The Balinese is an oriental cat with long hair and Siamese-style markings, "points". It is a Siamese with a medium-length silky coat and plumed tail - albeit less "fluffy" than the Himalayan.
Ken couldn’t suppress the bad feeling he got looking at the sheet of paper in his hand. He’d been the first one downstairs this morning and had noticed the paper on the floor, as though it had been shoved in under the door. It was a single page of text on the Balinese feline breed.
Yohji had left two days ago and had yet to return. This happened from time to time, so no one was too concerned yet.
But now? Ken was starting to worry. There was no reason why anyone would shove a paper outlining characteristics of a breed of cat under their door, unless it was meant as some kind of coded message. The fact that it was about the breed of cat that Yohji took his code name from could only mean that it was indeed something about him – it simply couldn’t be coincidence.
Only one other group outside of Kritiker knew Yohji’s code name.
“Guys, you might want to come and take a look at this,” Omi yelled from the front room of the flower shop. It was quiet at the moment, being in between the lunch rush and the after-school stampede, so he’d told the other guys to let him handle the shop for a while on his own. Ken had protested; certain that after finding the strange note this morning that whoever had left it may come back with another. Aya had dismissed his concern (also dismissing that the note was related in some way to Yohji’s disappearance) and had all but ordered him to allow Omi to work the store on his own.
Since Omi’s time alone manning the counter, only a few people had been in to the store but none of them had seemed suspicious in the slightest - just two mothers picking up a bunch of peach roses for a birthday party, and one business man picking up a mixed bouquet on his way to a late lunch with his boss, who was bringing along his wife.
But just now, when he’d been sweeping and tidying up in anticipation of the rush of schoolgirls coming in under an hour, he’d found an envelope leaning against a Malabar Chestnut. It was a plain white envelope with fancy script on the front written in red - You Are Invited To A Picnic!
Omi went to the front door, turning the lock and flipping the “Open” sign to “Closed”. He had a feeling this wasn’t just a simple invitation from a lovesick schoolgirl. Ken and Aya appeared then and Omi waved the envelope in his hand. “I think this might be trouble, possibly from the same person who delivered that letter you found this morning, Ken.”
Ken snatched the envelope from Omi, opening it hastily and pulling out an elaborate card from the inside. It had a picture of four kittens playing in a field of cherry blossoms, along with a girl sitting on a blanket eating a piece of cake. He raised his eyebrow and looked at Omi, wondering how long the envelope had been there before he’d noticed anything. This was exactly why he hadn’t wanted to leave anyone in the shop alone! The person with the envelope had probably slipped in while Omi was arranging a bouquet!
“What does it say?” Aya asked, arms crossed and standing by the counter.
Ken opened the invitation and felt his heart drop into his stomach. He read out the text. “Balinese would like to invite his friends Abyssinian, Bombay, and Siberian for a picnic in the park, on the occasion of meeting his new master,” Ken paused there, looking up to flit his gaze between Omi and Aya’s faces.
“Anything else?” Aya asked, calm and composed as always.
Ken looked back at the invitation, “Bring your favourite toy, and that donations of catnip would be appreciated.”
There was silence for a few moments as they contemplated what the invitation really meant. Someone had Yohji - that much was certain. It was probably Schwarz, because they didn’t know of anyone else who knew their Kritiker code names. But this was obviously not the sort of thing they would expect of their rivals. The girlish card, the invitation to a picnic…
“Where does it say we meet?” Aya asked, and Ken looked down again, reading off the answer. Koganei Park, though no location within the park was mentioned.
“What do we do?” Omi asked, clearly just as puzzled as Ken felt.
Aya showed no flicker of emotion or confusion as he contemplated the information. Finally he answered Omi. “We go, of course. Clearly it’s a trap of some sort, so we’ll need to be careful. Omi, get logistics on the park, we’ll gather then to discuss possibilities of ambush set ups.” Omi nodded and headed down to the basement to get started on his research, leaving Ken and Aya alone.
“If I’d been here with him, I probably would have seen who left the card,” Ken said, his arms crossed.
Aya did not appear bothered. “Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the person who left it did not want to be seen. It’s inconsequential now, so go and ensure your weapons are ready for tonight.” Aya left the shop without another word and Ken let out an angry huff of breath before heading up to his room to prepare.
It was early evening when they entered the park – which happened to be suspiciously empty of people. Omi could feel his stomach muscles clenching in anticipation of an ambush, though they were still uncertain if that would be happening. They’d decided to enter through the western entrance, near the cherry blossom trees. If they found nothing in that immediate area they would split up, Ken taking a south route, Aya a north route, and Omi would move along through the centre of the park.
Finding nothing among the cherry blossom trees they took off in separate directions, keeping in contact through transmitters. Omi’s fingers were on his darts, ready to pull and throw the moment he saw movement. But the movement he saw was not what he was expecting.
There up ahead, flitting in and out through trees, was Yohji. Omi stood still for a moment, watching him. Just as he was about to contact the others he saw an explanation for the girlish quality of the invitation. Yohji had stopped suddenly beneath one of the trees, placing his hands on the trunk and staring up. Suddenly a girlish squeal of laughter was heard and a pair of legs poked out from the tree, causing Yohji to move away and drop to his knees. Omi was confused, was Yohji here with some new girl he was seeing? Was that the point? Was this some kind of stupid joke?
But then things took a drastic turn as a girl dropped onto the ground in front of Yohji, a very familiar looking girl with turquoise hair and a poufy white dress. She reached down to pat Yohji’s head, and Omi watched in confusion as Yohji simply sat there, seeming to push his head against her hand, his eyes closed. It was almost as though she was petting him.
“Aya, Ken, come in,” Omi whispered into the transmitter, not wanting to risk his voice carrying across the field to her. “We have an unforeseen problem; that weird girl who lives with Takatori Masafumi is here,” he explained quickly, still watching the pair in front of him.
“What’s your location?” Aya asked.
“Edge of the Perennial Garden, she has Yohji in the Plum Tree Forest,” Omi relayed, his eyes still on them.
“What’s his status? Is he moving?”
Omi hesitated, unsure how to go about answering. “He’s mobile, but, something is wrong.”
“Stay there, we’ll come to you.”
Omi pulled a dart out, unsure if he ought to strike now or not. How much trouble could one girl be, really? He’d encountered one of the other women who lived with Masafumi, Neu, and knew she was a fighter, but what about this one? Was she dangerous? Or was she just bait?
“About time you caught on, Bombay,” growled a voice from above him, and Omi looked up just in time to see the laughing face of Schwarz’s telepath, Schuldig, before it swooped down on him from above, Schuldig’s booted foot crashing into the back of his head and knocking him out.
Tot ran on ahead to the middle of the plum tree crop where her favourite picnic blanket was laid out on the grass. Balinese joined her, settling at her feet. Tot sank down to her knees, hands reaching out to pet her new kitty. Two weeks ago her daddy (not her real daddy, Tot did not see her real daddy anymore, because he was a very bad man) had asked Tot what she wanted for her birthday. He told Tot that she could have anything that she wanted.
So Tot had shown him a commercial that Hell had shown her on the computer from America, of a man who acted like a kitten (because Hell knew that Tot would love it) and said that she wanted her own human-kitten hybrid. She wanted a man that would play with her like a kitty! So Tot’s daddy said that he would make her one, and Tot was so excited! She had to wait two weeks though, because her daddy had to figure out how to make one for her.
Finally he had figured it out and had asked her what sort of man she wanted for a kitten, but Tot was not sure! All Tot knew was that she wanted him to be tall, because that would be really funny! So Tot’s daddy had asked his brother’s bodyguards to help him find a suitable man for the job, and Tot’s uncle Schuldig had said that he knew the perfect man to be made into a kitty for Tot!
Tot had to agree that he had been right. Balinese was exactly what she had wanted! Tot was continually surprised that her uncle Schuldig always seemed to know exactly what she wanted! Tot thought it was very funny. Sometimes Tot would think of the silliest things ever, and every time uncle Schuldig would guess what Tot was thinking and it made her laugh so much! It was one of Tot’s favourite games.
Right now she sat down on her blanket and started petting Balinese, who was curled up as tightly as was possible for a man of his size. She wondered where her uncles were - three of them had come with her tonight for their picnic, because they had found her three more men to turn into kitties! Soon Tot would have four kitties, and it would be like a family, and Tot could pretend to be the mommy cat and they would follow her around like they were her babies!
Is Tot playing nicely with Balinese?
Her uncle Schuldig spoke to her in that funny way he spoke to people, like it was inside their heads! Tot thought he was like a ventriloquist, only he did not use a dummy! It was very neat and Tot had asked him once if he could teach her how to do the trick, but he said that he couldn’t. It was something you had to be born with, and Tot had not been born that way. Tot was very sad about that.
“Yes, uncle Schuldig!” Tot said loudly, looking around and wondering where he was. “Do you have Tot’s other kitty, uncle Schuldig?”
Then she saw him approaching from the garden, a body in his arms. Of course I do. I thought you might like one that was very small.
Tot stood up, clapping her hands together in excitement. “Oh yes, a small one would be perfect! He will be the smallest baby in Tot’s family! What is his name?” She waited patiently for him to bring her newest kitty to the blanket, shrieking happily when Schuldig laid the boy down.
“His name is Bombay, and he is one of Balinese’s friends,” Schuldig answered, looking amused as the girl started fussing over Omi’s body. He stood up, surveying the area, certain the other members of Weiss were nearby.
I have Bombay, he’s out cold. I let him contact the other two before taking him, so they should be approaching the Perennial Garden. Should we ambush, or let them come here to witness what their future holds for them? He waited for responses from Farfarello and Nagi, who had been standing guard in the northeast and southeast respectively.
Tot would probably be happier if we knocked them out first, she might get upset if they approach her with their weapons out, Nagi replied.
Farfarello? Schuldig had been tempted to make a mockery of Nagi’s pandering to the girl, but now was not the time.
I say we allow them to see what awaits them; perhaps it will allow for bloodshed.
Schuldig smirked at Farfarello’s answer. Sorry Nagi, two to one decision. We wait for them. He stepped back from the blanket, standing behind the trunk of a tree, watching as Tot played at being a mother cat, tending to her sleeping newborn. It was both sweet and highly disturbing at the same time, and it made him want to laugh. She was always surprises, this one, much like Farfarello.
That was precisely why he enjoyed their company so much. Crazy and abnormal, yes, but never boring, and especially never mundane. They kept him on his toes.
Aya had his sword out, the kitana blade glinting in the last rays of the setting sun. He approached the garden, gaze sweeping the area, looking for Omi. He looked further south, spotting Ken. They nodded to each other and approached, both on their guard. Where was Omi?
Just then as he came to the edge of a thick cluster of plum trees, he looked beyond them and saw what Omi must have seen. There, sitting on a blanket, was the girl. His eyes widened as he saw Yohji, sitting quietly beside her, licking his hand. But then, at her feet…
“Omi!” He whispered, his attention turning to Ken, gesturing with a flick of his head. Ken nodded and crept forward until he also had a direct line of sight to the strange scene. Just then he heard a crunch and looked down, his nerves on edge as he saw one of Omi’s darts. He quickly looked around, crouching down to look up into the tree above him.
Nothing, not that he could see anyway. He looked again at Aya, who was also on guard after witnessing Ken’s display. They were obviously not alone. Just then they heard a girlish voice call out.
“Oh silly Bombay, you’re so sleepy! Mommy will let you have a nap, she will play with Balinese!”
They both looked out, watching as the girl stood up and ran off of the blanket, her dress flying around her. Yohji stopped licking his hand, watching her. She motioned for him to join her, but he refused to move. She giggled then and took out a silver chain, swinging it around. Yohji’s eyes followed it, and he curled forward into a crouch, as though he were readying to launch himself at her. She leaned forward and dangled the chain closer, laughing shrilly.
He jumped then, hands outstretched, reaching for the swinging silver. She yanked it away just in time, but he still hit her and she tumbled to the ground with him, giggling madly. “Oh Balinese!” she yelled playfully, “You’re such a silly kitty! You’re going to have so much fun playing with Bombay when he wakes up!”
Ken looked at Aya again, questioning if they should approach. Aya could sense a trap, but where were they hiding? It couldn’t be only the girl; that was impossible. He motioned to Ken to stay where he was as he walked out from the trees, his sword held in front of him.
It wasn’t long before he was noticed. The girl looked over at him, frowning as she sat up. “Who are you?” she asked him, looking suspicious. “You’re going to scare my kitty!”
“What have you done with Yohji and Omi?” he asked, watching as Yohji sat up and stared at him, blinking. He made no move to acknowledge him. “Yohji?” he called to his team mate, who simply let out a cat-like meowing in response. What was going on?
“Oh,” she said, her frown turning into a smile, “Are you here to be another one of my kitties? My uncles said that they had two more kitties for Tot! Tot will have four kitties! Are you number three?”
Aya frowned and tightened his grip on his blade, looking around for any sign of Schwarz. They had to be here somewhere! “Where are your uncles?” he asked, listening for any sound of movement.
“They are hiding, because we like to play games! They’re very silly,” she answered, moving towards him. “You are a very pretty man, and you are going to make a very pretty kitty for Tot!”
Aya watched as she continued to walk closer, tilting her head to the side and smiling. He didn’t buy the distraction for a second, turning to watch the surrounding area. Where were they?!
“Tot thinks that you should put down your sword and come over to sit on the blanket with Tot and Balinese and Bombay! Tot has brought her favourite cakes, would you like to have some?” She continued to come ever closer, and Aya held out his sword to keep her at bay.
“Don’t come any closer. Tell your uncles to come out,” he said, his voice calm.
Tot frowned. “No! Tot wants you to put your sword down! Kitties are not allowed to play with swords!” She moved suddenly, more quickly than he’d anticipated, reaching for his sword arm and jabbing his fist with her elbow. He dropped the sword at the contact but ducked quickly, reaching for it again. She stepped on it with her foot. “You are a very bad kitty and Tot will have to punish you for trying to hurt her!”
Aya was ready for her as she shot out with her right leg, aiming a kick at his face. He deflected it and rolled, grabbing for the sword but unable to pull it with him before she stomped her foot on it again. It looked like he would have to fight her first. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he spoke slowly; “I want to speak to your uncles.”
At that moment he heard the sound of running footsteps behind him and he looked over his shoulder, barely ducking in time as Farfarello flew at him, knives outstretched. At least this spooked Tot enough into moving, and Aya grabbed his sword from the ground. He rolled back and away from the knife-wielding man, who paused to lick the sharp edge of a blade with his tongue. Blood edged the knife now, but Aya forced himself to remain calm. He and Ken could handle this one on his own.
“Perhaps you could,” a voice spoke from further back, “but could you handle me as well?”
Aya looked over his shoulder – it was the red headed one, the one that moved like a super natural being. He was holding a gun.
“Oh don’t worry about the gun, it’s only for show,” Schuldig called out, “I prefer a more fair fight.” He moved forward, though he made no move to put the gun away.
“What have you done with Yohji?” Aya yelled, backing towards the garden where Ken had now appeared out of hiding. “Why is he acting like that?”
Schuldig chuckled. “Takatori Masafumi, mad scientist, has gifted the girl with her greatest desire – a human cat hybrid.” He looked at Yohji, a smirk on his lips. “Looks like a man, acts like a cat. The mind is a wonderful thing to toy with,” he grinned at his comment, laughing at a joke that only he seemed to understand.
“So it’s some form of mind control?” Ken asked, standing beside Aya.
Schuldig shrugged, “In a sense, I suppose. But the grey matter of the brain has been altered, you know, so he’ll never be the same, even if you somehow manage to defeat us and take him back to your flower shop. But that doesn’t really matter, because you won’t defeat us. It’s impossible.”
Ken glared at him before rushing forward, “We’ll see about that!” Schuldig didn’t bother moving, waiting until Ken reached him before sidestepping him at the last moment, reaching out grab the back of his head and yank his hair, causing him to jerk back and trip.
Aya turned his eyes from Ken and Schuldig, sizing up his opponent, the crazy man with the knives. He approached Farfarello, sword drawn and at the ready. Farfarello rushed him suddenly with no warning (and no regard) not bothering to dodge the swing of Aya’s sword. Metal sliced into skin and blood splattered, but Farfarello did not stop. He swung out with one of his knives, aiming for Aya’s leg. He plunged the blade deep into the thigh, cackling madly.
“Father, are you watching me?!” He yelled up into the sky, head thrown back.
Aya hissed at the pain but fought back quickly, head butting Farfarello, who stumbled back momentarily. He pulled the knife out of his leg, throwing it away from them. This did not bother Farfarello, though, who held up his other knife and smiled, before pulling a second knife out of a sheath on the back of his vest. Aya frowned, but tightened his grip on his sword, ready for the next attack.
It never came.
“Stop fighting!” Tot yelled, “You’re going to hurt Tot’s kitties! You promised you would not hurt them!”
“That’s right,” replied another voice, and Aya looked over, seeing a boy similar in age to Omi standing beside the girl. Of course, the youngest member of Schwarz. What was he doing here? “Schuldig, you know better, we have our orders.”
Schuldig waved off Nagi’s concerns. “We weren’t going to kill them or anything, just have a bit of fun,” he replied as he stood up, lifting his foot from Ken’s neck. The former goalie quickly scrambled to his feet, looking from Schuldig to the boy.
“Oh Nagi, make them do something silly, please!” Tot appealed to him, grabbing his arm and tilting her head. Nagi smiled at her and turned his attention back to the others.
“What would you like, Tot?” He asked her softly.
“Make them fly!” She said, giggling at the thought. Nagi nodded and suddenly Ken felt his feet leaving the ground, and he stared in shock at the teenage boy standing below him. His eyes met Aya’s, who was equally surprised. What the hell was happening?!
“Yes, yes! Higher, Nagi, higher!” Tot screamed, giggling and laughing as she watched Nagi spin the two remaining members of Weiss around in a circle. She started spinning in a circle underneath them, her head back as she giggled and watched the two men float around above her.
Enough, Nagi, you don’t want to tire yourself out prematurely, Schuldig remarked sarcastically. Nagi did not respond, but finally lowered them enough, binding them telekinetically so they couldn’t move. Schuldig approached them, a grin on his lips.
“Goodnight, gentlemen, may you wake in the morning with visions of mice and catnip in your heads,” he laughed, before giving each a blow to the head, knocking them out. Once they were unconscious Nagi let them drop.
Tot knelt down between Ken and Aya, hands on both their heads. “Tomorrow, Tot will have four kitties. She will be the luckiest girl in the world.”
Aya awoke suddenly, groggy and with a splitting headache. He peeled his eyes open, turning his head slightly to look around. He was in a dark room, strapped to a bed. He could hear the whirring of machines around him, and he tried to remember what had happened prior to this, but found that he couldn’t.
“Oh, are you awake, Abyssinian? My apologies, I must have forgotten to start your IV drip,” a voice sounded beside him, and he turned his head the other way. A man stood there, clad in a white lab coat and holding up a syringe.
“Masafumi,” he whispered, recognizing the scientist. He was starting to remember. Yohji…
“Yes, for now. Soon, though, you will think of me only as the hand that feeds,” he said, before turning around to lean down next to Aya. “You are going to make my little Toto so happy,” he whispered, before patting Aya’s head and turning back around.
“Bombay is almost through his transformation, and I will start on Siberian when I have finished setting you up. Four kittens in one house, I think I’m going to have to get a bigger litter box!” The man laughed as he plunged the contents of the syringe into the IV tube.
“Go to sleep, Abyssinian.”
Though he tried to fight it, Aya’s eyes closed, and he drifted off to sleep, the last thing on his mind the image of Yohji lunging at a swinging silver chain.
Was that his fate?