Whiteness. The first thing that Orlando sensed when he woke up was the sterility of a hospital room. Within seconds, he could feel the burn on his arm, the throbbing of his head, and the rawness of his throat.
A gasp sounded from beside the bed. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the stark lighting in his room. When he opened his eyes, he saw Sae Sasaki standing beside his bed along with two of her overly simpering friends. His head throbbed with more pain as the room seemed to close in on him. And he had the immense bad luck of having Sae and her followers as his first sight upon awakening. Could it get any worse?
“Ohmigosh—are you okay, Mr. Bloom?” asked Sae. “We came as soon as we heard about Miss Buchannan’s apartment!”
Miss Buchannan? Angelia, he realized. Some of the images of light came flooding back. He winced as he remembered Angelia struggling—and the small blonde leaning over him like a guardian angel, backlit by fire—
“Is there anything we can get you?” Sae’s voice viciously slashed through his musings.
“Yeah,” chimed in one of the others.
“If you need a cup of water, let us know,” chirped another.
“Or a massage,” said the last with a strangely mischievous look, given the circumstances.
“Oh Kiki-chan!” exclaimed Sae with a giggle.
The girl named Kiki grinned and giggled. “You were thinking it. I just said it—”
“Alright,” boomed an authoritative voice from the doorway, “you senior teenyboppers have bothered this young man long enough. Now get to steppin’!”
Sae and her gang turned as a petite young black woman wearing a white lab coat came in and ushered them out, and not too nicely either.
“Now shoo. Don’t let the doorknob hit ya on the way out!” the woman exclaimed in their wake. She shook her head and made sure that they left. After they were out of earshot, she turned to Orlando. She checked his vitals and then produced a cup of water to saturate his dry throat.
She held up a hand before he could speak. “Don’t try to talk. You inhaled a lot of smoke last night. Just listen.” She glanced over her shoulder to make sure any stray ears wouldn’t catch what she was about to say. “Apparently, something strange is going on. How much do you know about Angelia Buchannan?”
“I know a lot about her,” Orlando responded, his voice still on the raw side. “She’s my best friend.”
“Hm.” The woman paused thoughtfully. “Anything odd?”
Anything odd? The question caught him off guard. Yes, there seemed to be things that he didn’t know about Angelia now, given the fact that the mysterious, clumsy blonde from the day before had known her somehow. Angelia had never introduced them, or given any explanation as to what her intentions were before that malicious man and woman showed up.
Orlando didn’t get to answer her because someone cleared her throat from the door.
The woman turned away from Orlando. He could see a tall woman with curly auburn hair pushing a wheelchair. And in the wheelchair—
“Usagi-chan!” exclaimed the woman. “You look better this morning. I hope you’re feeling better than you were last night.”
“Arigatou, Nikka-chan,” Usagi said to the woman before squeezing her hand. Her long blond hair flowed down her shoulders, any singed ends having been cut from her gleaming mane. Her blue eyes were serious. Her hands were folded in her lap, and Orlando could see that the left one was bandaged.
A tense moment passed. The auburn haired woman let go of the wheelchair and turned to the black woman. “Nicole, Usagi-chan needs a moment alone with…”
“Oh. Well.” Nicole gently pushed Usagi beside Orlando’s bed. “Y’all two have fun, ya hear? We’ll be back in a minute.”
Nicole and the auburn-haired woman left, leaving Usagi alone with Orlando. For some minutes, they didn’t speak. Orlando took her in, finding that she bore no resemblance to Angelia except for the eyes. She had an aura around her, and it made him feel safe and warm. Then he remembered that he’d seen those eyes before…
“You don’t know, do you?”
Usagi was the one to speak first. The sound of her voice, in a low tone, startled him.
“What don’t I know?” Orlando wanted to know.
Usagi appeared troubled. “Annie-chan…”
“How do you know Angelia?” Orlando couldn’t stop the question from bursting forth; the words had been burning his tongue in a way. He felt he had to know.
Usagi hesitated for a moment, trying to find an answer. Then she said quietly, “Annie-chan is my friend, my ally. We’re on the same team…”
Something told Orlando that this was bigger than sports. “I want to know what’s going on. Something is happening without my knowledge and I want to know more.”
Usagi looked at him with her mile-wide blue eyes. “I think you do know what’s going on… You just…don’t want to admit it…”
Shocked, Orlando held her gaze even as a tall man with dark hair and a woman with short hair strode into the room flanked by a nurse.
“Mr. Bloom?” the man spoke first.
Usagi averted her gaze and looked down. The nurse wheeled her away from the bed as the man and the woman came closer. The man introduced himself as Detective Oliver Cameron, and his partner Dawn Richardson-Cain. Orlando’s attention, however, was on Usagi, who was being pushed away in her wheelchair. Her last words rendered him speechless and thoughtful.
You just…don’t want to admit it…
“Mr. Bloom, do you have any information about Miss Buchannan’s disappearance?” Det. Cameron asked, breaking through his thoughts.
Cameron’s sentence broke through his brain. His brown eyes, sharp and steely, regarded Cameron with a slight glare before answering.
“Detective Cameron, if I knew anything about Angelia’s disappearance, then I would go and find her myself,” Orlando responded in an even tone.
Cameron glowered and prepared to say something distasteful, but Dawn stopped him.
“Cameron,” she began sternly. “Lay off would you?” She turned to Orlando with calm, sympathetic eyes. “We’ve already talked with Angelia’s neighbors. They told us that the two of you were very good friends.” At this Orlando looked down. “Do you remember how it happened?”
Dawn’s soft tone had a balming effect on him. Her voice reminded him of someone else he’d known…or seen in a dream…
“We…we got together to grade papers,” Orlando said in a soft voice, remembering the soft and comforting regularity of the ritual. “It was one of our rituals. She’d promised to make pasta for me, since she knew it was my favorite.” Dawn nodded and took that down on her notepad. “Then there was a knock on the door. The…the blonde, the little one, came in. She was anxious—panting like she had ran all the way there. Angelia asked what the matter was, then the door exploded.”
“The door exploded?” Cameron asked incredulously. “You have got to be—”
“Shut up, Cameron, before I pull your tongue out.” Dawn turned to Orlando. “And what happened after that?”
“A man and woman came in. They seemed to know the girl and Angelia. The man was going to attack us and…” Orlando recalled the flash of protectiveness that led him to tackle someone with supernatural powers. Not that he was going to tell them that. Something told him he’d best keep that part to himself. “I tackled the man. We…grappled, then…I don’t remember much after that.”
Dawn asked for descriptions. As she was taking them down, Cameron looked at Orlando curiously as he raised his eyes.
“You know,” Cameron began, “it’s quite puzzling to learn that a strapping young man such as yourself was bested by another.”
Orlando was infuriated by the insinuation. “Well, he had the advantage of knowing what the hell he was doing! How could I compete with that?”
“Perhaps as a man, I think.”
At that moment, Orlando seemed to snap. The circumstances suddenly became too much for him. Angelia, his best friend, was gone and there was no telling where she was or if she was still alive. Strange things were happening to him and he had no answers to combat the questions running rampant in his head. And now this jerk of a detective was questioning his manhood. When his eyes met Cameron’s, they had a golden sheen to them. Something was brewing in him, and he could not control it or understand it.
And at the door, Angelica Wolfe’s eyes widened. Her sisters looked on as Cameron stepped back half a foot.
“M-mister Bloom?” Dawn inquired in a small voice.
Cameron, inexplicably, started to grow warmer…
“Matte!” yelled the youngest Wolfe sister. “Chotto matte! Onegai!”
The word stopped the boiling inside of him.
Dawn and Cameron turned. They saw a set of triplets and a small girl with strawberry-blond hair wearing silver, purple, and black Kaminari Academy uniforms. Orlando remembered the strawberry-blonde streak from the other day and frowned at her.
“Perhaps we should go,” Dawn suggested. “I think we’ve gotten all we needed to get from Mr. Bloom.”
Wiping sweat from his brow, Cameron simply nodded and followed his partner. He didn’t feel like getting hurt—or burned for that matter—today.
The triplets and their little sister moved aside to let the duo out. Orlando stared at them.
“I hope you’re not here to bother me,” he said tightly. “I’m not in good humor today.”
Angelica walked forward. “Mr. Bloom—Orlando—I believe it would behoove you to listen to us.”
He looked away. “I’m done with listening today. Please leave me alone.”
Angelica’s eyes darkened. “Fine, you baka. Suit yourself.” With that, she turned on her heel and strode out. Her sisters, surprised that she didn’t press him further, followed her out.
“Gel!” exclaimed Angela. “We came to talk to him. Why are we leaving?”
Angelique crossed her arms. “I’m going back.”
“Minna…” began Lina. The three teens looked to their little sister. “We should leave him alone for a moment to understand what’s happening to him. He’s…he wasn’t ever warned of this coming. It wasn’t like he was born with it like we were.”
Angelique paused. “Lina-chan has a point. He’s thought he was normal for all his life, now this. Not to mention that he thought Angelia had told him everything about herself.”
Angela winced. “That, I think, is going to be the hardest part of this all, when it’s over…”
The girls nodded silently. Then Angelica, expression fierce, balled up a fist.
“Girls? I think it’s about time we mobilized the other Senshi.”
* * *
At Cat HQ, Moira-Selene called out to Ami. “Ami-chan!”
Ami, who had been taking a short break, dropped her sandwich when Moira-Selene called. The others had gone back to their regular routines after the fire, trying to dispel whispers that they were acting stranger than usual, so now it was just Moira-Selene and Ami. Duo Maxwell, a friend to the groom-to-be, stood in the doorway, his indigo eyes on the form in the healing capsule, which was now twitching…
“So that’s what happened to Danie!” Duo exclaimed, warranting a shocked look from Moira-Selene.
“Duo! Honestly!” she chided as Ami reached her side. Duo came over also, transfixed by the spectacle.
Three sets of anxious eyes watched as Daniella Thomas opened her eyes. She took in her surroundings for a few moments before pressing on the glass walls to get out.
Moira-Selene rushed to the console controlling the capsule and pushed a button. The glass slid down from the middle, exposing Danie to air. She sat up sharply. It took her a while to remember the circumstances that landed her inside the capsule and she sighed. Ami helped her down, as her legs were weak from days of no use, and handed her a blanket to cover herself with.
“Hermanita…?” Moira-Selene began.
“If you’re about to ask how I am, then I’m better,” she responded, voice scratchy. “I…I don’t feel as hot as I had been a few nights ago.”
“Then that’s a good sign, right?” Ami guessed.
Then an unexpected voice came: “As long as you find him in time.”