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It had been fifteen minutes, and neither Akuma nor Nilani had moved. The rain started to get heavier, but both Nilani and Akuma didn't move. Both of them sat quietly, listening to the other. Finally, one of them spoke-
"Akuma, I'm here for you. Don't worry!" Nilani comforted her friend.
Akuma looked to Nilani. She had stopped crying, but her eyes were still sad, yet hopeful.
"I don't get it." Akuma said.
"You don't get what?"
"You seem perfect," Akuma sighed.
"Yeah. How do you have such a perfect heart? You're a gifted enchantress, yet you don't use it to hurt anyone. I murdered someone."
Akuma seemed on the brink of tears again.
"But, you spared-"
"But how can I justify saving one's life for killing another?" Akuma interrupted. The samurai paused to wipe a small tear from her eyes. "Nilani...I broke my oath...what if it's here where I'll pay for what I've done? I don't want to die. You've never hurt anyone, have you?"
Nilani looked troubled.
"Nilani?" Akuma asked, sensing her friends sudden change in attitude.
"This isn't something I wanted to share. But, I trust you. You know why I devoted my life to helping everyone? You see...I killed someone too."
Akuma gasped. "You?"
"Yes," Nilani started, "This is the whole story:
- -- FLASHBACK -- -
The sound of falling water woke Niran from her slumber, only to see nothing. Everything around her was pitch black, making it impossible to even see her own hands. Niran was suspended in midair, as there was no ground to stand on. Her surroundings were filled with total silence, except for one monotonous sound.
Niran looked left and right trying to find something, anything, that could show her the way out of the darkness, all to no avail. Eventually Niran resigned her search and closed her eyes, instead focusing intently on the sound of steady drops of what she thought was water.
A warm light gently fell onto Niran’s eyes, stirring her to wakefulness once more. As she opened her eyes Niran was greeted with the sight of a comforting light from above.
Niran began to reach for the light, yet as her hands rose slowly to touch its warmth, the light dimmed and grew colder, leaving Niran alone again. Desperate to hold onto the light, Niran fruitlessly clawed with her hands as if she was attempting to climb the air.
Just as the light snuffed itself out, Niran examined her hands and noticed they were drenched in blood. The blood ran down her arms until it reached her elbows before collecting into droplets and falling to the ground.
Slowly, Niran cocked her head to see below her. She was only able to get a glimpse of the ground underneath her before her world went dark, but in that single moment she saw something so sickening that it shook her very core.
Without any warning, Niran was pulled to the muddy ground. Twelve hands appeared out of the dirt and held Niran down. They were cold to the touch and covered in filth, along with a stench that smelled of rotting flesh. Niran tried to break free from her captors, but failed as there were too many hands. Gradually Niran sank through the mud, unable to escape the hands that pulled her down with them. Niran screamed for help, but it was quickly muffled by hands covering her face and her lungs filling with blood. Soon, breathing became more and more difficult as she sunk deeper and deeper into the ground, until finally she was buried alive.
Niran woke up once again, her eyes darting around as she gasped for breath. No longer was she in a pitch black room, Niran was back at the courtyard. However, everywhere around her was covered in a dense fog, and the buildings in the distance looked… wrong. People passed by Niran, minding their own business, yet everytime Niran looked at their face, she saw they had none. Unsure of where to go, Niran noticed her violin, or what little remained of it, lying on the ground shredded to pieces. She went to pick the pieces off the ground, but then heard a familiar voice in the fog.
“My master has shown interest in you…”
Niran swiftly turned around and saw Malkhan standing in the distance. He smirked, then vanished as he ran into the fog. Niran chased after Malkhan, doing her best to keep up with him. After pursuing Malkhan through all manner of twists and turns, Niran hesitated ever so slightly when he jumped through a much denser patch of fog. With a quick breath, Niran leaped into the fog, and came out to see…
A dead end.
Confused, Niran looked around the alleyway, but could not see any trace of where Malkhan went. However, Niran quickly lost interest in Malkhan's whereabouts when a young lady ran right past her, whispering something into her ear.
“Look at what you’ve made me do.”
Niran swiveled around to look at the lady just as she disappeared into an alleyway that was not there originally. Without thinking, Niran pursued the lady through the fog, knowing it was Cirrina. However, as soon as Niran entered the fog, Cirrina disappeared from view again, arrogantly laughing at her. Then she appeared again from a different direction, then disappeared, laughing all the same. And again, and again, and again, each time moving faster and faster. Eventually, Niran was surrounded by a swarm of her mentors, laughing and jeering as they disappeared and reappeared without any indication.
“Pathetic. I do not see why anyone would ever want to love you.”
“You may wallow in your guilt, killing that goblin, but you are still that same miserable murderer.”
“We let you in because you are useful to us, and nothing else.”
“You will never be more than an instrument for someone else to play, will you?”
Niran covered her ears, but it proved futile as the insults passed right by any physical barrier and cut straight through her mind. As they continued to humiliate Niran, she fell to the ground and cowered, silently praying that this torment would end.
Suddenly, the jeering stopped and was replaced with silence. Niran slowly rose up and scanned the area for any sight of Cirrina. Rather than finding her, Niran instead saw two passages open up right next to each other as the fog began to recede. Each passage was guarded by a figure, one motioning to Niran to enter through her gate on the right, while the other on the left stood resolute, with no emotion showing in his face. Upon getting closer to the two gates, Niran could make out who was guarding them. On the right stood the urchin, bruised and beaten just as Niran saw her, silently pleading for her to enter the gate. Ignoring her pleas, Niran looked to the left and gasped at what she saw.
(To be continued)
Niran stood shocked at the sight of the zombified corpse, who looked no worse for wear despite having been assaulted by an Arkan. The revenant stares back at Niran with cold, dead eyes, filled with an insidious hatred for the girl. Niran shivered, but quickly regained her resolve and took a step forward. Niran took a look at the right and saw the urchin acting more desperate than ever, banging against a formerly invisible barrier around the gate she was stuck inside. Niran quickly realized the two weren’t the gate’s guardians. They were the gate’s prisoners.
Niran hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to do, whom to trust. However, her pause was only for a brief moment, as Pan slipped into the shadows and disappeared from the gate’s entrance. Without a second thought, Niran tore through the gate’s defenses with ease and rushed to find Pan, much to the urchin’s dismay.
As Niran flew through the passage, the streets quickly transformed into the dimly lit and dank prison, filled with tortured screams. Its labyrinthine tunnels proved to be difficult to navigate, as Niran could barely keep up with Pan. Every so often, Niran could spare a look into one of the endless cells of the prison, and saw gruesome transformations take place as abyssal ichor spread throughout the cells. It showed no mercy to man and beast alike, corrupting their very bodies to serve its own sinister purpose. Strangely, the tendrils that formed from the ichor ignored Niran and Pan, too engrossed in tormenting its victims. Pan took a sharp right, disappearing from Niran’s view. Niran pushed herself to reach the crossways, only to halt in her tracks as she looked to the right.
A large blade, connected to a skeletal tail, pulled itself out of Pan’s chest and vanished into the unlit corridor. Niran could not make out the creature that attacked Pan, but noticed glowing red eyes staring back at her through the darkness. The beast slowly backed away, vanishing into nothingness, leaving Pan to succumb to his abyssal wound. Niran began to run to Pan, but froze as the revenant slowly stood up to face her. Pan’s eyes glowed the same red, and his wound bled the corrupting ichor, snuffing out whatever torches they came into contact with. He began to move haltingly, ichor drenched step by step. He smiled and reached for her, not out of want for aid but out of desire for Niran herself. Fearfully, Niran backed away from the creeping Pan, until she crashed into a figure that was suddenly behind her. Niran slowly turned around, and noticed a kneeling Gorchi, who seemed to not have noticed Niran’s intrusion as she held her hands to her face, quietly crying. Niran tried to comfort Gorchi, but as she huddled down to rest her hands on Gorchi’s shoulders, Niran saw the desiccated corpse of whom she wanted to see the least. Graagdord.
Graagdord’s head creaked as he turned to face Niran, his face frozen in fear.
“Whhhhyyyyy…” Graagdord croaked stiffly, the rest of his body unmoving. Niran stood up abruptly and panicked.
“Graagdord, I-I-I’m so sorry! I never wanted you to die! I never meant for any of this to happen, h-honest!” Niran bawled.
Suddenly, Gorchi ceased weeping and arose, her torch lit with a pitch black flame. She stood tense, ready to strike. “Lies.” Gorchi sneered.
“Gorchi, please! I wasn’t in control of myself, you have to understand!”
“LIES!” Gorchi turned around and swung her torch, now roaring ablaze, at Niran. Niran attempted to dodge the torch, but was lightly burned with a searing cold. Gorchi’s eyes were no longer normal, and instead were covered with a black sclera and glowing red irises, as if Gorchi had become demonic in nature. Gorchi lunged in for more swings and Niran dodged again and again, suffering another chilling burn each time. With each swing, Niran was forced to move away from Gorchi, and closer to Pan. Frantically, Niran searched for some kind of exit from the two surrounding her, until she noticed a familiar wooden object suddenly held within her grasp. Looking down, Niran saw her violin, no longer torn to pieces but instead in perfect condition and brimming with abyssal energies. Instinctively, Niran put the violin to her shoulder and prepared to play the instrument, but rather than creating a somber melody out of thin air, Niran was only able to produce a single sound.
The two assailants froze right in their tracks and shuddered violently. Whereas Pan merely fell to the ground and returned to death from whence he came, Gorchi underwent a far more torturous endeavor. Her body continued to spasm and convulse erratically. She began to float upwards as if possessed, screaming as her body and mind were forced to endure a pain no creature should ever have to suffer. Gigantic skeletal limbs began to painfully erupt from her body, revealing a monstrosity inside the poor former contestant. Amidst the chaos, one of Gorchi’s own limbs accidentally crashed into Graagdord’s corpse, pulverising his body into nothing but pulp. Gorchi continued to scream in agony until she no longer could, as her face melted away, leaving nothing left except for an ashen skull with crimson eyes. Her ribcaged burst out of her chest as her spinal cord shifted gruesomely into a cold, black pillar seemingly made out of a metal of some sort and covered in runes. Niran fell to her knees as she watched what had once remained of Gorchi float further up to the ceiling; its body being forced to stretch backwards as the weight of the pillar pulled it down. It rose further up, destroying the roof of the prison and revealing a warm and gentle light coming from the sun. The monster reached for the sun with two of its hands, causing it to dim as it was covered by the same ichor that corrupted the prisoners. Niran could only watch in utter despair as the godlike being snuffed out her one source of comfort amidst the tumult. All that remained was a bitter red hue that reminded the world of what once was taken for granted.
“No…” Niran said despondently. She knew it was her fault for bringing the monster to fruition, but there was nothing she could have done to prevent its coming.
Hearing Niran’s low cry of despair, the godlike figure stared down at her, its mere gaze burning Niran’s mind.
(Art by: Ching Yeh; Background by: ShadeBlade)
Despite having succumbed to turmoil from the monster’s stare, Niran could not look away. Even as it began to reach for Niran’s temple, Niran was completely motionless. Gradually, the burning intensified as the hand got closer to Niran, until it made contact with her head. Without a moment’s notice Niran blacked out from the pain, with one simple message ingrained into her mind:
Niran rose right from her bed, startled awake, in a dimly lit room covered in stone with a single window for light. Looking out her window, Niran was relieved to see that what she envisioned in her vivid nightmare was just that: a nightmare. Yet something felt off about it, as though it was an omen of ill things to come. Niran decided that it was best to not dwell on the events that transpired within it for now, and instead figure out where she was. Examining the contents of the room she slept in, Niran found a letter on a desk addressed to her. Pulling herself out of bed, Niran picked up the letter and read it as best as she could.
You have been chosen as one of my loyal disciples. We have been watching you throughout the weeks since the tournament began. While you have potential to become a valuable asset within our organization, you have proven yourself too unruly to be allowed on the streets without arousing suspicion. Until you can prove to me that you are not a risk to us while on the street, you will be forced to stay inside our base of operations.
For your first task, meet me in the mess hall before noon. Instructions on where it’s located is within this letter. Do not be late. I will not be pleased.
P.S. Do not even think of attempting to escape. I am always watching.
Niran struggled to comprehend the entirety of the letter, but from what little she knew, she inferred she was wanted at the mess hall, wherever it was. After reading it, Niran examined the window to the outside. Inscribed on the inside was a powerful protective rune, usually meant to keep thieves out from influential noble homes, that was modified to keep Niran from escaping. Niran grimaced, not wanting to play the puppet for yet another master, but turned around and walked down the hall anyway. After all, the best chance she had to survive was to follow the master’s orders.
Little did she know, outside of her window sat not just any urchin, but the one inside her nightmare, silently watching Niran exit the room.
Niran silently roamed the halls of her new home, examining the map on the back of her letter every now and then. While the sun’s position was close to noon, it wasn’t THAT close, giving Niran about 2 hours to kill. Using her spare time, Niran wandered about, taking whatever opportunity she could to pull on doorknobs. Unfortunately, none of the doors would budge, leaving Niran in the dimly lit halls. After an hour of futile exploration, Niran grew frustrated with her predicament. Doors upon doors upon doors, and yet not a single one of them has given me ANY clue on where I am! Niran thought angrily, having been unable to open yet another door. She walks over to the next door and grabs its handle, ready to be disappointed once more. That is, until she hears the sound of flesh being cut.
Intrigued, Niran carefully leaned close to the door and put her ear right next to it. The noise was cold and methodical, without a hint of malicious intent; it was more like the sound Jeraph made when he worked on his projects. Quietly, Niran attempted to open the door, and was thoroughly surprised by the result: The door wasn’t fully closed. Slowly, Niran opened the door to see a figure working on… something. He was cutting it open in various places, filling it with a dark, viscous substance, then stitching it back shut. Something felt familiar as Niran watched the liquid being injected into the thing, but she didn’t know exactly what it was. No, she couldn’t know what it was; her mind halted all thought whenever she tried to ponder it
Perhaps, I shouldn’t know?
W̷̞̘͈̰̠͉͛͗̓͜͝h̷̡̡̡͉̘̜̪͔̜͚̮̖̘̺̾̏͑̾͆͂͊̐͌͠͠ǻ̵̗̞̂̾̐̎̎́͆̿̔̿̚͠t̵͚͖͎͕̎́ ̷̧̗̣͕̥̜̥͈̼̮͎̂̆̿̾̍̾̚ą̷̺̌̓͆̀͌͑̑̋͆̇̌͝͝ ̷̡͓̲̫̖̪̺̫͕͒̐̒̀̊ͅf̶̧͓̆͆ͅơ̷̧̡̮̪͖͎͎̬̅̒̏͐̔̽͌̃͆́̀ͅó̶͉̽̓̾̑͐̀̽͘̕̚l̶̨̮̪̺̫͖̓̄͂͗̎͗̆̀̊̓ȉ̸̢̼̤̰̯̼̗̗̝̳̖̪͇̜͂͛s̶̨̩̰͍͎̲̺̰̩̦̣̓̄ͅͅh̶̨̙̫͌͒̑̽̂̾̊̽͐͊͝ ̷̛̳͈̗̥̆͂̅͋́̉͋̑̆͑́͛͂̀t̵̡͈͇͚̺͈͒͂͜͜ḧ̸̥̜̻͇̞̆̆̃̿̉͑͆͐̎͋ǐ̵̖̰̱͙̩̪̱̭̬͙ͅņ̵̧̫͍̮̩͈͓́̈́́̓̎͐̉̓̑͠͝ͅǵ̸̼̱̲̦͎͓̟͍͚̾̓̄͋ ̴̣̼̏͋̌̏͛̉̐̀̂̊͗̇͘t̸̨̰̭̘̝̻̎̑̈́̾͑͐͜͝ơ̷̢̗̲͉̠͕̞̭͂̌́̈́͐̏̏̑̂͝͝ ̶̲͎͈̫̣̺̟̀̂̐̍s̴͙̪̫̳̭͎̘̲͎̈́̃͂͂̏̂͊͝͝ą̶̭̞̭̹̘͖̿͛̽͂͂̎̄͒̆͒́̍̈́͠y̵̨̛̬̺͓̬̮̼̙͖̿͒̔͆̓̓̓͌̌͂̆͐̄͘ͅ.̵̜̲̬̹̻̥̲͎͖̮͍͔̈́̂͂͌̆̍̎͛̽̀̊̈́͑̅̎͜͜ͅ
̴̧̢̞̹͈̞͉̘̺̱̭̤̜̄̂̂̽͘͜͝͝A̸̛̰̠͚̩̖̯͓̱̙͙̜͉̟̔͑̓̑͜l̴̡̞̻̯̗͕̽́̕͝l̸̨̨̺̦̬̝̠̥̩̓͋̍̈́̆̑̔͜ ̸̡̢̠̯̜̗̀̐͝k̴̨̧̢̤͔̻̞̹͎̖̟̳̩̊̾͘n̴̡̮̫̱̤̲̟̭̤̳̟̻͙̉̄̾͛͘ͅò̶̧̡̪̞̹̞̖̤̘͕̦̍̒̎̄̋͂́̚ẅ̸̧̨͚͍͉̹̤́̂͛̔͋͘ͅl̴͙̘̿͒e̵̛̥̠̒͐ͅd̶̨̟̣̫̠̮̈g̷̺̃͗̓́͛̓͊͂̉͆ẽ̵̻͓̤̣̱̘͔͙̪̖̂͗ ̷̧̤̬̥̭́i̸̲̪͍̜̯͐̃͛́̕s̴̙͇͍̟̬̻̰̰̓́̄͌̓̀͒͝͠͝ ̸̨̛͖̮̲̼̜̳̱͍͍̹̹͕̥̈́͑͜e̶̪̬̠̠̺̲̭̦͎̳̖̲͎͋̂ͅq̶̦̰̫̩͔̞̝̦̹͖͛̀̎̇̽͒́̇̂̓͆͛ǘ̶͈̗̄́̅̔̓̃́͑͆͋̆́͝ą̷͖͔̟͎̻̣͇͗͒͆̃̾͝ḷ̴̅́̈̆̒̒͌ ̷̛̛̣͙̲̹̦͒̑̈̍̾̇͒͂̆̽̈́̚̕u̷̢̨͕̠̥͍̗͔̎̄̓͋͂͑͂̑̅̚̚͠͝͠ņ̷̙̗̟̳̬͚̮̩̻͚̳̈́͋̉̉̈́̋͒̈̈́̂͜͝d̵̖̤͉̪̜̞͙̝̰͎͉̃͛̎͂͗̈́̃̃̚͘͝ę̷̧̪͎͎̟̦͕̼̺͚̲̝̉̈́̌̈͊̌̕̚͘͝͝ͅȓ̴̡̢͕̹̮͔̰̣͋̌̅̓͜͝ ̸̧̢̞͕̪͔̱̮̳̂̔͂͒̕̚ț̶̛̼͎̫̦̙̼͍͖̘͕̪̦͉̃̓͜h̴̡̧̤̭̙͙̲̘̫͍̜̀͊̉͋̎̽̿̏̏̕͝ę̴̖̤̖̙̄̑̂̈́̎̇̈́͂͜ ̸̨̪̪͖̙̞̳̘̠̟̯̠̹̹͕́̈́̽̃́̌̈́̀̈́͝͝A̴͇̦͆̋͋̓b̵̨̡̮̟͈̱̯͈̮̖̅̈́̋̔̍ỹ̷̡̧͔̰̼̣̦̰͖̩̬̊̽̆̔͊̄̄͊͝ş̶̘̣̽̈͂̐͊ş̴̭͇͕̠͔̼͇̲͓̫̑̈́̍͊͊͐͐.̷̜̬̟̹̮͐͘̚ͅ
̷̠͈̘̯͠D̷̫͚̏̂͑̋͜ǫ̸̛͈̤̞͖̼͍̱̠͔̤͒̂̉̓̐̓̿̿͘̕͠ͅ ̶̛͔̱̔̈̄̐͐͒͑͋͝n̶̡̢̛̤̠͖̑͒̃͋̉͆͊͝͠o̷̖̮͍̖͔̘̯͉̦͐̈́̿̽̂́̉͘̕͝ͅţ̸̘̠̼̤̳͓̥̯̩͉̉͋̏͒̀̀̾̑́ ̶̨̛̺̞͚̊̄͌̐̑͆͌̀̂̎̿̑͠͝ͅl̶̢̡̛͖̭̺̖̥̹̩̱͙̗̹̆̒͝ͅͅe̵̽̀̊̆̈́͌̆̈́͋̈̚͝͠͝͝ͅt̶̨̹̬͍͕̣͍͙͍̤̭̯̊̅̏̂̈́̅̄̇̋͋̆̽̚͘͜͝ ̵̢̨̡̬̥̣͔̮̩̦̙͕̎͒͌͑̄̏̓͘̚a̷̧̡̡̘̹͛̎͊͒̍͆͂͘̕n̵̡͙͔̰̈́̆͋͘y̸̛̛̺̍̊́͛̈́̊́̐̄̉͘o̷̘̐͛̚n̷̰̪͙̙̙̳̫̒͒́̎̀͂̌̂̽͑̕̚͝e̶̙̒͗̈́̽̑͐͊̔̂̒̀̚̚͜ ̷̰̟̟͍̮̪͇̜̣̲̪̲̻̦͐̉͒̑̔̿̑͒̓̽̚t̴̡͖̮̬̟͈͖͔͎̞͍̋̅̾͋͋͗͆̍̎̿̈́̕͜è̵͇͚͔͖̚l̴̨̧̧̝̮͔͇̓̀͛l̷̨̛̬̙͍͍̤͕͉̦͊̈̾̎̕ ̸̧̮̠̞͔̥̼͕̪̲́̔̀̓͊͛̕̕͜ͅy̵͕̦̭̤̙͓͊̎̍͐̕͝ơ̷̟̘̆̃̀͒́̈́̋̾͗̏͠ͅu̷̢̨̹̣̻̰͎̟̻͕͙̺̓̌̈́͑͒̿͜ ̶̨̡̨̛̭̝̘͓̲͙̖̯̝̼͈̈́̈́̏̍̇̀̋̆̀̑̽͒̚ȯ̸̢̤̮̜̐̾͊̈́͐̃͗̇̊t̴̛̳̹̙̮̝̤͚̂̈̃ͅḩ̴̨̡̹̜͎̞͚̼̤̼̰̥̥̦͆̈́̈̽̏́͐͆̿͂̾̚̚͝͠ę̸̨̢̘͚̰͉̱̼̜̦͚̩̋̈̈́̈́͆̓̅̏̂͂̽̈̚͜r̴̨̥͎͕̪̭͌̑̉͑̒͠ͅw̴̧̘̣̰͙̝̺͚͖̺̔͌͑̓͑̏̇̚i̸̢͉̮̘̺̠̭̖̣͙̽̓̅͂̔̽̏͝s̶͇͈͈͔̟̖̮͚̰̅̌̑̀̂̈́̒͗́͑͗̓̓ẻ̷̲̗̙̼̦͍̆̅̽̎̄̔̕̚.̷̢̛͚̫̩̳̩͖̹͐̄̀͑̔̓̀͝
Niran clenched her head for a split second as an all too familiar voice invaded her mind. In that mere moment Niran lost control of her body, causing her to stumble through the doorway. Falling to the ground, Niran looked up and saw a more visceral picture of who was inside the room.
The figure in front of Niran tensed up as he heard the commotion she made, dropping his saw. Slowly, he turned to look at Niran, all the while she felt an innumerable amount of dread weigh her down, preventing her from escaping. He scowled at Niran, his face full of disdain as he took a foreboding step towards her, his bloody hands clenched into fists. Immediately Niran’s senses kicked back in as she bolted down through the hallways. No longer was she interested in discovering the secrets of the building, Niran now just wanted to get as far as possible from that man. She briefly glanced behind her and saw the man step out of his chamber. He looked ready to give chase for Niran, but then he rushed back into his room after looking back in it, with a glint of concern in his eyes. Whatever it was, Niran did not pay any attention to what concerned the man so deeply, and continued on her run to the mess hall.
Niran entered the mess hall, observing her surroundings. The mess hall was of a grand size and bright, unlike the cramped and dim halls Niran explored earlier in the morning. On the walls hung lavish tapestries depicting all sorts of historical events, some Niran vaguely recognized, while many others she had no clue. Out of all of the tapestries, one of them stood out to Niran the most. It depicted a once shining kingdom succumbing to destruction by meteors and, more importantly, shadow. Homes and civilians were enveloped in shadow. Not even the king himself was spared from the dark forces, as the once proud king who led the fight at the forefront died not gloriously on the battlefield, but instead pitifully in his own room. He reached upwards for help, but was unanswered as dark flames consumed him, leaving nothing but a husk of the former king. Is this the true power of the Abyss? To destroy entire kingdoms and wipe them off the face of the earth? Niran shuddered at the thought. Her violin remained silent.