The girl's legs burned as she panted for breath. Her legs ached, calves and ankles throbbing with pain each time one of her high-heeled shoes completed a step. The shoes were never made to move faster than at a brisk walk, and sparks of pain shot up through the girl's feet each time one clicked off the pavement or splashed into one of the puddles left by the evening's rain. She ran anyway, though, because she had no other choice.
If only there was someone to help her! She could not imagine how she could be so alone in a nation as dense in population as Japan. Surely, if she could scream for help someone would hear, would come to her aid, but she couldn't scream. That took oxygen, and she had no breath to spare. Her body was drained already from the effort of fleeing. In a few dozen more yards she'd be at the end of her strength. She would fall, helpless to do anything more.
Then she would die.
It was almost a mercy when the iron grip closed on her shoulder and spun her up against the wall. At least she wouldn't have to face it after that moment of despair. Her shoulder burned, and blood seeped from where claws had punctured her flesh. Three eyes leered at her with lavender fire in them, and a forked pink tongue licked at fanged teeth. Its free hand raised to deliver the killing blow.
Suddenly, explosions of scarlet light burst against the monster's side, and it was torn away from her. The girl's legs gave out, and she sagged to the wet pavement, but as she slipped into unconsciousness, relief filled her heart. Though she didn't know what had happened, she'd seen the fear on the monster's face.
Tatsuhiko Shido saw the fear, too. The droplets of his own blood that he'd flung at the night breed had hurt it, and the hunter now knew it had gone from predator to prey. Hopefully the girl it had been stalking would be all right.
"Let's finish this, then," Shido murmured. The night breed might have been possessing a living human being, but it had already killed, the human heart abandoning itself to darkness. All that could be done now was to keep it from hurting anyone else.
Shido brought his finger to his lips and bit down hard enough to pierce the skin. Blood welled up from the cut; a vampire's power was in its blood and Shido's answered to his will, growing and forming itself into an ornate crimson sword. With the vampire's strength behind it any weapon was deadly, but the bloodsword was much more. The breed sensed its danger; it scrambled to its feet and ran.
Shido was caught between the need to pursue and the need to help the injured girl, but the sound of footsteps behind him told him that he didn't have to make that choice.
"Yayoi, look after the girl; I'll take the breed."
Yayoi Matsunaga was already reaching for her cel phone when she knelt by the fallen woman. The beautiful NOS agent would have preferred to be in at the kill, but the vampire could follow the breed much faster than she could. Besides, it was nice to have someone with official standing–and someone human–on hand when the ambulance came. It could save them no end of trouble.
The night breed was moving faster than any human could manage, but Shido's own leaps covered as much ground and he wasn't burning himself up with the effort. It was inevitable that he'd run the breed down, until at last they reached other people, a crowded street. The breed dove into the throng, shedding its unnatural self as it did, letting its human host resume control.
It was a good plan, Shido conceded. He couldn't tell which of the twenty or so people had been the breed, and the human form looked nothing like the three-eyed monster with its hunched back and row of fins down its spine. Too, while Shido had learned to sense the subtle miasma in the air that the night breeds exuded, the stench of darkness, in a crowd this size he couldn't pin it down to one specific person. It was an excellent plan to shake off pursuit. It might have even worked, had Shido not known what the breed's host looked like. He hadn't been there by accident, after all. He was a detective, even if his agency did confine itself to supernatural cases.
Shido let the bloodsword go; it dissolved back into the blood-drops it had been summoned from, then faded to nothingness. Other than that, he needed to alterations to blend into the crowd. Shido's handsome face, long hair, and old-fashioned three-piece suit and string tie were memorable but by no means inhuman. He entered the flow of pedestrians, following the breed at its own walking pace. Its instincts would be to return to a place of safety, probably the human man's home. Shido would follow it and finish the job there. He was cautious in his pursuit, though, doing nothing to draw attention to himself. The one thing he desperately wanted to avoid was forcing a fight on the breed among the crowd, where by mischance or spite it might take someone to the grave with it.
This time, though, his fears proved groundless. The breed did not notice as Shido shadowed him down the street two blocks, then east one block to an attractive suburban home. It was a home for an affluent family, but the host lived alone. Was it part of a plan for the future, a future now cut short? Or just a monument to one man's ego?
Shido went right to the door and found it locked. Since there was no point in holding back now that he was out of the crowd, he slammed his foot into the door and kicked it open. He found himself in an ornately designed foyer in an opulent Western style. It reminded Shido vaguely of his days in Europe long years ago. The tiled floor led into a large central atrium from which doors extended in all directions. A staircase led up along the left-hand wall to a balustraded landing that circled the room. Moonlight shone down through a skylight, creating diffuse, shifting shadows as the thinning clouds swirled across it. The stench of blood and darkness was everywhere.
Reacting purely on instinct, Shido flung himself aside as an array of umbrellas and canes rose from an umbrella stand in the foyer and launched themselves at his back. More than one was tipped with a blade, something again more common in nineteenth-century Europe than in the modern world. The sticks hit the far wall, most clattering to the floor while one of the bladed ones stuck macabrely in the wood paneling.
"Enough parlor tricks!" Shido cried out. In response, a dark shape crashed through the balustrade above and plunged towards him among chunks of splintered wood. Shido dove aside again and the breed's talons sheared into the imported marble time that covered the atrium floor. Raking his hand across his teeth, Shido summoned up the bloodsword once again and struck back. The dance of death began.
The bloodsword clashed against the eight-inch silver blades that tipped the night breed's fingers, making them chime like bells. The breed was quick and strong, Shido had to admit, but its talons would not be enough to defeat him. Even as he thought this, the creature's tongue lashed from its mouth like a frog's, wrapped around Shido's sword-wrist, and flipped the vampire, catapulting him up towards the landing and the shattered stubs of the broken balustrade.
Shido grunted in pain as the broken wood pierced his back and left thigh. He pulled himself free, glad that certain vampire legends were not true, only to find the breed almost on top of him. IT had launched itself on its powerful hind legs and ten silver spears were arrowing at the vampire's torso. Shido swung the bloodsword in a cleaving arc to fend the breed off; his swipe caught his attacker just before it reached him and sent it tumbling along the landing. As it got to its feet, Shido saw a line of violet ichor weeping from its scaled chest. It snarled in pain, an echoing metallic noise like no living creature should make, then turned and sprang down the landing, running past walls hung with oil paintings in a variety of sizes.
"Oh, no. You're not getting away from me this time."
Rather than giving chase, Shido hurled the bloodsword at the breed. It spun through the air in a lethal pinwheel, crashing into the night breed's back. The force of the impact and the creature's own momentum carried it forward, and it collided with the wall at the corner of the landing, striking full against a large painting over the top of the stairs. The body slumped to the floor, then was carried over the top step by its own weight and went tumbling down the staircase. Blood spattered the painting, staining the scene of a Renaissance city during festival season with scarlet.
Red, not violet.
As soon as he realized what had happened, Shido charged down the stairs, but it was too late. The corpse of financier Yukito Abe lay crumpled on the tile. The breed had given up the body and allowed the host to die rather than accepting the wound and trying to fight on. It was rank cowardice, but it had worked. The breed had escaped from the body in its natural form and slipped away to seek a new host, a new human heart to corrupt and drag into the dark so the night breed could attain the light.
Shido pulled the sword from Abe's body, then let it revert to blood. He looked at the painting, seeing the scarlet stain lying across the bodies of celebrants in fantastic costumes.
They'd have to begin all over again.
"Mr. Shido!" Riho Yamazaki exclaimed happily when Shido and Yayoi returned to Shido's office. "You're back early!" Riho was a pretty sixteen-year-old with brown hair pulled back by a bow and let dangle in a waist-length foxtail. Only her pale skin hinted that she, too, was a vampire.
Shido had changed the girl herself when she lay dying, her chest slit open in a contemptuous act of Shido's own blood-sire and former lover, Cain. She'd been an innocent victim, a pawn in the twisted relationship of the two night walkers. Shido had predicted it, had foreseen that if Riho stayed around him she would stumble irrevocably from the path of decent living, but he'd had no idea how soon it would happen or that he himself would be the instrument. He'd been selfish to let her stay on as his assistant, selfish again to condemn her to eternal darkness. Riho had asked for it as she lay dying, but she'd had no idea of what she was asking, while Shido knew all too well.
Riho claimed to have no regrets about the change, but it was obvious sometimes that she was having trouble adapting to her new state, to the things she'd lost and the things she'd gained alike. It gnawed at the back of Shido's heart, the fear that one day his Riho would be unable to bear it any longer, that she'd be dragged by despair into becoming another monster like Cain.
Would it have been kinder to just let her die? Perhaps so, but that choice was gone forever. Riho was eternally caught in darkness now, just like Shido himself, but that was just her body. If her heart, too, fell to the night, he didn't know if he could endure it.
"Mr. Shido?" she asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, Shido, what gives? Yayoi hit you on the head after you made a pass at her or something?" That was Guni, a fairy that had attached herself to Shido when he'd first arrived in the city. A foot-tall green woman with devil wings and plenty of attitude wasn't a storybook fairy in the Eastern or Western traditions, but there was something appropriate about it in a spirit of the modern urban sprawl.
"Mr. Shido wouldn't do that!" Riho snapped.
"He's a little distracted because the breed got away," Yayoi suggested, shutting the door behind her.
"Oh, man, so the Shinjuku Slasher is still out there?" Guni moaned.
"The breed will need to find a new host," Shido explained walking past the women to his desk. "That will take time, so we should be able to track it down."
"And we rescued its latest victim; don't forget that," Yayoi contributed. "With four murders and four disappearances so far, this breed wasn't holding itself back."
Yayoi had a point, but it also made for all the more reason why, Shido thought, they needed to catch the breed right away. He circled his desk and reached for his chair.
"Mr. Shido! What happened? Are you all right?"
He blinked in confusion.
"It's the back of your suit," Yayoi explained. "Riho hadn't seen it until now."
"Geez, you're a mess," Guni said. "That suit is a total loss. No wonder the breed got away. I'm surprised you even got the host."
"Oh, no; Mr. Shido, you shouldn't be walking around like this. You should–"
"It's all right, Riho, really," he assured her. "The wounds were minor and have already healed."
"Bet Yayoi liked that," Guni quipped.
"Mmm, no such luck, though if you need a little pick-me-up, Shido..."
Riho broke out into a fierce blush; more than likely it was she the others were teasing.
"I don't think that will be necessary," Shido explained. "Dawn's not too far away, and we need to get started tracing this breed. It's had a taste of life in the light, and it won't want to give that up. It's start looking for a new host soon."
"Do you think we can tell what was important about the first host?"
Yayoi had a good point. Low-level breeds generally just grabbed at what they could get, a corpse or a living person whose mind was clouded by drugs or drink. The more powerful breeds, though, did not possess their hosts by force. Instead they would make twisted bargains with their victims, using their not-inconsiderable power to give their host what he or she craved, be it fame, artistic talent, wealth, beauty, revenge, or anything else that was beyond their reach. In return, the night breed could use the human's body to attain life in the light and to satisfy its own unspeakable cravings for blood and flesh. Often the crimes committed worked out to be a synthesis of the breed's goals and the human's. Yukito Abe, for one, had been a frequent patron in life of the teenaged prostitutes he'd murdered as a night breed. When the breed found a new host, its victim profile would be different.
So what was it about Abe that had made him special? If they could deduce that, it would go a long way towards finding other potential hosts and protecting them before the darkness took them, too.
"I think we'll have to, if we want to finish this before a new round of killings begins."
"What I don't understand is, why did some of the women disappear?" Riho asked. "Did you find any of them at Abe's house?"
"No," Yayoi told her, "we didn't, other than eight earrings lined up on his dresser, apparently one taken from each girl."
"Well, that confirms what our investigation found, that the same breed committed both sets of crimes." That had been one of the trickier points of the case, Shido reflected. Each bloody mutilation murder had been followed by a disappearance. Other than the choice of victims, the crimes were completely different in type. Human serial killers and murderous breeds were similar in that they followed patterns. A pattern might escalate, showing more and more violence, but Shido didn't know of a human or breed that alternated between two patterns.
This detail all but demanded that there be two criminals, but it had been firmly established that there was only one, and it had been that evidence that had let Shido catch Abe in the act and rescue his prospective ninth victim. Two plus two made four, no matter that five would be a more convenient answer.
There were two killers, weren't there? There was the night breed, and there was the host Abe. The victim profile fit Abe, but the crimes?
"They might have been choosing the same victims," Shido said aloud, "but not for the same reasons. That's why the crimes balanced out, first a murder and then a disappearance. The breed and Abe were fairly dividing the 'spoils' of their efforts."
"I think you're on to something, Shido."
"But which crimes are the night breed's, and which are Mr. Abe's?"
It was Yayoi who answered that one.
"The slashings were probably Abe's preference."
"The killings were ritualized, but not cannibalistic. Most of the time a breed kills because it has an uncontrollable lust for human flesh and blood." He glanced at Yayoi; their eyes met in a knowing gaze, both of them remembering the past. "Most of the time."
"There's more, though," Yayoi added. "The NOS searched Abe's house from top to bottom. We found no sign of the women he'd kidnapped, except the stolen earrings. There was nowhere to dispose of the bodies on the premises and, more than that, no evidence he'd raped or tortured them there. No one can clean up that thoroughly. The initial investigation showed that Abe definitely didn't have a second home or other hideout, so nothing could have happened off-premises."
"So where did the women go?" Guni asked. "Okay, so you can't figure what he did with them, so it was probably the breed, yeah, but even if you blame the supernatural 'cause you don't have any better ideas you still have to figure out what the breed wanted."
She spread her hands smugly.
"If we know why the women vanished, we'll learn the breed's pattern, and that will tell us what kind of host it seeks."
He'd failed once to stop the bred, and that failure ate at him. Guilt, though, would accomplish nothing. The only thing that mattered was to find the night breed as soon as possible and save lives.
What do you want? What did you do with those people?