A/N: When I was a kid, I read in a trivia book that one way to become a vampire is to have your shadow stolen. I've never found anything else about it and at this point I think it was made up for the book but I still think it's a neat idea.

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They weren't sure just what it was they were looking for. Some of the villagers had described it as a humanoid beast, others as a bestial man. What they did know was that it had brutally claimed ten lives in six months, all civilians whose only connection seems to be that they were minding their own business when they'd been killed.

Alarming as the loss of life was, whoever or whatever it was had targeted a far-flung civilian village. A group of three chuunin and two jounin could surely hold their own against an enemy that had to be that careful. Even Shikamaru, ever the pessimist, had believed that much.

Now separated from his squad in a part of the forest where the birds won't sing and even the leaves seem afraid to rustle, he's less sure. The summer heat prickles, though not so much as the eyes he's felt on him for the past five minutes.

Something moves on the very edge of his peripheral and he closes in on it without so much as a twitch, pouring his shadow across the forest floor and the multitude of shadows there. His chakra buzzes on the surface of his skin, rippling beads of sweat and bringing every hair to a fine point. He probes into the space where he'd seen movement and he does twitch when he finds nothing there to catch, the anticlimax sending his head spinning.

His gaze spins with it, seeking, and it isn't his chakra drawing his flesh to bumps when he sets eyes on his target– or as much of it as he can make out. Even with the light pouring in through the trees, the stranger (creature?) blends into the darkness in between, at home in the spaces that would usually be Shikamaru's to command. If there are eyes to meet in the mass, he can't find them, but he can still feel them on him. The bone-deep certainty that his target can see him perfectly is like slime in his throat, too thick and too cloying to swallow. Instinct jumps ahead of reason and he probes again with his shadow but he's already pawing at where he's sure his target's feet should be and still there is nothing there.

A breeze passes, hot and humid, and his shadow ripples along with the leaves; hiding, waiting. Then a smile gleams out from the dark, too many teeth, too sharp, in a space where Shikamaru can't even discern a face.

Every last nerve screams at him to retreat and he's obeying before he hears the first of them– or he's trying to. That emptiness shifts and there is a pressure at the edge of his consciousness. He calls his shadow to him but it won't come. It can't come. It's pinned beneath the creature's foot; it flails like a panicked animal between his pull and the creature's but that pressure holds fast.

Shikamaru doesn't twitch again but only because he is abruptly every bit as trapped as his shadow. Perhaps more trapped, since he can't even flail.

The creature shifts, the barest impression of grace. Shikamaru tries to search it for potential weaknesses but it's as if his brain is rejecting the sight of the thing. All he can make out of it is that smile, ever steady. A bit of the darkness separates, more like a tendril than an arm, though he can reason that's what it is based on where the smile is. It reaches towards him then down, down, and he can feel his shadow being probed back.

"N-no," he whispers past the crushing grip, so quietly that he doubts himself. He doesn't know what he's saying no to, the denial something primal and frightened.

Impossible as it seems, that smile widens further. There is a sensation like nails being dragged down the inside of his spine, closing around his heart, digging deep into his soul. He wheezes a breath and almost says no again but it's lost in a scream when there comes a pull and a rip and he feels his very core being torn out through the soles of his feet. He hits the ground like crumpled tissue paper, all angles and no weight even though he feels like he's being pulled straight into the ground.

The cold doesn't hit him so much as it becomes part of him, freezing the sweat on his skin. The last of his air cracks at the end of his scream and he doesn't breathe in again. He sees the forest with startling clarity for all that the light has bled out of it, sees with distant distress that the creature is gone with his shadow (his self); when he looks down, he finds that he cannot quite see himself though he can feel every nerve of every inch of his body. Can feel the sting of heat that's held short of his frigid skin. Can feel the emptiness in the pit of his belly like ice.

A whistling bird call pierces the air but he knows it is no bird. Minutes ago, he would have recognized it as a hail from one of his teammates, a response to his screaming. Now, he recognizes it only as an indication that there are humans with him in this forest. And he knows both from instinct and from a dearth of experience he can't quite bring to the fore that when he finds them, they will be so very warm.