The cloaked people were patient. They waited under the tree while I thought of ways to attack them.
The bough I was on jutted out slightly beyond the circle, so, provided I was quiet, I could sneak out along it and jump down and use the element of my surprise to my advantage, as well as my position outside the circle.
If this worked, I should win the level. If I failed, ... I dared not think about it.
Carefully, I slid along the branch on my bottom. When I was directly above the space behind the man underneath, I slid off, bending my knees as I fell. Unfortunately, my knees were what I fell on. I quickly get up to find myself face to face with a hood containing darkness. Well, at least I wouldn't have to stab anyone in the back: that thought made me shiver and wonder if I was any better than these people for killing them. I was already suppressing my conscience which was crying at the thought of the lamia demon I had murdered (no, killed in self-defence), and anything worse might have rendered me a blubbering wreck and in that state, I would have probably handed myself over to Kieran without even trying the next level saying 'No more killing'.
I closed my eyes and stabbed the man in the heart. I pulled the knife out of his chest and backed away as he fell forwards. I tried to see the cloaked figures as anything other than people but I could hear their rasping breaths and so knew that they were living people. I ran towards the next, skilfully ducking under the arm belonging to a person trying to grab me, and stabbed him too. I tried to keep my mind cold, detached and focused on the job but every stab I felt as if I had pierced a knife into my own chest. Crying, I aimed the knife at the last man.
He dropped to his knees and began to sob. His hood fell backwards and I saw the man had thinning brown hair.
"Please don't kill me," he begged, clasping his hands together and shaking. "I didn't really believe it was right to sacrifice you, or anyone else for that matter. I was just following the orders of the saviour."
"It's okay," I told him, pocketing the weapon, and feeling nauseous at the smell of blood which filled my nostrils. "You don't have to do what he says."
"You don't understand: he has powers. It takes great effort and concentration to resist him and he usually fills your mind with awe, so much so that you are forced to kneel before him and worship him."
"Oh, that's a great idea," said the voice of the person I hated the most in the universe cheerfully. I turned to see Kieran. His wicked smile had returned and I could see that his eyes were now empty of the love I had seen before.
Kieran stared straight at me, blanking my mind and making me trip over a dead body so I was kneeling on the ground as I tried to get closer to him.
"You're kneeling down," Kieran said. "Now worship me."
To my utter humiliation, I found my head bowing to the ground and heard myself saying "Oh, great master, how wonderful and powerful you are."
I was then able to look up and stand up as my will magically returned to me. I glared at Kieran.
"You think I'm going to want to lose if you control me?!" I asked angrily.
"Well, no, I'm just delaying this because you only have ten minutes left."
I felt the blood drain from my face. "Ten minutes? But what do I have to do? I've killed all the people who want to sacrifice me."
"Well, there's obviously something else you have to face. If you're really determined and you believe you can complete this level, I'd suggest you hurry. Otherwise, do stay."
He smiled alluringly.
"Oh I hate you," I said, to air that was darkening with shadows.
"Can you help?" I asked the man on the floor. "I don't have much time."
"I ... think I might be able to."
"Can you walk?"
The man stood up and steadied himself on the tree which had saved my life.
"I shall try. For your sake. You are very kind. Thank you for having mercy on me."
"There's no time for that," I said impatiently.
"Right. You run along back to the sacrifice table then."
I sprinted through the trees to the clearing. Mercifully, I found it quickly. Once again, I briefly wondered if Kieran was helping me. Once again, I shoved the thought out of my mind.