"I have to say, it's a same to have to stop these experiments just when they were going so well," the night breed said in its offhand, almost chatty fashion. "Unfortunately, without Kawamura's bank accounts there's no source of money with which to continue obtaining bodies, and this host is losing its human semblance too quickly for me to be able to maintain the facade in front of others."

This was something which Shido had seen before. When a night breed made a contract with a living human, sharing the body, years or even decades could pass without any overt corruption of the form. The body would appear human when the human will was ascendant and take on breed characteristics while the breed possessed it. An inhabited corpse was different, though. It would steadily become more monstrous as its flesh became corrupted by the nature of the breed. Low-level breeds were often caught out long before that point, as they lacked real sentience and acted largely on instinct, but even a breed as intelligent and powerful as the one that had tempted Kawamura could not hold back the inevitable physical effects.

"Still, at least two more of my spawn will be able to attain the light, and who knows what the future may hold? The Dark Moon tempts all."

He wheeled Kawamura's body into the center of the room, directly beneath an articulated arm that ended in a yellow-tinted globe of frosted glass. The breed placed his hand against the globe and it began to glow, a tracery of faint red lightnings beginning to flow along its surface. Shido understood at once. The equipment, all the mad-scientist machinery, was no more than window dressing. It existed to confuse the breed's victims, the people it had seduced into doing its work with the promise of an astonishing medical breakthrough. They would think that they were crossing new thresholds of science, when instead they were dealing purely with the supernatural.

"Shido..." Yayoi said, "If he does this..."

We'll have that many more breeds to deal with. He knew exactly what she was saying--and she was right.

"Riho and I will deal with the breed. You stop the machine."

The night breed laughed.

"Really, vampire, you should pay more attention. I just told you that it isn't a machine--and as for stopping me, didn't you just see what happened to you when you tried that?"

His blue-glass hands seemed to shine as if lit from within, casting a sickly aura like the color of a drowned man's face. The air rippled as another surging wave burst out from the breed at Shido, but the vampire was ready for it this time. He leapt aside, and the sound of squealing metal and cascading sparks testified that the attack had struck one of the machines. Softly, he heard the crackle of flames as sparks caught the wood.

Riho lunged at the breed, bloodsword in hand, but it was faster than she expected, lashing out with another wave of force. She parried with the bloodsword, deflecting much of the breed's power with her own, but it still drew a grunt from her.

Yayoi scrambled for where her gun had fallen even as the red lightning suffusing the globe began to grow, sparks swelling in brightness and beginning to stretch up the chrome steel arm towards the ceiling. Shido, meanwhile, bit his finger and called up his bloodwhip, lashing out at the breed even while Shido was still in mid-dodge. The whip snaked around it, and Shido sent his own power surging down the coil. Blue flame erupted wreathing the night breed in a blazing cocoon.

Yayoi's fingers closed around her gun and she rolled, sighting down the barrel at the glass globe which seemed to be the focal point of the apparatus. The red lightning was rushing up and down the arm, arcing to the ceiling and spreading outwards in a circular pattern, making it look almost like the globe was the tip of an inverted pyramid of scarlet energy. Suddenly, Shido could feel resistance against his own power, the force he was pouring into the whip. A moment later, the blue flame was extinguished and the whip blasted apart. Yayoi fired, but the same barrier that had stopped Shido's bloodmissiles sprang into existence, blocking the three shots.

"It won't be that easy!" keened the breed, its voice high-pitched and unnatural. The reason was obvious; the bloodwhip's flame had seemingly burned off the shell of humanity, as if the corpse the breed possessed was a kind of chrysalis in which it had grown. The entire body seemed to be made of the same blue glass as its hands. It had four legs, two growing from each hip, with an extra joint in each like an animals, ending in hooked talons. Though the host had been male, the breed's torso was prominently female, with four breasts in two rows of two. The face was insectlike, with a vertical slit of a mouth that opened sideways, framed by a mandible each at top and bottom.

The creature spun just as Riho leapt at it from behind, swinging her bloodsword in a lethal arc. The breed raised its left hand and caught the blade, a flash of violet light marking the clash of its power and hers. It then lunged with its right hand while Riho fought to free her sword. Shido could see the move coming, and realized that Riho did not even before the vampire girl seemed to know she was under attack. Like a blade, the tips of the breed's fingers pierced her abdomen, and blood sprayed as she was impaled to the elbow on its arm.

"Riho!"

The crimson lightning burst from the glass globe and blasted down at the body, playing over the corpse of Shinji Kawamura. The corpse began to twitch spasmodically, and its eyes opened, revealing that they were shining with a sickly azure glow.

"Riho!" Shido screamed as the breed casually flung the vampire girl aside, her blood dripping from its arm. Calling up his own bloodsword, he charged it, slashing down with tremendous power. The breed tried the same trick twice, trying to catch the blade, but Shido was much more powerful than Riho and his anger lent him even more strength. The breed's fingers closed around the blade, but then its hand fractured and shattered. It reeled back, bluish ichor dripping from the stump.

In his fury Shido was barely aware of Yayoi's gun going off as she took advantage of the breed's momentary lapse. The silver bullets punched into the skull of the corpse, blowing it apart and rendering it impossible for the breed to use. Perhaps it was the fact that it was caught in transition, or perhaps the breed was just too weak to stand the shock of losing its host, but rather than make an escape from the body it inhabited it was destroyed along with it.

Shido cared about none of it. Instead, he relentlessly pressed his attack, going all-out against the parent night breed. He put everything he had into each swing, all but ignoring how the creature tried to grapple with its forelegs or make some kind of counterattack. His relentless fury shielded him, though, as the constant assault made it impossible for the breed to mount any truly effective response, so overwhelmed was it by the need to defend.

At the end, though, it was to no avail. As it reeled away from yet another blow, Shido swung his sword in a powerful horizontal arc, slashing the breed in two just above the waist. The severed halves fell to the floor and shattered, spraying slivers of glass everywhere.

Shido dropped to his knee, exhausted by the effort and the emotional shock--but there was still Riho to think of. Would she be all right? A vampire's power of regeneration was astonishing, and there was a chance even still...He turned, half-rising, and was astonished to see her standing, though leaning heavily against one of the machines. She'd even found the strength to summon the bloodsword again, somehow. In the next instant, the vertically-slit pupils of her golden eyes widened in shock, and she hurled the sword like a javelin. It flew past Shido's shoulder, and as he turned to follow its path he saw it tear through the misty form of the night breed which unlike its spawn had been rising free from its defeated host. A wail seemed to issue from the creature, and then it dissipated, slain.

In the next instant, Riho gave a low moan and tumbled over in a dead faint, completely spent. Shido caught her before she struck the floor, cradling her slight form easily in his arms.

"Come on, Shido, we've got to get out of here," Yayoi said. She was right; even then flames were licking up the walls, no doubt started by the various machines broken during the fight. With Yayoi on his heels, he raced up the stairs, through the house and out onto the lawn, where he sent Riho down onto the cool grass.

"Why did you do that?" he asked her. "You didn't have the strength to make any more attacks, not with an injury like that."

If he expected an answer, he didn't get one. She just lay there, still and quiet.

"Oh, man," Guni said, flitting over to them. "She isn't...the little pipsqueak isn't..."

Shido brushed his fingertips against her cheek.

"She used up the last of her energy in killing the breed," he said. "There's nothing left to heal herself."

Yayoi pulled a small Swiss Army knife from her pocket and opened the blade.

"Then we need to make sure she gets more, now."

She slid the blade across her left palm, wincing as she did so. She'd cut a bit deep, but she needed for blood to flow freely. Yayoi knelt next to Riho's head and extended her hand, letting the blood drip while Shido opened Riho's mouth to accept it. It seemed to go on for a long time but Shido could see that the girl's body was accepting the blood, absorbing it. Slowly, the terrible wound in her abdomen began to close over, the skin drawing together, the blood of her own that she'd lost actually being drawn back into herself.

Riho's eyelids fluttered; when they lifted her eyes were still the burning gold of the vampire. All the energy she had was focused on preserving life; there was none to spare for preserving a human semblance.

"Mr...Shido? Are you...all right?" she asked.

"Yes, I am. We all are. You destroyed the breed."

"I'm...glad..." Riho's voice was more like a sigh than speech. She closed her eyes and let her head sag to the ground again.

"Is she--?" Yayoi began.

"She'll be find," Shido said tenderly. "She just needs to rest, now."

"You sound pretty relieved," Yayoi told him, grinning. "Sounds like you really are serious about her."

"Yayoi, you know how I feel."

"No, I know how she feels. You vampire playboy types are harder to read. Now I'm sure you return her feelings, not just decided to accept them because you feel responsible for her." She fumbled with her handkerchief, trying to stanch the wound. "Ow! I hope I don't need stitches for this. Those little bite marks are a lot easier to deal with."

She looked back at the house. The fire had worked its way up from the cellars and the light of the flames could be seen through the windows. She made the emergency call, then put her phone away.

"It's hard to believe," she said. "Two generations of people had their dreams of a new discovery come to ruin here."

"You're forgetting the breed itself. It had the same dream, to find a way to give new life to those lost in the darkness--and it wrought its own destruction by pursuing that dream, just like the humans it seduced."

"Shido..."

He picked up Riho, cradling her sleeping body in his arms, lifting her so that his cheek pressed against hers.

"Let's go home."

As he started towards Yayoi's car, he looked down at the slight figure he held. He couldn't help but wonder, was she just another expression of that same dream? An attempt by Shido to light the way in his own darkness?

And if so, was his attempt doomed to be as futile as those in the burning house behind him?