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92 A Short Break

 Day 3 - 12:50 PM - Day and Night Convenience Store, Niog Road, Bayanan, Bacoor City, Cavite

"Mei'er, can you get me a change of clothes from the back?"

Mark peeked from outside the vehicle and asked Mei who was inside. Of course, she immediately went to the back of the vehicle and brought new clothes for Mark who was still all covered in blood.

He received the clothes from Mei and went back inside the convenience store.

"Gege, where are you going?"

"I'm going to change clothes inside the store. I can't change inside the car with all of you girls there."

"Oh, okay."

Mark walked away back inside the convenience store.

On the way, Mark could see the survivors hurriedly emptying the store of its goods. Fortunately or unfortunately, the outbreak came so sudden that no one was able to loot this store and was left basically untouched aside from the scattered items, blood residues and disgusting smell of decaying body parts on the floor. The storage was also full. It seemed that the store had just restocked its supplied before the outbreak came. It was lucky that there would be no infected coming this way for a while. The sound of the City Hall collapsing should have attracted the infected towards that direction.

When the survivors saw him pass by, they stayed away from him like plague. They all saw what he did to Garcia's group and were afraid to step into their graves if they offended him in any way. Also, his performance at the rooftop was also fresh in their minds. Mark could fearlessly fight a nine foot tall monster, to him, they were like ants.

Mark could feel their emotions but he could care less about them. He took a bar of soap and one gallon of mineral water from the back shelf of the convenience store and went towards the toilet. He needed wash off the blood on his body as it was sticky and uncomfortable.

Inside the toilet, Mark started washing his body while contemplating on many things. One of those things was the abrupt change in his mindset. Before the outbreak, he was just a timid loner that shut his most of his connection to the outside world. He could act in front of other people but after the outbreak, his emotions were severely affected and were slowly changing.

It was not just a matter of keeping his act. The bloodlust he was feeling was real. One thing was every time he was using the ability he learned from Freed. He was smiling sinisterly when he used that ability at that fat inmate before. That was very far from his character before the outbreak. He even started to smile during dangerous fights like what he did when fighting that huge Woodman.

"Empath... Mutagen... Bloodlust... Evolution..."

Mark was enlightened. His evolution was faster than most people. The Mutagen evolves all creatures infected by it slowly. The changes in his body was abrupt and so as his emotions.

"Does this Mutagen also affects the emotions of creatures infected by it and brings out their beastly instincts?"

His mind turned towards the condition Odel was before, the savage attitude of Abbygale and even the aggressiveness the huge cat displayed despite the fact that it was obviously a well groomed house cat. All of it enforces his theory.

"I guess, I could also work on this or else, I'll end up becoming a madman in the future. It's a pity that I can't use that calming energy for myself."

Mark shook his head. He was slowly gaining some understanding towards his abilities. He could absorb other people's emotions and use those emotions as energy and release it. The emotional energy he could release also seemed to vary into two kinds, positive and negative. The calming energy he could release was actually the positive emotions he could generate. It was just that he could not release it without getting into contact with the target.

Along those thoughts, he just wished that the Mutagen in his body could make his fear of people vanish into thin air. It was because trying to keep his act all the time was too taxing for his heart and mind.

Wiping his arm, he could bitterly smile. The wound that he received from that huge cat was almost healed already and it already felt itchy that he felt peeling off the scab covering it.

Looking at his wounds enforced the thought of expecting the unexpected at this outbreak. The existence of that tree and that girl he saw sitting on the rooftop. The two had similar emotional pattern but also different. If that girl was a Mutator, then that tree should also be one. No wonder it had sentience. He thought at first that the huge tree had evolved too much that it gained sentience but that was not actually the case.

"I wonder how I did not detect that girl before..."

Mark murmured as he started to wear the new clothes he brought. If he detected her in the first place, he might have gained another Mutator for his group. However, since the girl did not appear when he and Abbygale were on the rooftop, it was safe to say that the girl did not want to go with them.

"Did she manage to escape the collapse though?"

He asked himself. It was not because of worry but curiosity.

***

While Mark was inside the store, the giggles of the girls could be heard inside the vehicle. It seemed that women were really good at befriending each other. While the children were playing on their phones, the women were chatting about various things like how Mark met Mei and Odelina and about the past of Melissa and Charmaine.

Charmaine looked at the women in front of her. These women along with her were around Mark and staying around him. It reminded her of the time in the college with her Big Brother.

"Charm? Charm!"

Immersed in her thoughts, Charmaine did not immediately hear that Melissa was calling her. When she finally heard her voice, she could see a hand waving in front of her. Charmaine immediately swatted the hand away from her face.

"Charm, what are you thinking about? You just suddenly went blank and silent like that."

Charmaine shook her head with a smile.

"Nothing, I just remembered my college days with Big Brother."

"Oh? Can we have more details?"

Melissa pressed on. Mei and Odelina were obviously interested though they did not say anything.

Looking at their interested eyes, Charmaine gave in.

"Well, it's nothing much in particular. It's just like back in college. Big Brother was always surrounded by women."

The three other women were surprised. Is he that popular before? Even Mei who blindly followed Mark almost everywhere could not believe it.

Charmaine realized what was on their minds and hurriedly explained.

"It's not like what you three are thinking. Big Brother looked like a scary person but he was actually kind and even a bit childish back then. Though, he didn't talk too much and was preferred to be always alone, he did not chase away anyone who wanted to stick around him.

He was dragged into a newly formed group along with us after he participated in a cosplay event in school. Fortunately or maybe not, the most popular girls in the school were also in that group. Not boasting but me and my older sister was included in those popular girls."

Charmaine puffed up her chest with pride making the other women look at her with slit eyes. Still, none of them interrupted her story.

"Then, the group started hanging out together more often until most of the girls often hangout with Big Brother around including me. You see, other men looked at us like we were eye candy and their stares were always uncomfortable and annoying. There were also times that they would try to make a move on us."

When Charmaine said that, Mei nodded. She was always in that situation whenever she goes out.

"There was one peculiar person back then though. It was Big Brother. He did not look at us like others. He did not even put his eyes on us. It made us comfortable staying around him and he would also help us if we need some help. Also, no other men would bother us if Big Brother is around."

"Then, did you girls just use Master like a shield?"

Odelina interjected with an exasperated expression.

"I don't know about the others but I didn't. I swear. Also, it did not last long. Things happened and the group disbanded soon after. Big Brother was the person who took the most impact at that event and started to stay away from the members of the group."

Charmaine added with a sad expression.

"What happened?"

Mei asked. However, Charmaine just looked at Odelina and Mei and did not answer the question. Instead, she said.

"It's better for you two to not know, you'll probably go on a rampage after knowing it."

Charmaine spoke with a bitter smile.

"If you won't tell us, then I'll just ask Gege."

Mei said with a determined expression. Nevertheless, Charmaine added something that baffled them.

"It's better for you not to as Big Brother. As far as I know, he doesn't remember those events anymore."

"Amnesia?"

Melissa asked.

"I don't know. I did not confirm it myself since I just heard it from the other members of the group. They said that Big Brother doesn't remember the newer members of the group and everything that happened after the second semester that the group existed. It was his close classmate who was also a member of the group that confirmed it."

Charmaine replied while shaking her head. Odelina was in deep contemplation about what she just heard while Mei was feeling agitated. They were not stupid to not realize that something really bad happened back then that resulted to Mark losing his memories of that time.

They were about to continue the conversation when Mei suddenly turned her head towards the convenience store making Melissa and Charmaine confused.

"What wrong?"

Melissa asked and it was Odelina who answered while shrugging her shoulders.

"Master is coming. She behaves like that every time Master returns after going somewhere."

The two new members of the group were speechless. Several seconds later, they could see Mark walk out of the convenience store carrying a few bags.

The agitated Mei hurriedly walked out of the vehicle and fetched her Gege and even took one of the bags he was carrying to help. It could be seen that Mark was confused about her actions. He could feel that she was agitated but could not figure out why.

When Mark loaded the bags in the vehicle, he saw the girls in inside just staring at him. It made him felt awkward.

"What's wrong with you all?"

When he asked, they all averted their gazes at the same time making it even more peculiar. He wanted to do some more questioning but two people approached from behind. When he looked behind, he saw that they were Madam Lanie and Chief Mallari.

"Need something?"

"We're already done loading everything we can carry. We just want to ask which route we are going to take so it will be easier to follow."

Madam Lanie replied to Mark's question.

Hearing what they needed, Mark nodded and asked Mei to get the tablet he brought. There, Mark showed opened the offline mapping app he downloaded and told the two what route they would take and the alternative routes if ever something went wrong and the first route could not be accessed.

The primary route he proposed might be the safest one which was going through a large private subdivision which was called Citta Italia. The main entrance of the subdivision was connected in Molino Boulevard and its back access road was actually just a few blocks away to the main street that led to Firenze and Charmaine's home subdivision. Then, he told two other routes they could take but those routes were more populated and even had more detours.

While they were discussing the route, Charmaine made her way out of the vehicle with difficulty taking Mark's attention.

"Why did you go out?"

"Big Brother, I just remembered. Are you going to find Carlo too?"

"I do plan to check his house later since I don't know where he is. Why?"

"Then, its better if we check on him first. I met him in the WCRonalds branch his grandfather owned before the outbreak. Maybe, he's still there."

"Really?"

Mark slapped his forehead. He forgot about that detail.

"Alright. Still, that place is closer but actually more dangerous."

He looked at Madam Lanie and Chief Mallari.

"We'll be having another stop alright?"

It was not a request. He was actually telling them that they could follow him whether they would like it or not making the two helpless. After all, without Mark's group, their road towards Firenze would be a very dangerous one. There would also be a possibility of all of them not going to make it.

In the end, the two helplessly nodded.

Turning back to Charmaine, Mark asked.

"Why did you just tell this now?"

Charmaine scratched her head and replied with an apologetic expression.

"I forgot."

Mark sighed. It looked like that he was not the only person had forgotten about it. On the other hand, Charmaine only remembered it after she told that story to the other women in the vehicle. It was because in that group, there were three people who truly treated Mark as their older Brother. Charmaine aside, the other two were her older sister, Elsa and Carlo, who was also her classmate that time.