The night breed's attack took Ohta completely off-guard. He stood there, flat-footed and gaping, as death flew towards him. The thing looked like a twisted version of a skeleton from an old movie, as if somehow the bones had split apart and risen to the surface to form an armored shell for the body. The skeletal armor was a dull, rusty brown like a stain of old blood, while the flesh beneath was the bright scarlet of fresh-spilled.

Before the monster's bony claws could strike, a long tendril of the same red shade as Bloody-Bones itself coiled around its midsection, arresting its progress. The creature was pulled sideways, away from Ohta and into the parking lot. Ohta's gaze followed its progress as if mesmerized, and he saw that the tendril was in fact a long crimson whip, held in the hands of the silver-haired detective, Tatsuhiko Shido.

"Get inside the building, Mr. Ohta; I'll take care of this," he ordered. Energy like a blue flame rushed along the whip from his hands to the creature, and Bloody-Bones howled as the fiery aura engulfed it. "Go!" Shido roared, but Ohta seemed rooted to the spot, unable to move.

Shido spun his body and snapped the whip, flinging the creature even farther away from Ohta. It crashed with terrific force into the back of a gold Lexus, driving into the trunk. Sakamoto will be furious, the thought skipped irreverently through his head. It was all so unreal, like being in a dream. Monsters trying to kill him, battling for his life...was he dreaming, after all? This couldn't be real, could it? The edges of his vision were hazy and clouded, a mist that drew itself inwards until it filled his sight, and Ohta slumped to the pavement in a dead faint.

"Why, vampire?" the night breed keened at Shido in its weird, high voice. "Why do you keep me from my prey?"

He'd been asked the question before, and his answer had not changed, not in the decades since he's abandoned his life with Cain.

"Because I still possess a human heart."

The breed rose to its feet, laughing eerily.

"A human heart? Then you have more to offer than he does!"

Its finger stabbed out, pointing at the prone Ohta. Suddenly the finger-bone launched outwards, the scarlet "flesh" extending itself so that the bony fingertip was the point of a deadly spear arrowing at Ohta's heart. With a movement too quick to see, though, Shido was there, blocking the way. He winced in pain as the bone drove itself into his left shoulder, but he knew from long experience that the wound was only temporary.

"Why? Why would you protect this devil? He drains the talent dry from those more skilled than he to line his pockets, then tosses them aside when he can no longer leech off them! He is as much a monster as you or I, only by his own will rather than from his nature!"

Bloody-Bones jerked its finger free, its hand snapping back to its original shape. Shido raised his right hand to his mouth and pierced his flesh with his fangs. Blood welled up from the wound, pooled in his palm, and Shido exerted his will. In another instant he held the hilt of an ornate crimson sword, the expression of his power as a vampire. Cain had taught him so long ago that, as vampires, their magic was of the blood and in the blood, and with enough will they could use that as a weapon as potent against supernatural foes as their speed and strength were against mortals.

"I told you," Shido said. "It's because I still possess a human heart!" He sprang towards the breed, swinging the bloodsword. "Whatever his crimes, no one deserves to be preyed upon for your twisted hungers!"

Shido's sword crashed against the breed's claws. The impact and the surge of power knocked Bloody-Bones back a half-step, as did each of Shido's next two blows. The breed tried to counterattack, using both hands to slash and cut, but Shido parried each in turn. It was clear that he was faster than it, stronger, and he knew that the breed felt it, too.

At the end of its rope, Bloody-Bones sprang back away from Shido, landing on the trunk of a glossy black Acura. Its fingertips launched at him, spearlike, but this time the vampire was ready and struck the hard points aside with his sword. The attack proved to be only a diversion, though, as with its free hand the breed struck downwards, ripping a rear wheel right off the car. It sprang again, hurling the wheel backhanded like a discus--but not at Shido.

Without hesitation the vampire spun and hurled the bloodsword. Like a missile it intersected the heavy wheel before it could reach Ohta, blasting the impromptu weapon into chunks of metal and rubber. When he looked back, Bloody-Bones was gone. The breed had fled, using Shido's immediate concern for a human life to escape.

Shido walked over to Ohta, taking out his cell phone as he did. Yayoi was the first number on his speed-dial.

"Shido?"

"I just fended off a breed attack on Ohta."

"What? Is he all right?"

He bent to check the man. His breathing and heartbeat were strong and steady; it was no more than a momentary faint.

"Yes, he just passed out from the shock. That probably makes it easier in the long run."

"Fewer explanations," Yayoi agreed. "But...you say the breed attacked Ohta, and I'm still following--"

"There's only one possibility left. I'll meet you at Hanae's home."

"Actually, I think I'm already on my way there now."

"That could complicate things," Shido said, worried.

"At least for once, we know what to expect going in."

-X X X-

Seiichi gasped in surprise when Hanae staggered rather than walked through the music room door. Her blouse was torn, the sleeve stained with blood, and her slacks were smeared with mud and grit.

"Hanae! My God, what happened to you?"

"I...I'm all right. It was such a stupid mistake."

"What happened?"

"I wasn't looking where I was going. Can you believe it? I was so upset when I left Excite! that I ran right out in the street at the end of the block without checking the light. Luckily, a young man grabbed my purse strap and pulled me back just in time, but the strap broke and I fell down." She set the purse down on the piano, its broken strap dangling over the edge to brush the keys. "I hit pretty hard, and the mud from this afternoon's rain ruined my pants."

"You've cut your arm," Seiichi pointed out. "We should get that looked at right away. Do you need a doctor?"

"I...I don't think so. It stings a little, that's all. I'll clean it up myself in the bathroom."

"Let me."

"It's not that bad, Seiichi, I--"

"Hanae." His hand clasped her unhurt wrist firmly. "Stop walking away from me. Don't you understand? I love you, Hanae. If you're in pain, I want to share it, to be there for you, to be someone you can turn to for support."

"Seiichi, it's not--"

"No!" He slammed his hand down onto the piano. "You keep doing this, Hanae! You take your suffering and you run off to be alone with it! We're supposed to be a couple. That means we share our problems just like we share our joys and dreams! I'm on your side, no matter what. You can turn to me when you're hurting. Don't you understand? When I see you sitting at the piano, wrestling with a song, when you feel like your hands are nothing but twisted betrayers that won't do what you need, I feel it too. It cuts right into my soul, knowing how badly you're hurt."

"But...Seiichi, how can you--"

He shook his head violently.

"I know that I can't fix all your problems. I can't wave my hand and make that creative spark come back by magic. But you don't have to bear that burden alone, either. I can help you bear it, even lift some of it from you."

His earnestness, the sudden strength of his insistence, was in some ways a little frightening, but his words touched her.

"Oh, Seiichi, I do rely on you, really I do, but there are some problems that can't be helped. Ohta...he cancelled our contract today. There will still be royalties for previous music, but without agency or promotional services, even if I do find the music again, it will be harder than ever to make a comeback."

"Ohta!" Seiichi snapped. "I knew he'd done something like that the instant I saw your face when you came out of his office." He released her and began to pace, crossing and recrossing the floor in quick, jerky steps. "I knew I was right! I should have..." He stopped, then spun to her, grasping her shoulders. "Don't worry, Hanae. Next time he won't be so lucky."

"Next time? Seiichi, what are you talking about? What next time?"

"I told you, I can help lift your burdens from you. I can do that now," he spoke eagerly. "I...I didn't know how at first; all I could do was vent some of the pain I felt, but now I understand! Now I know!"

"Seiichi, what do you mean? You're scaring me!"

He was talking more frantically now, a sheen of perspiration coating his face.

"It came to me. It felt my despair, how all I could do is watch you suffer without being able to help or comfort you, and it asks so little in return."

"It? What are you saying?"

"He's saying," a male voice interrupted, "that he's sold his soul to the darkness."

-X X X-

Seiichi's head swivelled around nearly a hundred and eighty degrees, far more than a human could turn. He glared with hatred at Shido.

"You! Why are you here? This is our home. Ours!"

From behind Shido and to his left Yayoi ordered Seiichi, "Let Ms. Matsuura go and step away from her, now." He didn't need to look to know that her gun was drawn and leveled at the breed-possessed man. Yayoi had followed Hanae from Excite! as Shido had shadowed Ohta, but it was the third person who'd proven to be the breed.

It was possibly the worst thing she could have said, Shido thought, though at least it made the inevitable confrontation come that much faster.

"No! You're trying to tear us apart! I won't let you take her from me!" He swept Hanae around so his body was between her and his pursuers, then turned to face them. "I'll kill you both!"

He began shifting, then, human becoming breed. His body became translucent crimson, clothes and hair merging into flesh. He roared in pain as his skeleton seemed to push itself up and outwards through his altered skin, emerging with a sick popping sound and settling into place. Hanae began to scream, pushing herself away towards the corner of the room.

"Be careful," Shido warned Yayoi. "It can project its claws like spears."

"Can't they all," she said dourly.

The breed reached down, seized the piano bench, and hurled it with freakish strength at Shido and Yayoi. Shido slashed out with the bloodsword, shattering the bench to splinters, but the attack was only a feint. Bloody-Bones had followed the bench, charging just after it, and as Shido's strike at the bench had carried him out of a guard position it lunged. Its left hand went for the sword, fingers elongating and coiling around the weapon to trap it while it drove its right hand towards Shido's exposed chest.

Yayoi's gun barked twice, the automatic hammering two NOS standard-issue rounds into the breed's shoulder and bicep, shattering bone armor and puncturing flesh. Each hollowpoint was itself silver and filled with silver nitrate besides, damaging and even potentially fatal to the night breeds. Simultaneously, Shido sent a surge of his power through his blood, blasting from the sword and destroying the hand that had been trying to disarm him. Bloody-Bones reeled away from the double attack, its back hitting the piano, and he slumped to the floor. Its body began to revert at once to human semblance, leaving Seiichi Iwadare ashen-face, blood pumping from the stump of his wrist and the bullet wounds. A crimson mist began to issue from his lips--the night breed abandoning its host like the coward it was.

"Hanae..." Seiichi whispered as the breed abandoned him, then slumped into unconsciousness. Shido doubted he would ever wake up; even if he could get treatment in time for his injuries the shock of the breed ripping free from their bond against his will was also tremendous.

The breed itself twisted in the air like a scarlet shadow, then arrowed towards the nearest window, intent on escape, but Shido was having none of that. He sprang, slicing down with the bloodsword and felt the blade sink home into the breed's shadow form.

"Return to the darkness!" he shouted aloud, driving his will through the bloodsword against the monster. Patches of blue fire erupted throughout its shadowy form, growing and merging until they had burned the night breed away to nothing. He let out a deep sigh and let himself relax. Yayoi already had her cell phone out, calling paramedics in case Seiichi would live to be jailed for murder.

Hanae's screams had subsided into helpless whimpers as she stared at the ruin of her life. First music had abandoned her, then love. Seiichi had loved her, Shido reflected, but it had been a grasping, covetous love. When she hadn't provided the chance for him to fill the role he wanted, he'd given way to frustration, opened himself to the dark and a devil's promise.

Shido thought of Riho, of how Cain's vision of her had shown her succumbing to despair from his own rejection. Did that mean she was the same as Seiichi? Or that Hanae had to bear the responsibility for the ruins of her life? What did it mean for Shido's future?

As Shido walked from the room Cain's mocking laughter seemed to echo in his ears.