"At least have the courage to die with dignity," Tatsuhiko Shido snapped as his quarry bolted around the corner. The vampire detective really didn't expect the night breed to accept his challenge--most were cowardly creatures at heart--but it didn't hurt to try. Every so often he encountered one that was as stupid and prideful as it was vicious and cruel.

All right, then, I'll just have to do it the hard way.

The bloodsword was hot and bright in his hand as he gave chase, a slash of crimson light in the shadowy alleys. The night breeds' protean nature corrupted the human bodies they possessed; pierced organs and broken bones would do nothing to a form that had become a supernatural menace. Even a vampire's strength could not injure them easily. And a breed's natural form had no fundamental physical structure to harm at all. That rarely bothered Shido. A vampire's power, its magic, was in its blood, and he had been taught to use that blood as a weapon. Certainly, the bloodsword could inflict physical harm, but against the breeds it was Shido's own magic that mattered.

He all but came flying around the corner. It was a dead end, between two tenements and backed against a warehouse. There would be no escape for the night breed.

Only, there was a complication. The alley was occupied. At the far end a fire burned in an old oil drum. Two young men in ragged jeans and nylon jackets warmed their hands at it. Perfect human hostages for the breed to use to save its life.

"Kill him!" the breed keened. "Kill the NOS freak!"

The two teens spun towards Shido and pulled out guns, one a heavy automatic from a shoulder holster and the other a little Saturday night special he'd shoved down the front of his pants in the world's most dangerous form of Russian roulette.

Shido hadn't seen that coming.

They ran towards him, put their bodies between himself and the breed while leveling their guns. With their jackets hanging open, Shido could see that they both wore black T-shirts blazed with the name and logo of an American rock group. He understood, now; the breed, or rather its human host, wore the same shirt. It was the "colors" used to mark a local street gang. Of the breed's victims, six had been members of a rival gang; that was how the NOS's Yayoi Matsunaga had tracked the breed to this area. A breed's first kills often were those hated by its host.

That the other gang members were protecting the breed, though, was still surprising. They could clearly see it was a monster, its conical head inky black but for a single three-lobed red eye and two narrow slashes of red mouth, each fang-lined, the breed's arms ending in clusters of eight writhing tentacles each instead of hands. These humans, though, would protect it, even try to kill for it.

Gunshots rang out, most ricocheting off the brick walls or the alley pavement. One punched through Shido's abdomen on the lower right side, but did considerably more damage to the vampire's suit than to Shido himself. The bangers couldn't hurt him with their little toys. He was more worried about his hurting them. They might have chosen the wrong side, given over to the darkness, but they were still human, not blood-sucking leeches or soultaking breeds. Any carelessness on his part could make him use too much force and kill or cripple the young men--boys, really.

Closing to the two men, he slapped out with the bloodsword, its flat smacking the barrel of the .45 and knocking the gun away across the alley. A second later his shoulder crashed into the second banger's chest, sending him over backwards to hit hard and stay down. While the still-conscious man was trying to figure out what was happening, Shido's foot came up in a scything kick to the side of the head. He'd pulled the force, but it was still enough to put the would-be cop killer down on his back.

"Are we through with the games, yet?" he asked the breed angrily. He'd never yet met one with the slightest respect for human life, and it never failed to enrage him.

"You're no NOS agent," the breed roared, its two mouths speaking in unison and making its voice sound eerily strange, a chorus of itself.

"Indeed; what gave it away?"

But, of course it wasn't that obvious. Unlike the night breeds, whose monstrous forms clearly marked them as what they were when they weren't hidden within a human host, vampires were hardly distinguishable from humanity. Shido could have been any handsome young man with his long, nearly white hair, in his neat suit, string tie, overcoat, and scarf. Even as Shido let his vampirism show, it was really very little. Small, though distinct fangs for canine teeth. Eyes that turned from sea-foam green to glowing golden with vertically-slit pupils. Nothing that couldn't be concealed by dark glasses and keeping his lips closed. Still, it was enough for those who understood.

"A vampire!" the breed howled. "Why would a fellow dweller of the night hunt me?"

Shido almost didn't bother responding. They never understood, these night breeds. Perhaps they couldn't. Unlike the vampires, they had never been human once, so a human heart wasn't something they could cherish.

"You've killed eight people, brought your evil into the light with you. You've dragged a human soul into the dark."

"What have I done? I've hurt no one that this boy did not want to kill. I've made this human world no worse than it was. Perhaps I've even saved lives, by not risking the friends of this body in combat."

"Don't try to justify your crimes!" Shido snapped back, but inside him something quailed. Sometimes a breed could seduce a human into the darkness, but sometimes a human went looking on his or her own.

Those were the worst of all, when the breed and host worked together towards a common end. The banger's soul would do nothing to weaken the breed.

"Human hearts belong in the light," Shido said, speaking not to the breed but the human host, "but if you invite a demon inside, the you bind yourself to the darkness."

He shifted his grip on the bloodsword and sprang at the breed. The creature was ready for him, though, sweeping its tentacled arms up. Instead of attempting to parry the sword, it instead went low, after his legs. Shido tried to twist away in mid-jump but he wasn't quite fast enough; tentacles whipped him below the knees and knocked him off-course. A desperation slash missed the breed entirely and he hit the alley pavement.

Reflexively, Shido brought the sword up in a defensive stance as he regained his balance. The tentacles on the breed's other hand were altering, the soft tips of each reshaping into pointed chitinous barbs. Then those tips launched towards Shido, the tentacles suddenly elongating, turning three-foot octopus arms into twenty-foot spears. He jumped, and the attack passed beneath him, spearpoints cracking and gouging the filthy asphalt.

Shido hurled the bloodsword in midair; it flew out in a whirling crescent that slashed through the extended spears. The severed portions dissolved into stinking sludge, while what was left retracted at once. The breed staggered back, howling in paid, while the sword arced back to Shido's hand.

Time to finish this.

He released the bloodsword with his hand but more importantly with his will; it reverted at once to being merely blood, which dripped to the ground and hissed away to nothingness. Shido then lifted his hand to his mouth and pierced his finger with his fangs. Droplets of blood welled up, quickly growing, merging together, and elongating into a whip which he lashed out at his enemy. The bloodwhip covered the distance between them even faster than Shido's vampiric speed could have and twined around its body. Held fast by the vampire's power as much as the whip's physical restraint, no shapeshifting tricks could let it slip free. Shido summoned the power that slept in his blood, sent it through the whip and into the night breed, immolating it in blue flame. Now it had only two choices: abandon its host and try to escape in its natural form, or remain with the stolen body and die. Shido had seen breeds choose both.

This one did neither. Even as it shuddered in pain, it opened its upper mouth and gushed a stream of fire at the vampire. Shido saw the flames well up in its maw just in time to dodge, but he couldn't move and maintain the whip at the same time.

Damn! I didn't expect it could do that! This isn't your run-of-the-mill breed.

The recovery time was fast, too; it slapped out with its unhurt hand, its tentacles extending but this time as whips instead of spears, ad lashed Shido's side, slamming him into the warehouse wall at the back of the alley. Its lower mouth opened and followed up with a gout of not ice, as Shido would have expected, but crackling blue-white lightning that crashed into him. Pain surged through the vampire as he was knocked off his feet, sent sprawling onto his back.

Shido hadn't survived centuries as a night walker, though, by being easily stopped by pain and injury. He'd learned the lesson that he had to fight on through the pain.

Make your enemy stop you, he remembered Cain telling him in that sibilant, silken voice. Do not do his job for him by letting him defeat your will while your body can still act.

While the breed hesitated, seeing the vampire down, before following up with another lash, Shido brought his finger to his mouth again, once more called forth the bloodsword, and sprang up, the blade extended spearlike before him. His injured body ached, begged not to be put through the effort, but he ignored the pain and struck, the sword's tip piercing the monster's side.

Even inside a human host, the existence of a night breed was supernatural rather than biological, but the power of a vampire's blood was more than enough to destroy one. Shido could feel the energies in his sword surge into the body of the breed, destroying its possession. The corpse of the gang leader it had bought the soul of slumped to the pavement. From its mouth, a black ichor oozed, slipping out onto the asphalt. The weakened breed was trying to escape its now-useless host, but a single droplet of Shido's blood was enough to finish that. The ichor glowed with a blue flame, then congealed into a fine gray ash that blew away.

With a long, regretful sigh, Shido looked down at the dead young man. He looked barely older than Riho Yamazaki had when Shido...

Staring at the corpse of a boy who'd sold his soul to darkness for the sake of the power to kill his rivals in a criminal underworld, who'd wasted everything life had offered him, Shido found that he did not want to think about Riho.

I'm becoming maudlin in my old age, he sighed with mock regret, then turned and began to make his way out of the warren of alleys. Yayoi would be glad to know their case was resolved, and she was always willing to share some of her blood. He could use it, too, to help heal his injuries. It wasn't the worst he'd been hurt, not by a long stretch, but he still needed attention. Without taking blood he'd be weakened, vulnerable.

Perhaps that was why he did not realize that, though the two bangers he'd felled were still where they'd landed, unmoving, the eyes of one were open and following his every move.