Benji reached into a bag of gummi candy, idly popping a piece into his mouth as he went over the page in front of him. He had spent the last few hours trying to figure out the best option to protect those he cared about. He took a moment to stretch, savoring the fruity flavor of the candy. The soft clinking of porcelain came from the kitchen. Benji turned to watch Lu Bu. The large man was wearing a floral apron that was far too small for him.
It was then that Benji heard a voice coming from the front door. He turned to see one of the paper knights stepping inside followed closely by his mother. Once she passed the knight returned to his post outside the front door.
“Hey, mom.” He said, trying to act casual.
"Don't 'hi mom' me, Benjamin. What were those things outside and why is there a large man ruining my favorite apron?"
Benji held his finger up to his lips and pointed to the couch. Isabel walked to inspect the couch before motioning upstairs. She turned to face him as he reached the top.
“I assume that’s Zoe. Why is she asleep on our couch?”
“I know it looks weird. She emailed me and asked if she could come over and I said yes. She had been stressed out all day and just wanted someone to be with. Her father is a surgeon at Raven City Central so he’s been stuck there ever since the World Spike came. It didn’t feel right to turn her away.”
“So she asked to spend the night?”
“Well, not exactly. We were watching TV and she just got tired. I noticed her dozing and said she could stay. She was asleep before I could even bring her a pillow and blanket. She’s been like that ever since.”
She smirked at him. “My little Romeo."
“Come on, mom. It's not like that. I just didn’t want her to wake up to an empty room.” Benji knew he sounded more than a bit defensive.
“Sure thing, kiddo. So the knights and your dish washer?"
"The knights were created by Duncan and the man in the kitchen is Lu Bu. I sort of summoned him from a video game. He's washing dishes because he said it's his duty."
She hugged him, holding him close for a moment before walking past him. “I’m going to take a shower. Why don't you wake up Duncan and Alex so we can talk.”
“If you say so.” Benji turned and opened the door to his bedroom. His friends had decided to go to bed early. They were both tired after spending the day practicing their respective powers. Alex slept in Benji's bed while Duncan was snoring off to one side of his room in a hammock the boy had created earlier in the day. Benji shook them both until he was sure they were awake.
"Guys, my mom is home. She wants to talk with us downstairs."
He received only groans in response so he turned the light on as he left the room. He heard them getting out of bed as he walked down the stairs.
"Is everything okay, my lord?" The man asked in a low voice while removing the apron. "I didn't mean to cause trouble between you and your mother."
"No problem. She was just surprised."
Benji walked over and sat at the table, taking a moment to organize his notes. It wasn't the perfect plan but it would have to do. Duncan and Alex walked over to sit across from him.
"What's all this, bro?" Alex said while stifling a yawn.
"I'll go over it once my mom is down here. She wanted to take a quick shower."
Benji turned on his GSP while they waited, scrolling through his now much larger library of games. Somehow every game he had ever played was listed on the device, each with a percentage complete counter. He had hopes that he could find something useful to summon from each one but that just wasn't the case. It was a bittersweet feeling now that his hobby was now linked with his survival.
“You know it’s weird knowing that those games you play actually have a tangible benefit.” He looked up from his game to see his mother at the bottom of the stairs, staring at him.
“You’re telling me. I've spent hours now trying to figure out the most efficient way to use each game.”
“What do you mean?” She said as she sat down next to him.
“Mom, as far as I can tell, this," He held up his GSP, "is the most powerful thing in the room. If I wanted to I could pick any game that has stars in it and summon that star into existence.”
Her brow creased after listening to her son. “So there are no limitations on your ability?”
Benji put his GSP down and folded his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “If it exists in a game that I’ve completed, I can make it reality.” He held up his hand that had started to glow a soft golden light. “Just like the Divine Magic I used to save Zoe or Lu Bu who I summoned to protect us at school.”
"What happened at school?"
Benji summarized the events of the day. Duncan and Alex corroborated his story, as did Lu Bu.
Isabel turned and looked over towards the couch. “Maybe we should wake her up. I have something I need to tell you all.” she said, finally speaking her mind.
Benji nodded and walked over to the couch. He looked down to see that Zoe was already awake. She stood up and smoothed down her clothes before walking over to the table.
"I didn't mean to eavesdrop. It's nice to meet you, Miss Ferrell."
“Oh, please. Call me Isabel and please take a seat.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Isabel.” She smiled as she spoke, taking a seat next to Alex.
“Mom, what happened?” he asked, concern painting his voice.
“Some gang members on the train tried to force me to hand over some girls from the Crisis Center. I refused and one tried to get violent. Unfortunately for him I was prepared for it. I didn’t take years of self defense classes for nothing. A punch to the crotch of one of them definitely caused a permanent injury."
“Ouch, mom. You exploded a guys nuts with a punch?”
She nodded. “The other man gave himself up at that point and the police were waiting to collect them at the next station. But that’s not the point. The point is that people are getting bold and unpredictable.”
Benji nodded. "Well, you wanted a plan of action and I've got one." He took a breath before continuing. "I think we should leave the city and go up north to your parent’s old property. As much as the government wants us to think everything will be okay, I don’t think we’re safe in this city.”
“You don’t think they’re capable of defending us?” Isabel said while turning to face him.
“I don’t think they’re mentally prepared for what needs to happen, mom. They couldn't even protect us in school in full view of cameras."
"Wait. You're talking about leaving the city. Won't that be dangerous, Benji?" Zoe looked at him with a confused look on her face.
"Not nearly as dangerous as it could be in about seven hours. That's when Bob said he was sending all non-human life to attack us. To be honest I'm more worried about the humans than some mutated pidgeon."
“My son's right. My parent's house hasn't been used in quite some time but it should still be in good condition."
Zoe looked down at the table, lost in thought for a moment. After nodding her head she spoke. “I think it’s a great idea and I’d be honored to go along with you. I’ll leave a message for my father but I know he’ll be fine with the idea. I’m usually at home by myself most of the time anyways.”
"Of course we're going as well. You two are all the family we have." Duncan spoke with Alex nodding in agreement.
Isabel stood up. We'll it's settled then. We need to pack up the essentials from here.”
“I’ve got you covered mom. My backpack can hold everything we own inside of it and still have space.”
“It’s true, Isabel. It’s his level up reward.” Zoe smiled at Benji as she spoke. Benji gave his mother a brief description of the bag and how it worked.
“Okay then. I want you boys to go around the house and stuff everything you can into Benji's magical backpack. In the mean time, Zoe, you go upstairs and freshen yourself up. Towels are in the bathroom. Just let me know if you need anything else.” The girl nodded and Isabel continued. “We also need some form of transportation. I can try to call in a favor if needed but I'm open to suggestions.
"Don't worry, mom. I've got that covered." Benji said, patting his GSP. "Once we leave here we should go by the grocery store and buy everything we can. We'll also need to go over to Zoe's house so you she can grab clothes and anything else she’ll need. Now unless anyone has anything else to add, we all need to get moving. The sooner we leave town the safer we'll be."
They all nodded and stood up to get to work.