A man stumbled as I watched. He fell to the dirt, scraping his hands and knees on the twigs and roots and rocks that littered the forest floor. He hurriedly pushed himself back to his feet, his breaths coming in shallow, fast paced spurts. Terror painted his face when he glanced back over his shoulder.
From my vantage point in the tree above, I could see his pursuers. And I knew why he was so scared. I felt his fear.
He sprinted again, the sound of breaking branches and laughter flogging him onward, toward his vain hope of a civilized town. I knew he would never make it, and vainly tried to block out thoughts of what was going to happen to him.
When he passed below me, the shapes behind him were a scant twenty feet back. They laughed and called out to him as they leapt over roots and bushes, somehow finding their way despite the falling darkness. Wild smiles lit their filthy faces, and their eyes gleamed with an inner light. I didn’t move when they too passed beneath me. Terror held me still.
After a minute or so all of them passed beyond my sight, but I could hear the ruckus they made, crashing through the forest undergrowth.
Then a louder crash filtered its way through the trees up to me, accompanied by a cry of despair. The man had fallen again. The giggles and shrieks of the followers grew louder, and the man began screaming.
It lasted for almost an hour, while I cowered in the upper branches of my oak. I couldn’t control my shaking until the last screams faded away.
Just in time. The pursuers came back, even dirtier, with blood splattered across their faces and chests. Their hands shone in the pale moonlight, glinting wetly as they walked back beneath me. I held my breath as long as I could, fear of drawing their ire paralyzing me.
They disappeared back the way they came, and my breath became ragged. Blood pounded through my body. I sat in the tree until morning. Only then did I know it was safe.
The Children of the Night do not come out after dawn.