Yayoi's driving could at times resemble the woman herself: determined and passionate. With the kind of brazen defiance of traffic codes found only in auto thieves and law officers in hot pursuit, she was able to rendezvous with the other NOS operatives in time for Shido and she herself to take over surveillance of Keiji Ishida before he reached the shopping district near his home.
Shido was determined that this time he would not lose sight of Ishida for a moment. When the breed appeared he would be ready to strike, to keep it from taking any more lives. That determination was not his only advantage. Yayoi may not have had any supernatural powers, but she was a trained and experienced law officer; she knew how to follow a suspect. Shido and Yayoi separated and were able to work together as a team, taking different angles and vantage points and helping each other along in a way Riho couldn't do.
This time, when Ishida turned down an alley, he didn't have a chance to disappear; his pursuers had him in sight the entire time. That was why the scream took them completely by surprise.
"What was that?" Guni exclaimed, popping out from Shido's hair.
Keiji Ishida was not caught flatfooted, though. He immediately burst out running towards the scream, with Shido, Yayoi, and Guni behind him a moment later.
The scene was almost the same as before: the shadowed alley, the blood, corpse in the center, the blue balefires of the killer's eyes glaring down from the walls. Shido sprang forward at once, his vampiric speed carrying him past Ishida while he raked his finger with his fang. This time the blood droplets coalesced into a long, crimson whip which he lashed out towards the shadow. Again the breed dodged Shido's attack, flowing aside before the blow struck, and the bloodwhip tore a deep gouge in the wall instead of its quarry.
"Damn it! Stand and fight!" Shido cursed, and took off into pursuit. The breed's shadowy form was hard to make out, but Shido was able to spot it even in the dimly lit alley by finding the patches of darkness that his night vision could not penetrate. Yayoi had even a harder time of it, but she too found a way, by following where shadows lingered like a dark, inky stain on the walls and pavement even when her gun's underbarrel light was trained directly on them. They raced down and through the warren of alleys and out again on the far side of the commercial block where the living shadow flowed down the walls and merged together as it reached the feet of a woman.
At the noise made by her pursuers she turned, and it surprised no one that her face matched that in Reiko Ishida's photograph. Her shadow seemed entirely normal, exactly following the pattern cast by the lights around her-except that Shido could still not see through it.
"W-what's going on?" she stammered. She might not have known what to make of Shido, with his undead eyes glowing gold, or of Guni, but Yayoi in her trim white skirt-suit and government-issue firearm presented a very clear threat. Her eyes fastened on her husband. "Keiji, who are these people?" She took a half-step towards him.
"Don't move, Mrs. Ishida," Yayoi snapped, pointing the gun directly at her. "Shido, is there any chance of getting the breed out of her?"
He didn't know; he wasn't sure how deeply the possession had taken root. One thing, though, he did know.
"She's killed six people to feed the breed's hunger," he said grimly.
"No! Don't hurt her!" Keiji Ishida shouted, and rushed between his wife and her pursuers, facing them with spread arms in the classic protective pose. "This is all my fault!"
"Your fault?" Yayoi challenged.
"I was the one driving the car! I was the one who got careless and drifted off the road, then got into a skid when I tried to pull back on. My stupidity, my lack of skill-and yet I walked away without a scratch! Reiko was critically injured! The doctors thought she might die...or that if she pulled through, she might lose the use of her legs. Can you understand what I felt? They said she only had a ten percent chance of making a full recovery! I'd killed or crippled Reiko through my own clumsiness!"
"So?" said Shido.
"I'd have done anything to help, given everything I had to pay for a specialist, whatever it took, but there was nothing more than could be done, medically. So I...I turned to other means."
"It was black magic, I know. I followed the instructions in an old manuscript I found at a secondhand bookshop, and I called up the devil. I promised it my body and soul if it would save Reiko's life and health."
"You're not the night breed, Ishida. She is."
"It didn't want me!" he cried. "It wanted Reiko's body! Only if it entered into her could it save her life! But I couldn't make that bargain. I'd have let it take me, and gladly, if it was for her sake, but I couldn't give it Reiko's body. So it..."
"It took her shadow instead," Shido concluded. In the physical world, a shadow was nothing but the place where an opaque body blocked a light source, but supernaturally it was much more.
"Then...then that's why..." Mrs. Ishida stammered, trying to process her husband's sudden confession.
"The devil kept its end of the bargain," he continued. "The surgery was an apparent success, and Reiko healed quickly. The doctors never realized anything was wrong; it just seemed like we had beaten the odds. Reiko had no idea what had happened; she was just herself, happy to be alive so we could get on with our lives. She never knew...but I did. I could feel it, lurking there, watching us, always with us even in our own home. I was going out of my mind."
"Not to mention how she was killing people to satisfy the night breed," Yayoi contributed dryly.
"She didn't know anything about that!" Ishida shouted in protest.
"That's probably true," Shido agreed. "The breed animates her shadow and separates from her in search of prey. She isn't there when it kills; she doesn't see the crimes, but she's being used to commit them all the same."
It was a devilish predicament Mrs. Ishida was in. Most of the time, a human mind not yet lost to darkness could fight down, suppress a night breed so that it could be forcibly removed. This, though...what ordinary human could control their shadow? The breed didn't have to overcome or seduce Mrs. Ishida's will to act.
On the other hand, perhaps it would be possible to destroy the breed without harming Mrs. Ishida.
"Please," Ishida begged. "I'm the one to blame. If someone has to suffer for it, make it be me!"
"You deserve it, for what you've condemned your wife to," Shido said, "but there's no point to it. Now the only thing to do is to kill the breed, one way or another."
With a flick of his wrist he sent the bloodwhip snaking out to coil around Ishida and pull the human out of the way. The night breed, though, had been watching and waiting, and seeing its enemy's weapon momentarily out of play, it struck. Inky spears of liquid darkness plunged upwards, spearing through Ishida's body and lunging at Shido, each sprouting into an egg-shaped head, featureless but for four azure eyes and a lipless, circular mouth like a leech's.
The faced arced towards him, but even caught off-guard as he was the vampire's reflexes were superb; he sprang out of the way, letting the useless whip fall and calling up the bloodsword in its place. He slashed out as the shadow heads neared him, shearing down between one's eyes, but the darkness actually swirled apart, opening a channel for the sword to pass harmlessly through, then reforming once the sword had swept by.
Then the heads struck, one scoring on Shido's ankle and another one on the lower right of his abdomen. Razored teeth in the leech-mouths shredded clothing and drew blood with their feverish attack. Shido slashed at one of the necks and again the darkness gave way before him, but this time the head faded away once it was separated from the main body of the shadow. Yayoi fired, and her gun's silver bullet caused the breed to abandon the other head in the same way.
She didn't see the wave of the shadow that had flowed out underneath her on the alley floor until it was too late, when it had exploded upwards. Yayoi's weapon was struck from her hand to go skittering away and her lower body was engulfed by the night breed like a clinging second skin. From this dark sheathing rose more of the lethal heads, turning inwards as she futilely struggled to free herself.
"Yayoi!" Shido shouted in alarm, then suddenly had more to worry about than just her as he was speared from behind, the breed having slithered up one of the side walls and attacked him as it had Ishida. For the vampire, the wounds weren't fatal, but he was badly hurt and starting to weaken from blood loss.
What can I do? he thought. How can I fight a shadow? This breed combined intangibility and solidity in a single deadly package. Shido had used the trick of projecting his own shadow in combat before, to trick an enemy into expending its power on a worthless target and lure a foe out of position. No matter how much force was spent attacking the shadow, it could never hurt Shido.
Just like Shido wasn't hurting the breed.
He struggled to carve his way free of the creature, but it was beginning to engulf him as it had Yayoi, wrestling for control of his limbs. From somewhere above, Guni gave a strangled yelp as the breed proved it had not forgotten her.
They were going to lose this one.
"No! I won't let this happen any more! I know Keiji wanted me to live, but I can't, not at this price."
Mrs. Ishida was holding Yayoi's gun. Steadily, with purpose, she raised it to her head.
"Not without Keiji."
In the instant of the shot, it all vanished, the leering heads, the tendrils of shadow, the black sheathing gripping arms and legs, the patch of darkness spreading across the walls. Shido and Yayoi stumbled as they were suddenly released. From the corpse's now very normal shadow, a form bubbled up, vaguely manlike with four shining blue eyes and clawed arms that dangled all the way to its feet.
Ignoring the pain of his wounds, Shido leapt at the breed and slashed out. The bloodsword bit deeply into the monster's now very physical neck and tore clean through, unnatural flesh ripping as the vampire's blood seared and blasted its body. The breed's corpse corrupted even as it fell, dissolving into dust before it even struck pavement.
Spent, Shido dropped to one knee, and Yayoi was there at once to support him.
"It's the only way to defeat a shadow," he said regretfully, "to destroy what casts it."
Yayoi loosened her collar, baring her throat.
"You're hurt badly, Shido; you'd better take blood to help yourself heal."
She was right, of course, but for the moment he could not take his eyes off the Ishidas. Riho was going to be heartbroken by this outcome, the story of a man who'd let a deep and abiding love be poisoned by selfishness and guilt.
It was the kind of end that made a man feel like he was completely alone in the world.
As Yayoi gently turned his head and brought his mouth down to her throat and Guni fluttered down, concerned, Shido was very glad that it wasn't so.