Chapter no 20 – The Tangle Box

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

An instant of shapeless black void, a clang, and—

—a bone-jarring crash as his heels struck metal and his knees buckled.

He would have fallen onto all fours. He was falling, and then a battering ram seemed to slam into him front to back and side to side, pinning him in place, holding him upright.

The impact drove the air from his lungs, and he felt a sudden drain from his wards. He tried to inhale, but the crushing weight pressing in from all sides made it impossible.

Then the air around him vanished, and the last dregs of breath left in his lungs forced their way up his throat and out his mouth and nose.

He gaped like a stunned fish.

A high keening—eye-watering and teeth-vibrating—sounded inside his skull, so loud and penetrating it made thought itself difficult.



Time seemed to slow for Murtagh.

His lungs were burning with terrible fire. His veins throbbed. His skin was swollen like an overfilled bladder. Crimson stars mottled the edges of his vision. And the ever-present shrilling disrupted his ability to focus.

He had seconds to act, if that. He couldn’t speak, and holding the ancient language in his mind was impossible.

So he did the only thing he could.

He cast a spell without a word to guide the magic. Only intent constrained the burst of energy, and that intent contained and embodied a single sentiment: Stop!

The energy for the spell was spent in an instant. The shrilling stopped,

and blessed silence reigned. But no air returned; still his lungs were empty, and still his veins burned, and he was about to pass out.

He could see only blackness, but he knew where he was: inside a tangle box. A trap for magicians, designed to keep them from speaking or thinking, designed to suffocate them so they could be safely disposed of.

He tried to rally his strength for a second spell. If he could break the walls of the tangle box, he could let in air, precious air, and if he could breathe, he would have a chance.

But he couldn’t concentrate well enough to again work magic. The glass-pane barrier in his mind was too strong for him to reach through to the flow of energy on the other side, and the crimson tunnel narrowing his vision had nearly closed.

Is this really how I die? THIS? The thought was enraging, but at the same time, he felt acceptance as awareness deserted him….



A thunderous crash sounded above. An earthquake-like vibration shook the metal underneath his feet, and the tremor passed up through his legs and chest and caused his teeth to chatter, rousing him back to awareness.

Stone cracked, metal tore, and then a rush of cold wind touched his cheeks.

His lungs filled with sweet air, and he gasped like a drowning man.

Bright daylight appeared overhead, dispelling the darkness. He looked up, coughing, blinking, tears streaming from the corners of his eyes.

Through petals of torn iron, he saw Thorn leaning toward him, the dragon’s scales covered with chalky dust, his long, heavy jaws open to show rows of bloody teeth.

Behind the dragon, the sky was pale blue, devoid of clouds. Broken ceiling beams intruded on the bright expanse.

Thorn reached down with one taloned paw and scooped Murtagh out of the pile of muddy gravel that had immobilized him. Pebbles fell like hail as Thorn lifted him back up into the dining hall.

Murtagh’s chest heaved as he struggled for air. Thorn’s mind pressed against his, the dragon’s thoughts sharp with anger, fear, worry, and barely leashed panic. Still, his presence was comforting, and Murtagh began to think he might actually survive.

Thorn uncurled his paw and deposited Murtagh on the debris-covered floor. He nudged Murtagh in the ribs. How are you hurt? Tell me. Tell me! Try to breathe!

“I’m—” Murtagh gasped. “I’m…trying.” His lungs still burned as he forced himself onto his knees, half expecting to be attacked.

No sign remained of Lyreth in the dining hall. The fine wooden table was shattered to pieces beneath Thorn’s weight, and the silken tapestries hung in tatters. By the door to the hall lay three of the bullnecked guards, limp and bloodstained, their limbs twisted at unnatural angles.

Thorn nudged him again. The dragon’s eyes were wide and wild, and his sides heaved, not just from exertion. Murtagh could nearly taste his fearful agitation.

Glancing around, Murtagh became aware of how small the interior of the house was. Thorn’s wings almost scraped the walls, which seemed to lean inward with ominous intent, and the timbers jutting overhead were uncomfortably similar to broken branches against a dead sky.

Newfound alarm caused him to stagger to his feet. He gave Thorn a weak pat on the nose and cast about for his bedroll. A corner of it stuck out from under the ruined table. He grabbed it and started to move toward the dragon’s side, meaning to climb onto his back.

Outside the broken house, shouts and brassy horns sounded, along with a clatter of arms and armor as soldiers rushed in.

Blast it! “We have to get out of—”

A section of roof caved inward, and the slate shingles poured across Thorn’s back with a dusty, deafening discord.

Thorn roared, and Murtagh both heard and felt his jolt of mindless panic. “No, wait! It’s all—”

The crimson dragon reared and tried to spread his wings, only to be blocked by the walls of the house. Then he truly went mad. He thrashed like a great snake, and the shell of the building shook and shuddered, and beams tumbled down, and walls collapsed, and a thick cloud of dust darkened the air.

Murtagh crouched and covered his head with his bedroll as the house fell around them. He tried to join with Thorn’s mind, but the dragon was too far gone in his fear; Murtagh could not reach him, could not calm or reason with him.

His wards deflected a mass of timbers that would have crushed him, and he gasped at the sudden loss of energy. Zar’roc. He needed the sword, needed the energy stored within the sword’s ruby pommel.

A moment of shocking silence followed. Before him, Murtagh saw mounds of beams and rubble coated with a finger-thick layer of ashy dust. The house was no more, and beyond its confines, shadowy shapes of men moved behind the curtains of obscuring haze.


A beat from Thorn’s wings blew whorls of dust spinning into the sky and cleared the area around Murtagh. He lifted his head.

A shifting group of soldiers surrounded the square, their faces white with fear, hate, and dust. They held their spears pointed toward Thorn—as if the weapons would do any good against a dragon—and they cursed Murtagh and Thorn and shouted insults and provocations. Flights of arrows arched in from between the buildings, whistling their deadly song.

“Thrysta!” Murtagh cried, and the arrows shattered in the air and fell harmlessly to the streets.

Thorn roared again, and the men shrank back. Desperate, Murtagh pressed his mind against Thorn’s, but it was like battering his head against a wall of blank stone. Fear ruled the dragon’s thoughts—no other emotion was

strong enough to intrude or override. In that moment, he was become a mindless beast, and Murtagh did not know how to help him.

Thorn twisted and swung his tail through the air and struck the nearby houses. The weight of his tail, and the strength driving it, broke the buildings, snapped their timbers like dry kindling, and sent doors and shutters and shingles and entire walls crashing to the ground.

Murtagh ran toward Thorn. “St—”

The dragon turned and placed a paw over Murtagh. The weight pushed Murtagh to the ground, and then Thorn’s claws curved around him, and a forceful yank caused his neck to whip as Thorn loosed an unearthly bellow and sprang into the air.

Murtagh struggled to move, struggled to see, but the cage of Thorn’s talons was immovable, unbreakable.

Thorn roared again. Beneath them, Murtagh glimpsed the soldiers fleeing through the streets, and he thought he saw Esvar’s face among the throng, the yellow-haired youth’s expression fear-stricken and accusatory. Closer to the fortress, he spotted two figures garbed in the dark robes of Du Vrangr Gata, and also a trio of elves standing by the corner of a building, the air shimmering between their hands as they chanted in what he knew was the ancient language.


More arrows flew up toward them, and an enormous jet of flame shot out from Thorn’s maw. Even closed within Thorn’s paw, Murtagh could feel waves of searing heat rolling out from the fiery torrent.

The arrows flared red, white, and yellow and vanished like sparks in a campfire.

With another roar, Thorn bathed the buildings below in a stream of liquid fire. Yellow sheets billowed from the roofs, and the flapping of the ravenous flames drowned out a chorus of shouts and screams.

Murtagh was shouting as well, but Thorn wasn’t listening.

Then they were flying across the city, and as Thorn flew, he laid down a track of burning destruction. A spell of some kind caused the air about them

to grow cold and thin, but whatever the intended outcome of the enchantment, the effects soon vanished, and Thorn continued as before.

They passed over the edge of Gil’ead, and then Thorn was climbing into the sky with desperate speed, and the only sounds were the rush of air and the heavy beats of his wings.

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