Author's Note- PLEASE READ.

Welcome to New York, 2035. America has become a complete Plutocracy, (which is a government ruled by the rich, and you should know that if you're old enough to be reading R fiction. Don't tell me you fell asleep in Government!) and slight advancements have been made to technology. I say slight because the rich don't do anything, and now that they run the government, they are going to keep their money, thank you, and you beggar scientists can go and work like every other poor person. New York is somewhat of a dumpage place for those people who failed at being rich and failed at farming, and instead take their frustration out by mugging, raping and shooting people. There are a lot of people to do that to- some three billion in the US alone. The OZone Layer has been nearly completely demolished, though some scientists who received proper funding managed to release chemicals to rebuild it; that will take several years. It's several degrees hotter, now, and the chemicals have odd effects on people and their endurance, which will be given more depth in other chapters.

Oh, and the vampires have returned.

Now, you may wonder about the big PLEASE READ thing up there. That's because Leon must be excused. First, I must introduce you. Leon, this is Reader. Reader, this is Leon. Yes, he is an ass. Allow me to assure you, he's a character. I have no problems with white people or girls, because then I would be in a bit of trouble, given that I, myself, am a little white girl. And I love me. Really, I do. So no flamies or any of that shit. Allow me to say that Leon's opinions don't matter. And he knows it.

Oh, and if you wouldn't mind reviewing. I love reviews. I love to read them. I never have enough time to write them, but I'll probably go read and reveiw your stories if you do this service for me. Just don't flame me over Leon's opinions. I put PLEASE READ in capitals, and if you're old enough to be reading R fiction, I assume you can read all of the big words.


How could you paint this picture With life as bad as it could seem But there were no more options for you I can't explain how I feel I've been there many times before I've tasted nothing but this life crashing down before me!

Chapter One

The sign said, quite boldly, 'No Smoking,' but I had a sneaking suspicion it didn't mean me- and anyway, hell, I deserved it. Elevators would air out, and until then, maybe the jerks next door would be coughing to hard to hold one of their parties, and turn the fucking music down for someone to get some sleep. And if one of the older people who lived in the eight-story, medium-class apartment building coughed a little extra, tonight, well, it would be better than being attacked by the damned pile of white dust that was being blown away by the wind- the white dust that used to be a blood-sucking entity of hell.

No, I'm not insane. Well- maybe I am. I've been through too much; I can barely tell you what's real and what's illusion anymore. Maybe it's all fake, and I'm living inside my head, trapped in the corner of some broom closet somewhere. However, that's not what I think, personally. No matter- I'm one of two people who are fighting the vampires here, and I'll tell you one thing, and that's if anything's real, those three-foot daggers and four- inch fangs are. They're shape-shifters- yeah, that's right. You might have walked past one in the past two days, but most likely you haven't. They concentrate their areas to cities, where there are plenty of their human prey and they disappear all the time, and aren't missed as much. New York, for one, is missing about six children every week, three adults, twelve teenagers- and that's just where I live. Here, Kath and I take care of most of them- some of them, at least. What about in Chicago, or Paris, or Tokyo? What about in other countries, where the damned creatures might get away with their shit?

Anyway, I carry a pistol. No matter where I go, I always bring it- and it's funny, how everyone think's it's fake because it's plastic, think's it's just for intimidation, though it doesn't do much for that. The vampires can take quite a few shots before they die, but they die eventually- and if worst comes to worst, you can always take out their hearts with a stake. Wooden, of course- metal doesn't do anything, really, because they have a sort of spell around their hearts, fueled by the extra nutrients in the blood they drink, that prevents anything but wood from getting past their ribs. It'll turn them to a pile of dust and ash, and don't ask me why- I guess their whole bodies are held together by the spell, or maybe it's just that they're so fucking old, and they keep their forms from decomposition by the blood they drink and the spells they weave. And before you get any bullshit notions of me dodging spells, they can't effect the world around them, only their personal bodies.

Wanna know what one looks like? Well, in human form, they're almost always very pale, dark hair, fine-boned... you know the whole thing. If you're looking at one, and their pupils contract into cat-like slits, know you're in trouble. Next, their bodies will stretch out, and they'll become long-limbed, tall, ethereal beings, with talons for hands and feet that look like a blend of an eagle's and a cat's- like a feline, they walk on their toes, and sometimes on their hands, as well. Pointed ears, huge claws- and of course, three or four-inch fangs. They're hollow, and the vampire sucks blood directly through them, to the back of their throat, where they swallow it.

But you don't care, I'm sure, about the anatomy of a hell-fiend. I was never interested, either. Dragons, chimera, werewolves, Dracula- bullshit, all of it. I wanted to play basketball, get a scholarship, get on the NBA, like all the boys those days; at least, the black ones. We never really paid any attention to what the white guys wanted to do, when I was in school, not while we had our own little groups. Oh, there was some mingling between the two, but mostly, we played basketball and the white guys played football or whatever, and those other racial minorities mingled in other groups or played... I don't know, soccer. Girls went to clubs and aside from that, who gave a damn what they did? Sometimes, I would pick up a girlfriend and we'd go to a movie, but mostly, I never went steady. Don't get me wrong, I'm not shy or any of that shit, and don't even mention any lack of self esteem to me- I lost my virginity when I was fifteen, and that was eight years ago. Now, though... girls aren't really on my roster of importance. Ever since I figured out about the vampires, I never had time for basketball, for girls, for that scholarship I got to one of the best colleges, for my buddies.... I got a job at a nearby restaurant, used it to afford a descent apartment filled with stuffy old ladies and asshole white punks-

The elevator gave a loud beep, shuddering to a stop. I braced myself as it drifted up them back down, cursing the conservative apartment building and it's out-of-date technology. One of the said punks walked in, his spiked hair dyed bright green, his nose pierced and wearing no shirt under his loose jacket-vest. He gave me one look and said, "There's no smoking here."

See what I mean?

I put out my cigarette on the metal wall and dropped the butt onto the floor, just to spite him. I knew I was being biased, but who gives a shit? My stop was still two floors away, on the seventh floor, and I was going to be damned if I didn't spite the little nerd on the way up. He didn't seem to notice, which disappointed me, but hell. You can't win all the time.

On floor seven, I got off, leaving the smirking punk the elevator to smoke in or masturbate in or whatever the hell the jerk wanted to do. As I stepped out, however, I saw a familiar face that almost sent me walking back into the elevator- but just as I was about to turn around, she saw me.

"Leon!" Then she was running towards me, grinning wildly. After all that I told you, if I described Kath, you would suspect her of being a vampire- and you would be closer than if you said she was human. Thin, tall, with cat-like blue eyes and pale skin, skin that blended on her hairline from near-white to white-blonde, giving her the appearance of a snow-wraith or a ghost. I smiled at her, though I dreaded what she would have to say- and I was right. There was only one reason she would be looking for me out here....

"You wouldn't believe it, Leon, but they booted me out again!" she complained sourly, glaring at me as if it was MY fault. "Can I stay with you until they give in and let me back home?"

"That's what happens, Kath, when you don't pay the rent." No one seemed to notice that I wasn't pronouncing her name the normal way, the 'Kathy' way, but in a way that sounded like Koth- but people were doing some weird things with names. I was lucky that my name was Leon and not Laoffa or Tergorion, or something hard to pronounce and impossible to remember. I didn't want to give Kath a room, but I owed her a hell of a lot, so I gave in. "Fine, fine, come on. You can stay with me until you get a job."

"Thanks!" she said, cheerfully, and I was glad at least one of us was happy with the arrangement. Kath was meticulously clean, for herself and her immediate surroundings, with a fastidious nature that bordered on fanaticalism. However, she lacked any and all empathy, and could not get it through her head that I had to PAY for the things she ate, tore apart, broke or messed up in some other way. Still, like I said, I owed her.

"By the way, Leon," she said, her enthusiasm gone in a moment. "I should tell you, I saw something really weird today, walking here from my apartment. You know about spiders, don't you? This was a really weird one."

I felt a chill of dread. For those who were observant enough to noticed anything about me, I'm not the type to be interested in spiders. Seeing a spider was the signal for seeing a vampire- for, like I said, they could shape-shift, and they even now might be listening. Not that they can change their mass, or anything- but you never know if one of the people around you are one of the enemy.

"I'm not much of an expert," I said, trying to feign false modesty even as the core of my very soul protested against another fight. "Tell me about it, though. Where'd you see it?"

"I'll tell you about it inside," she said, a 'duh, you idiot' look on her face.

We made it to my apartment, chattering about the weather or something equally random and insignificant, then sat down on my flea-market couch, the wraith-like Kath grooming her long hair with her fingers nervously. Looking at her, you would see a girl, I guess- and at that moment, that's what I saw, too. Just a girl, probably one with a mirror and a vidphone in her purse, makeup-obsessive, always chattering about THIS guy or THIS show that's so oh-my-god cool. That would be stupid, however. Kath is a better shot than I am, and that's hardly her weapon of choice. But we'll get into that later, shall we?

"Where's you see him?" I asked her, refraining from firing off questions by a thread. Maybe you've seen war movies where the General gets ready to go off to war, and he looks at his companions and asked, cooly, where the enemy is, and they learn they don't have a chance but they keep their heads and in the end, always find a way. That's bullshit. Those little butterflies never go away, and if you don't leave an escape route open, you're dead. Believe me- you have no clue how close I've come.

"Down by the corner, in an alley. Leon- I think you might have killed someone important, or something. There were at least twelve, following you, lurking around the bottom of the stairs and loitering, watching. We better make a plan or something."

A plan or something? What the hell was she getting at? A vampire, I can handle. Three or four- well, I have a gun, and they have knives, even if they CAN throw them. I can take out six on a good day, maybe seven, with Kath's help. Twelve? That was suicide. Have you ever seen one of those documentaries on a cobra, and seen it sitting there, head raised, and then it's swallowing it's prey? That's like how a vampire moves. You don't see it, until it's right by you, and then suddenly it's in slow motion and it's like that part of the movie in which you're watching the fangs come out, slowly, while the head moves forward and buries the cobra-fangs into the hapless rat or something, and you move out of the way of a dagger and dodge to the left lest another guts you, and then you either stab it, shoot it, or die. And that's that.

"How many can you take out?" I asked her, steeling myself to the imminent fight. Maybe AFTER that punk leaves some night....

"Four or five, with the element of surprise. If you fire from the window-"

"And get kicked out?" I leaned closer, catching her eye. "I can shoot one from an alley, but from a window and they'll know it's me. Do you know how long you have to spend in jail for unlicenced possession of one of these?" I thrust it to Kath's face, and she shoved it away with a snort.

"Very well. Get the blood sucked out of you, Leon, for all I care- I'm not killing myself so you don't get arrested!"

This was one of those times I almost mistook Kath for a regular woman.

"And I'M not getting arrested and leaving these people with only one defender, when they could have two. Open your eyes, Kath- we're the only people in this fucking city who give a damn about this- who even know about it! Think of something else, Kath- I beg you."

She sighed, and I knew I had won. This put some light on the fact that Kath would be staying with me until she got a job- in other words, for a few months, until she had stolen enough money from under my dresser and my pillows to buy back her apartment. Maybe longer. She never understood working, or maybe she just pretended not to understand. Same conclusion, either way.

"I'll scout tonight, Leon- but we have to do what we must. If I die, or get captured by you humans, you know as well as I do that you have to carry on without me- and if you get caught with your gun or get skewered, I have to go on without you. It's bound to happen, soon or late- so get used to it."

"I know." I sighed, not because the thought of myself or Kath dying depressed me, for I had worried that away long before now, but because I hated the woman to lecture me. Don't tell me that it was true, or sensible, or that I'm sexist, because I'm not- but I knew, dammit! I fucking knew that I might die one of these days, and now this little wraith had the nerve to tell me that I might die...

"Well- what do you have to EAT in this place, Leon?" asked Kath, walking over to my four-foot refrigerator and poking through it. Most of it was raw meat and freeze-dried fruit, but she pulled some of each out, throwing me the aluminum packets and taking a few red, damp steaks into my room, which was where she obviously planned to sleep. Honestly, she had the best ways of asking to borrow money. "I'm going to eat and go to bed, I'll see you in the morning, okay?"

"Okay- Kath- try not to-" It was, of course, too late. The door to my room sung shut, and tomorrow there would be juice and particles of meat everywhere, and Kath would be out scouting from midnight to noon, too late for her to clean up. I sighed, pouring the freeze-dried dust onto one of the aluminum plates and popping it into the microwave, punching in to cool- mist it, congealing it into a fruit-flavored, jelly-like consistency that I would choke down with some canned soup and watch television until I fell asleep on the couch. The good old twenty's. Why the hell do old people wish they were this age?

I woke up at dawn, stretched, and pulled myself up from my couch. There's about eighty-three loose springs on that fucking brick-pile, and I wasn't in a good mood. I listened for a second, nodding grimly at the lack of screams, then walked into Kath's room- my room- without knocking. Empty. I felt a cold surge of dread- it was already one, and no scout. Where the hell had she gone? Usually, she wasn't gone a second more than she had to be, hating the feeling of eyes on her. I didn't blame her- if someone saw her in her true form, there would be commotion everywhere. But I won't get into that.

Curious, I walked out of my apartment, pulling on my uniform as I went. A shining badge announced me as 'Waiter- Leon Brown,' which is a common enough name. When you look on the back of a milk carton, it's the name you half-expect to see. It's the name in the obituaries, the name in the news- the name that's too common to mention, too common to remember. Like I said, I like my name. Most people I don't WANT remembering me.

The elevator was being slow again. The arrows glared out from the wall like cheaply-drawn eyes, glowing with a golden glaze. I tapped my foot, waiting, my arms crossed. I am tall- some six and a half feet tall, when I last bothered to check, and I'm in shape- eight years of obsessive basketball and then a long, exhausting career of waiting on tables can do that to you... and then, of course, there's the vampire thing.

Thinking of the demons drove my earlier fear back into the center of my attention, and I began to pace. At long last, the elevator surfaced with a ding, and the door swung open, letting a stiff-backed old man hobble out. I gave no attention to the obvious pain, because I was looking forward to my own pain, thank you very much. I jumped in the elevator as soon as he was off, nearly jammed the 'lobby' button, I was pressing it so hard, and sat back, trying not to pay attention to the stupidity of the antique elevators.

It was a long descent, but most people in the apartments worked or slept at this time in the afternoon, so I was alone as I dropped- seventh floor, sixth floor, fifth floor, fourth floor....

With a soft ding, the elevator hit the lobby, the doors opening and letting me out. I scanned the lobby- no Kath. I darted outside- no Kath. Some tight-lipped lawyer walked past, giving me, a simple, young, black waiter, a sour look and continued on. I listened hard- often, you could hear the commotion where Kath was before seeing her, because if anyone saw her-

A high, tight wail echoed over the street, cut off rather abruptly. I began to run, the thought of the wraith caught or shot circulating in my mind, never stopping. The sky was mostly blanketed with clouds, a weak sun poking it's nose from them occasionally, but mostly the world was in shadow. The streets were always crowded, but I thanked God that they weren't so much now, with most people in school or at work. Sprinting down the sidewalks, dodging people like I have since I was twelve, I ran, ran like the devil was on my heels. The person didn't scream again, but still I ran, running to where I thought it had originated from- an alley off Canal Street, near China Town. As fast as I could, I darted down the busy little shopping center, ignoring promises from stall-keepers from everywhere from Korea to Japan, and took a hard right onto some nameless slums.

Typical Kath, getting seen in a fucking alley. That's how you know someone's trouble- you see them somewhere like an alley, or a back road, or where ever they aren't supposed to be. Count on it. Something moved near the one I had predicted her to be in, and I jogged down to it, slowing down to catch my breath. I'm in good shape, but try walking down the street in New York, and figure out how hard it is. People get tired just WALKING, especially with the chemicals they put in the air to replenish the Ozone layer. Try running.

There was someone down there, and by the looks of it- thin, tall, pale- it was Kath. She was hunched over something, looking depressed, if you can tell that sort of thing from the back. She was, maybe, twenty feet from me, and I could barely tell- surely, she couldn't have killed someone? "Dammit, you idiot- Kath!" The figure- who, I found out a second too late- had black hair that only reached her shoulders, straightened up. Err- his shoulders. The eyes that landed on me were familiar, glowing with an evil tint that echoed insanity to perfection.
I cursed. I cursed loudly, and it echoed in that little alley. "Heilor!"

That thin, fine-boned face smiled, though there was absolutely no mirth in those red-brown eyes. Though his pale skin and dark hair gave Heilor a sallow look, but make no mistake, he was a bloody handsome guy. If I was a faggot, I'd have fucking fallen in love the first time I saw the bloodsucking fiend. He was thin, tall, almost fragile-looking, but this was not the first time I had confronted him, and 'fragile' is a completely inaccurate word. He rose, showing a young, pale-faced girl lying on the ground. As he left her, blood began to pour from the wounds on her neck, and her eyes, bright blue and wide with shock, glazed over.

"Hello," he snarled- simply that; no nicknames, no cool catchphrases, he had me pissing in my pants and he damned well knew it. Still, I didn't let fear hurt me- if I was subject to that, I'd have been dead long before this. I snatched the pistol I had grabbed, without thinking, from the table while I left, and cursed my own stupidity. I had know they were watching- why the hell had I gone out?! Dammit! I cocked the pistol, aimed, and fired.

Remember the cobra metaphor? Forget it. Think- blink of an eye, flare of a candle, load-up-a-1998-computer-and-wait-for-it-to-crash fast. In the time it took me to pull the trigger, for the bullet to fly, Heilor was halfway up the wall, his long claws finding purchase in the smallest cracks, his black-and-red trenchcoat flaring out behind him as he circled around me.

If I hadn't waited just a second before firing again, I wouldn't have heard it. Just a footfall, a skipping rock, and I was moving for the right, shooting behind me as I went, my hand flying into my leather jacket that I had pulled on over my uniform. Where was my damned stake?

One of the three vampires took a step back, clutching a sluggishly bleeding shoulder and hissing, but he barely slowed down. The others were moving at cobra-strike speed, and I fell on my ass and kicked a kneecap, rolling to get away. Then I was on my feet- and they were all over me, one with a dagger, one with a scimitar and one with only his fangs. Dammit dammit dammit damn....

The one with a dagger was standing over me, quite ready to cut my heart out, when a stripe of white bleached the sky, screaming. The vampire's face was torn off by a wicked paw full of sharp, curved talons, his gut torn out by the creature's hind paw. I was behind her, and all I saw were two great, silver and white wings, small, pointed ears and a short, lightly-built body. "Took you damned long enough, Kath," I snapped to her, tersely, shooting into the scimitar-carrying one's heart.

Kathakareal was a six-foot-long, five-foot-tall, feline creature with house cat ears, a light body lacking the sheer power and mass of a lion or tiger, but without the speed or thin body of a cheetah. Her face, aside from the ears, was that of a cougar, her neck a hair longer than most cat's, a almost equine neck, with a broad chest starting in a keelbone which led to broad, hawk-like wings, and four cat-like legs with which she had all the grace of a cat, if you spared her the fact that her wings were always getting in the way. Like a vampire, she could shape-shift. Like a vampire, she could only shape-shift into a human. Unlike a vampire, Kath was sympathetic to our weak build and the blood-sucker's merciless preying on us- so she left her species, the whatever-the-hell-they-ares, and came to our aid in one of the most concentrated placed on earth for human- hunting.

Mr. Scimitar clutched his chest, then pulled his sword out and charged down Kath, the blood pouring from the wound seeming only a pest for the creature. And it was. You've never fought one of these, and let me tell you, it's fucking hard. They just don't fucking die.

Now, vampires are evil demons of hell, sadistic little bastards who look down on humans and care nothing for another creature's pain or suffering, except if they should drink it in like a wine and bask in it- but for some reason, when I'm fighting them, neither side ever breaks the Rule of Fighting, which you use on your honor because no one talks about it, no one teaches you it, and you simply know because of male instinct. However, no females know about the Rule of Fighting, and either that was why Kath dug her claws into the vampire's crotch, up through his stomach and out at his chest, taking two or three ribs with her, or simply because cats' crotches aren't vulnerable parts and none of her kin know about it, but the blood-sucking demon staggered back, his eyes glazing over, then fell over, dead. The weaponless one was running away- and make no mistake, we do not go easy on these things because they are weaponless. The Rule is one this, perfect honor is quite another. I emptied my shots on him, watching him stagger over and fall after I got the sixth shot into his skull. Damn, but they're hard enough to kill.

Quickly, Kath shifted, turning from the ethereal cat to the ethereal girl, then focused her suddenly weak eyes on the corpse in the back of the alley. "Someone heard those shots, Leon," she said, her tone bespeaking the horror of when she got me away from danger and had a chance to tell me what she thought of my going out with vampires on my tail. "We have to get out of here before they find us."

I had been in many police offices to explain to a lie detector that I did NOT kill the person who was lying, dead, in the closed store, the burned house, the street. I've gotten good at it, let me tell you, but none of these vampires had been killed with wood, and I couldn't say I hadn't killed them- and besides, there's always that time when you can't say what they ask without them putting you in a nuthouse or jail, and I agreed with Kath wholly. But... "Heilor is still here," I told her, eyes wide, looking around for the ethereal form.

The cat-eyes were shadowed with concern, but she shrugged it off. "We can't stay here, Leon. Come on, God dammit! Let's go!"

At last, I ran after her- and just in time, because as we ran, keeping to the shadows, I heard police sirens drowning out the rest of the street-noise typical to New York. No one commented- it was as common a sound as a pigeon flying, or talking. We stayed to the shadows, as for a moment, a bit of cloud completely obscured the sun, blocking out the light to the world, a silent gloat that Heilor, the lord of the vampires, was still at large in the world. ~*~*~*~*~*~

Like it? ^_^ Now, will you go and review? I'll be your best friend. Really. Oh, and if you have any information on a band called 'A Perfect Circle'- namely, CD release dates...?- can you put that in your review? I love you!