The sun had not yet fully rose. The moon still dangled in the distance, like a fishing bobber adrift over a calm lake, illuminating the large city of Neutral Zone. Night-time was the only duration of real peace for a city of heroes and villains.
Enid, the Level 7 ninja, was in the basement of her home, sporting a short black tank top with light blue pajama bottoms that had a pattern of shuriken decals randomly spread out over them. She was sharpening one of a dozen kunai as she always did after her early morning training. It was all a part of her usual routine before going to work, though her assortment of throwing weapons were becoming too brittle to justify much longer use, she got annoyed that she would need another batch so soon. She had been going through them faster and faster each week, as result she had to keep buying bucket worth's of the kunai.
The near adult teenager leaned back in her chair, staring up at the ceiling, frustrated. She brushed the throwing weapons off the worktop into the trashcan beside her. Several battered training dummies and a couple hole-ridden targets were littered behind her.
Enid figured she could try to sleep for a little while longer. She tried to look at the bright side. However, she could not help but feel irritated whenever her morning ritual got derailed. She stood up and began to leave the training room of the small home.
As she walked through the darkened halls, she passed by many pictures on the walls of her family, friends and co-workers. The purple haired ninja tried to pay the photos little thought, since they were nothing more than a single still moment in a drastically different time now.
She occasionally missed when things were that simple, sadly life didn't work that way. She forced the thoughts aside since it was far too early for being lost in her memories, or to have an existential crisis.
She stretched, with a light yawn escaping her lips, upon entering her bedroom she saw the large variety of items and decorations scattered around the partially dirty room; records displayed on the wall, a few CDs next to the player on her desk, and the single framed picture resting on the nightstand that showed her younger self, with a brushy haired boy, K.O. riding on her shoulders, both of them full of joy while he carried ice cream in his hand. She loved that picture the most, their friend Radicles having taken in when they all were at a fair.
Enid did not get a chance to lay down. She felt a presence nearby. Her senses were a lot sharper than when she was younger.
"Mommy?" she heard a sweet, yet tired, lighter-toned voice chime up from the doorway. She turned around to see a nine-year-old K.O. in his light blue and star patterned one-piece footie pajamas, and his red headband wrapped around his head at this time of night. His brush hair was a little messy as well.
"Oh, morning, K.O. You're up a little early," Enid greeted K.O. with a comforting smile, though she knew that look on his face gave the answer to why he was awake, and it never was good.
"C…Can I sleep with you?" the Level 5 hero sheepishly requested. Although they used to be co-workers and great friends, a lot has changed in the last couple of years between them. Enid still found it hard to believe sometimes, finding it amazing even more so how strong he had gotten since they first met as well.
"No need to be embarrassed," the Level 7 ninja ran a hand through his hair. K.O. had developed an issue of recurring nightmares, every time he woke up from one, he always went to her. He always felt ashamed for bothering her about it every time. "Come on. I don't want you to be tired for school," Enid insisted they get right back to sleep, though she more so wanted to do it so he could feel better. It was why she had such an early morning routine, just in case he needed her.
Once she was in bed, K.O. got into her bed as well, laying on one of Enid's arms. She pulled up the blanket over them both.
"Comfy?" she chirped, that comforting voice making him feel a lot more at ease. He nodded. He had trouble speaking at first whenever he woke up scared. His vocal chords would just try to lock up.
"Don't worry. As long as I'm breathing, you'll be safe," Enid looked down to him, seeing those eyes that expressed fear, but clear desperation for reassurance. Seeing that cute face looking upset in any regard always tugged at her heart strings.
"Thanks, mommy…" K.O. tiredly spoke out. He rested his head on her chest and closed his eyes, as if just hearing her heartbeat helped him to calm down. Enid kept stroking his head. He always gained a strong sense of comfort from this simple repeated motion. It only took a few minutes for the young boy to begin drifting back to sleep with that sweet smile on his face.
"You're welcome, K.O… sweet dreams," Enid whispered, laying her head back on her own pillow. The high level ninja always had a minor fear of going to sleep herself, but that was more out of worry that she might wake up to this all being one giant dream.
"Two years… It's already been two years since I became your mom… I still can't believe it sometimes," her gaze moved to the picture of them by her bedside resting upon the nightstand. She closed her eyes so she could get her extra sleep, just hoping her son would feel better once he woke up after a better dream.
It all began two years ago.
It had been an average week at Gar's Bodega. Their rivals at Boxmore Industries attacking them every couple of hours, customers coming and going in varying sizes of groups. A few loiterers being fired out of a cannon, everything was as normal as it could be.
Enid leaned back on her chair behind the counter, sleeping away, enjoying what little peace she could get.
"Hey Enid," the voice of Radicles made the Level 5 ninja open one eye. Radicles was a rather odd hero, as well as a Level 4 alien, whose telekinesis earned him a career as stockroom worker.
"Trying to sleep here, Rad. What is it?" Enid bitterly responded. She leaned forward, though she couldn't get back to sleep now. If a slew of customers came up after an interrupted nap like this, then she would gladly have their souls for lunch. Sadly for some reason, with or without their souls, people sure didn't change at all.
"Just wanted to check up on ya. How's babysitting been going?" Rad brushed off her temper as nothing unusual. She sighed, ignoring her personal irritation.
"It really isn't babysitting. With how helpful K.O. is, it's more like he's watching my family," Enid lightly laughed. For the last week she had been watching over their youngest co-worker, K.O., at the request of his mother Carol, a nearby fitness dojo owner. Though it took a lot of convincing on Carol's part to get Enid to agree, since she wasn't fond of the idea of babysitting someone for longer then an afternoon.
"How much longer are you watching him for anyway?" the young alien questioned. It had been over a week now since Carol had left for reasons unannounced to them. Their boss, Mr. Gar, had seemingly vanished around the same time, they feared and respected that man enough to know to keep running the bodega as if he was always there unless ordered otherwise.
"Another day or two, at most," Enid shrugged. K.O.'s mother had been vague on how long she would be gone for. She only said over a week for this task of hers. Even if more weeks passed with no sign of Carol, Enid wouldn't abandon the little hero.
"Hey guys!" they heard K.O. chime up, hopping on top of one of the many shelves.
"What's up, little buddy?" Rad replied, they turned their attention to him.
"Are we under attack again?" Enid groaned. If there was another bad plan by Boxmore, she hoped K.O. already foiled it.
"No, I found a box of Jethro bits out back. I thought we could make another trashcan out of him," K.O. happily explained. Jethro was the largest waste of scrap metal in the Boxmore family, the weakest of them all. They usually cleaned up and threw all the parts away, though occasionally recycled them for other uses.
"Nah, don't worry about it," Enid replied, "For now, jus…" then they felt the ground rumble, an alarm sounding next.
"Okay, NOW we're being attacked," K.O. corrected himself, though his happiness unchanged. That usual over enthusiasm showed no bounds since he had got to spend a long time at a friend's with their family. The three heroes heading outside to meet their rivals again.
The trio arrived into the parking lot. A large Boxmore brand crate lay there, the area around it damaged from the impact of where it landed. They watched the crates sides fall off, and out popped three of Boxman's robotic family.
"It's nice to know you three are always ready to welcome us!" the one-eyed Darrell laughed.
"I'm so sick of attacking… I just wanna go back to bed," Shannon complained. These pointless assaults only escalated in how often they happened based on their dad's ever swaying will.
"I can agree there…" Enid mumbled under her breath.
"We just want to make sure you get home faster than you got here," Radicles retorted, cracking his knuckles.
"Well, shall we begin?" Raymond, the sports loving robot, taunted.
"Yeah! Let's do this so we can go get lunch!" K.O. earnestly said, excited for battle. The Boxmore bots were slightly annoyed by his over enthusiasm. Both sides had wins and losses, yet the robots' losses were getting more frequent the stronger the heroes got in contrast to them, that it would later turn into a losing streak until they upgraded themselves to match them in power.
Before they could begin, all six of them felt an overwhelmingly terrifying presence, like someone was willing to crush them all if the slightest wrong move was committed. Even K.O. felt his enthusiasm deflate.
"M…Mr. Gar?" Enid squeaked at his presence. She had seen it one time before. Never again since it took so much effort to get their boss even a quarter near this anger. It was so rare that Rad and K.O. had never seen it. The six equally terrified young heroes and villains saw him in the flesh, approaching, one step at a time, increasing their fears ten-fold.
"Perhaps we should activate self-destruct and tell father we lost…" Raymond whispered, though they learned it was far worse to run from the enraged bodega owner.
"You three. Get lost," Mr. Gar spoke with a voice that was failing to hide the clear anger he had tried to withhold. K.O. swore something was wrong with the hero he had admired for the longest time.
"W-what?" Darrell gulped. The bodega owner took out a small piece of paper and handed it to the Cyclops bot, the paper was very decorative with light gold trimming around the edges and a ton of glitter.
"Oh… it's one of the peace vouchers," Shannon didn't feel relieved by this at all. These strange vouchers were given to the bodega staff as a Christmas present when they helped save Boxman's children when they were in a very bad situation, they guaranteed a full week without a single attack or hostile movement on their part.
"If I see you or any of Boxmore's products in this plaza for the next week, I will tear your base down to the concrete foundation… Understand?" Mr. Gar's glare pierced the three's circuitry through his glasses. The robot trio nodded rapidly before making a run for it. There was nothing left now beyond a tense atmosphere.
"Thanks, Mr. Gar. It's good to have ya back," Radicles shattered the overwhelming silence. Enid still felt more scared than she tried to show. If his anger was not aimed toward Boxmore, then it meant he was most likely upset with one of them.
"You didn't need to waste one of the vouchers. We could've handled them," Enid insisted with a failed attempt at trying to sound confident. K.O. hid behind her legs in fear of his idol.
"K.O., I need to talk with you in my office," Mr. Gar ignored the others. What he said unnerved the young boy further. Just when the high level hero had finally returned, he was so enraged, yet K.O. swore there was a hint of sorrow behind the anger too.
"Wa-wait, what's going on, Mr. Gar?" Enid asked, worried more so for their Level 3 friend than anything.
"Did I do something…?" K.O. couldn't speak up past a fearful whisper. Rad had no chance to speak up as their boss glared at them.
"Enid, Rad," Mr. Gar forced out in a humble manner, "You two can take a paid day off, today or tomorrow, if you want. Or you can keep working. I don't care which. Right now, I have to talk with K.O. about something very important… Please don't make my day any rougher than it already is."
K.O. stepped out from hiding. "Y-yes, sir, Mr. Gar."
His other co-workers had no chance to say anymore as their boss and young friend went inside the bodega.
"Di…did Mr. Gar actually just offer us a free day off?" Enid had to wonder aloud. Normally under any other circumstance she would gladly accept that offer if the atmosphere wasn't so thick. They felt uneasy leaving K.O. alone especially now too.
"Something's definitely up… All we can do is wait and hope he'll fill us in once he calms down," Rad said. Enid usually found it suspicious when the stockroom worker acted with any form of real intelligence, but she had to agree with him. For now they had to wait and see what would happen.
"Come on. Let's get back to work. Boxmore won't be bothering us for a few days now at least," Enid shrugged, walking away to get back to her post in the bodega. Except she knew that there was no chance of her getting back to sleep now.
"Man, I miss when things were easy," Rad groaned. He followed her so they could work to pass the time. Both anxious to hear what had happened while their boss had been absent from the bodega.
Enid stayed more or less idle at the counter, waiting anxiously. There had been nothing since Mr. Gar had taken K.O. to his office for the private talk, and it had been going on for at least an hour now.
The Level 5 ninja looked over her cellphone again having tried to get ahold of Carol for the past hour, but to no avail. There was just one text message left from the night she had taken off that just read, "Tell K.O. I love him and I'll be home before he knows it"
Enid tilted her head upwards, feeling an overwhelming sense of dread in the air. She did not even notice when Rad approached the front counter.
"Sorry, I tried to listen in, but there's not exactly a sneaky way into that office…" the Level 4 stockroom worker stated, just as worried for their tiny friend as she was.
"So, we really can do nothing but wait, huh," Enid muttered in clear annoyance. She was grateful that it was a very slow day for the bodega.
They both heard the office door opening. "Looks like the wait is over." Radicles said in relief, going off to approach their bosses office quickly.
"Wait, Rad!" the young girl tried to stop him from rushing off to meet their friend and boss, he was already gone by then. She understood his worry, however knew timing was important to these kind of matters.
Enid barely took two steps out from behind the register before she heard a loud crash and products falling to the floor with two shelves.
"Rad?!" the Level 5 ninja quickly came over, seeing the alien in and out of consciousness, though most of the damage was more from the stuff he crashed into, rather than whatever threw him into it. Radicles moaned. "What happened? Did you trip on a blaster gauntlet again?" She asked. Radicles coughed in reply, the wind being knocked out of him clearly. She noticed K.O. out of the corner of her eyes, who ran out the front door as if he needed to get out of there quickly. "K.O.! Wait!" Enid called to him, however he was already gone. She helped Rad back to his feet, letting him lean on a nearby wall for support while he recovered.
"Sorry… K.O. didn't handle our discussion well," Mr. Gar apologized, stepping past them, too ashamed to see their normally respectful if fearful gazes.
"K.O. bashed Rad through two shelves? What's going on?" the ninja demanded bitterly. Everything was going wrong seemingly at once. Whatever this news was, she was torn between getting answers first or going after K.O., she decided on the former since he tended to be easy to find no matter what.
Mr. Gar took in a breath. Grief was flavoring it. "Me, Carol and a few other former P.O.I.N.T. members were invited on a mission. It was supposed to be simple. They were shorthanded, and it couldn't wait, so we agreed," he turned towards them, "It was easy, took us about three days, so we all decided to enjoy the rest of the week as a vacation… unfortunately, whenever P.O.I.N.T. deploys, word spreads like a fire, and when we had our guard down, we got attacked."
Rad got himself out of his daze. "I didn't think there was anybody out there with the guts to take on P.O.I.N.T.," the Level 4 alien commented, a lot of villains were out there, some stronger than others, but each one knew the dangers of messing with P.O.I.N.T. They had a strong reputation for a reason.
"They separated us by using explosives. We handled them, they didn't get further beyond the surprise of the attack… most of us," the high-level hero moved his glasses aside to rub his eyes.
"Don't tell me…" Enid began to piece it all together.
"Carol had bad luck, she got pierced by some stray rebar. No one noticed until the fight was over, and by then, she lost a lot of blood. We took her to a hospital, but she just kept getting worse," Mr. Gar shook his head, "Even when hurt she kept fighting."
"She's stuck in the hospital?" Rad asked, assuming that she was just extremely sick or recovering, however his hope fizzled out upon noticing his co-worker holding her head with one hand as reality slowly sank in. The atmosphere began to get tenser. Even their boss was obviously afraid of accepting that reality.
"No. She… she died last night."