unconscious as my body's last resort."

Mark then smiled.

"If the evolution was more natural, I think, the pain will be lesser. But cramming things inside my body, it is not surprising how painful it is. My body is not just getting upgraded, it was more like it is creating something that did not exist before."

That was the truth in Mark's case.

If it followed the same pattern as the Psychics with Psypathogen. A normal evolution was more like their original abilities getting upgraded. In Mark's case, his body was taking in catalysts and was creating new mutations in his body.

A normal upgrade would surely not give Mark too much pain to the point of collapsing. It was like when he absorbed Rihanna in the Medical Center. Although he lost control of himself due to the influence of Mutagen, he did not fall unconscious as it was an upgrade to his blood.

Mark explained about these things while avoiding a certain topic.

It was the thing that happened last night.

Those four voices, three of them were familiar. Nevertheless, none of them belonged to him.

One belonged to Freed, another belonged to the Deity of Bloodshed. The third one which sounded like a woman should have belonged to Rihanna who he also absorbed.

The last one, however, although it sounded like his voice, Mark was sure that it did not belong to him.

Mark could not help but wonder. Was it connected to one of Freed's theories?

During the time he spent chatting with Freed, there was another theory about Psypathogen that was not confirmed.

What if Psypathogen did not give the Psychics their abilities but awakened their inherent psychic abilities instead. As some theorists on Earth said, every human had psychic abilities. However, not everyone was capable of using it.

But...

What if Mutagen was not using human genes as the main catalyst for the mutation but was actually awakening something from their genes instead?

In that case, was it perhaps that something was awakened inside Mark?

While thinking of that, the image of the consciousness that tried to take over his body when he became a Mutator came up in his mind.

Was it perhaps...