Afternoon came, as golden and warm as the one before. Daylight, it seemed, was fighting its final battle before its reluctant and inevitable surrender to the coming of winter’s long, cold nights.
Seymour was just about ready to call a halt for the day when there came a commotion from behind them. They were on a hill, so looking back, he could see a great many birds rising in clouds from their roosts.
“Something’s coming,” he hissed, depositing Simon on the ground.
“What do we do?” asked Seoc.
“We hide,” Seymour replied. “Both of you, get up that tree, as fast as you can manage. I’ll follow you in a bit.”
Simon and Seoc scrambled inexpertly up the gnarled trunk of an ancient oak. Seymour watched until they were out of sight, then he backtracked about ten feet and began to conceal their footprints, obfuscating them with a brush of his hand in the loose dust. There would have been no point in hiding if an unfriendly being could follow their tracks right up to the base of their tree.
By the time he had worked his way back to the oak, he could hear the thunder of running footsteps, along with a multitude of chattering voices. Goblins. Goblins fleeing from something. Seymour de Winter did not particularly want to know what was chasing them.
With a swift leap, he swung himself onto the lowest branch and climbed as quickly as possible, doing his best not to disturb the brightly colored foliage, lest it rustle or worse, shake loose and fall. He found Simon and Seoc situated on the last sturdy limb, and silently adopted a position directly below them.
They didn’t have long to wait. Not ten seconds later, the goblins—a hunting party composed of approximately thirty individuals—was stampeding by, screeching and ululating, their long, purple braids bouncing upon their naked, grey, tattooed backs. They carried a variety of crude weapons—bows and arrows, javelins and suchlike—but judging by the frantic nature of their flight, these weapons were in no way sufficient to deter their pursuer.
The goblins passed by rapidly, and Seymour waited nervously to see what was chasing them, but minutes crept by in which not a soul could be seen on the road. He leaned against the trunk of the oak to get a better view of the road, and froze. There was something wet and sticky on the bark where he had rested his cheek. Something that felt suspiciously like sap.
He knew what he would see there, but it took all his effort to pull away and force himself to look upon it.
The eye stared back at him, carved in the tree right beside him, mere inches from his face, weeping the blood of the oak from its slit pupil.
A cold breeze cut through the warm, stagnant air, making him shiver. He scrubbed at his face with his fingernails, trying to scrape off the unpleasant coat of sap, while his mind reeled. He had the distinct impression that whatever had been chasing the goblins was also the thing carving the eyes. He also had the distinct impression that whatever it was, it was right there in the tree with them.
“Seymour?” Seoc whispered shakily. “Seymour? Can we get oot o’ here? There’s somethin’ touchin’ me, an’ I canna see it.”