Chapter no 37 – Obliteration

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

Two turns of the hall brought them to a wooden door. The door opened to a stone room with a brazier full of glowing coals and a wooden slab table fitted with iron manacles.

The sight struck him with shocking force. It was horribly similar to how the Hall of the Soothsayer had appeared when Galbatorix had forced him to torture Nasuada therein. Every part of Murtagh’s being rebelled at what lay before him. He rejected, repudiated, and forswore both past and future, and for a second, the searing fire of recognition burned away the effects of the vorgethan.

No! He dug in his heels and twisted in his captors’ hands in a futile attempt to break free. Desperate, he bent and bit the hand of one man. The cultist yelled as hot blood pulsed into Murtagh’s mouth.

The men slammed him against the table, and stars flashed across his vision as his head hit the wood. He continued to struggle even as they forced the manacles about his wrists and ankles.

“No,” he growled, barely audible.

The cultists ignored him. They withdrew to the corners of the room and stood at attention, the one man cradling his hand as blood dripped from the teeth marks Murtagh had left in his flesh.

Again, Murtagh tried to use magic. Again, he failed.

The door swung open, and—with a rush of air as from a beat of giant wings—Bachel strode in. The witch wore a long, black, high-collared robe

with gold stitching along the cuffs. From her brow rose a matching headdress, stiff and splayed, made of netted threads adorned with pearls and the polished skulls of crows. The dark backdrop of the headdress framed her angular face, as in a carefully painted portrait. But unlike in most portraits, a mask covered the upper half of her face, and it seemed to blend into her skin and grant the witch a strange, draconic aspect, as if the shape of a dragon were somehow imposed over her body, as a glamour or an illusion.

It was more than a simple trick; Murtagh could feel an additional presence in the room, a stifling, inhuman force for which Bachel was merely the vessel.

The effect of the mask was the same as…as…He struggled to remember. Then it came to him: Captain Wren. The same as the masks the captain kept in his study, and it seemed to Murtagh they must have come from the same place. Perhaps Wren had given the Draumar the mask. Or perhaps they gave him his masks.

Either way, Bachel had taken on a terrifying, outsized appearance, and every sound and movement she made acquired a heightened reality, as if he lay before a god made flesh.

As disorienting and intimidating as the experience was, that wasn’t the worst of it. Not for him. For the mask reminded him, more than anything, of when Galbatorix had ordered him to wear a half mask of his own while interrogating Nasuada. Why exactly, Murtagh had never known, but he suspected the king wanted to force distance between Nasuada and him, that she might take no comfort in any look or expression of his, and he might more easily assume the role of torturer.

Murtagh had hated the blasted thing.

“Welcome, Kingkiller.” The witch’s words resonated as if from the peaks of the mountains: a supernatural sound that in no way resembled the voice of a human or elf.

She advanced upon the table, and Murtagh saw she wore jewelry on her hands: for each finger an onyx claw fixed to a setting of carved gold. The claws were sharp, and he stiffened as she traced them across the curve of his shoulder. Even through his shirt, they scratched him.

With an effort of will, he forced himself to say: “What do…do you want, witch?”

“I want you.” She smiled, and beneath the mask, her teeth showed with feral hunger.


“You will bow to me, Kingkiller, and you will serve me and the one I in turn serve.” Her eyes glowed with honeyed light. “And you will be richly rewarded for helping to forge our fearsome future. No longer a princeling but a king fit to rule the world.”

Her oversized, dragon-like bearing was crushing to be near, and Murtagh faltered before the force of it, faltered and felt diminished. “No,” he said, but the word seemed pitifully weak.

“A king,” she whispered, leaning down so he could feel her breath on his ear. “A king such as the world needs, and I your priestess, and we shall bring long-delayed vengeance to this corrupted land.”

He shook his head, trying to block out her insidious voice. A trial was coming, he knew, and it was going to test him to the utmost.


The witch straightened, as tall and distant as a cruel-faced statue. “We are the devotees of Azlagûr the Devourer. Azlagûr the Firstborn. Azlagûr the Dreamer. He who sleeps and whose sleeping mind weaves the warp and weft of the waking world. But the sleeper grows restless, Kingkiller, and we are His eyes and ears and hands. By our doing, we shall ready the world for His dread arrival. Those who serve Azlagûr, those who well please Him—those He shall elevate above all others and grant to them power. Power such as has not existed in the world since the days of old, when magic was wild and unbound and the Grey Folk were yet primitives clawing their way out of the muck.”

She bent toward him again, her expression terrible, and he thought to see flames leaping in her eyes and blood dripping from her onyx claws. “Join me, Kingkiller. Join me of your own accord. All that you wish will be yours if you but have faith.”

“Never,” he gasped. The air seemed heated, and he found it difficult to breathe. He felt as if he were choking.

“So be it. I shall have you either way, for I am the avatar of Azlagûr, and He cannot be denied.”

And Bachel swiped her claws across his chest. Sparks flew from the sharpened onyx tips as they struck his wards, and Murtagh grew weak as the spells consumed his strength in an attempt to protect him.

Her expression hardened, and her glamoured face was fearsome to behold. With a deliberate motion, she placed her claws in a circle over his heart and pressed downward with ever-increasing force. The tips of her claws began to glow red, and Murtagh grew dizzy and breathless.

His wards could have protected him forever…if he’d had the energy to power them. But he didn’t. Sustaining the spells felt like trying to hold a boulder in his outstretched hands; the weight was overwhelming, and in an instant—to keep from killing him—the wards failed, and Bachel’s claws sank into the meat of his chest.

Murtagh stiffened and cried out. “…how?” he managed to gasp.

“The might of Azlagûr is greater than you can imagine, Kingkiller. He will not be denied.” And the witch’s mind assaulted Murtagh’s with a torrent of black thoughts, quick and grasping.

He had not the fortitude to hold her at bay. Not then. So he tried a different approach, one more dangerous, but no less effective. He bent like a reed in the wind and allowed Bachel’s consciousness to flow around his own. Wherever and whenever she attempted to grasp one of his thoughts, he slipped sideways and turned his attention elsewhere. His distraction became a defense, and with it, he repeatedly foiled Bachel.

The witch did not give up. She had resources he didn’t, and every time a thought or memory flickered through his mind, she learned a little more about him.


Her claws cut bloody stripes across his chest, and Murtagh arched his back. He pulled on the iron cuffs and tried to break them, but they were too

thick and too well secured.

Pain focused his mind, and the witch used that to pin his consciousness in place, to hold it and corral it as she sought to subjugate him to her will. But even drugged, Murtagh knew this game. He had played it with Galbatorix more times than he cared to remember, and he knew how to bend and twist and escape her grasp.

Nasuada too had played the game with him during her time in the Hall of the Soothsayer. And she—fierce, proud, strong—had never broken. The thought gave him a small measure of hope.

Still, evading the witch’s mental grip was exhausting work, similar in effort to physically wrestling, and compounded in difficulty by the hurts Bachel inflicted upon him.

“I have no desire to disfigure you, Kingkiller,” she said, and shook a drop of blood from her onyx claws. The bead glistened in the light of the brazier as it fell, a perfect polished orb of deepest vermilion. “But it requires very little to cause agonies that will drive even an elf mad.”

She pressed the tip of a claw against one of the scratches on his chest, and the point of the claw found a nerve, and electric fire shot across his torso and up his neck.

He fought to keep his face still. The more he grimaced, the worse the pain seemed. When, after an eternity of suffering, Bachel lifted the claw, he gasped. “Do you want…me…mad?”

“If mad is what I can have, then mad is what I shall take. You are a useful tool either way, Kingkiller, but my preference would be to have you as you are, whole and handsome and fit to fight an army.” She laughed, and it was a disconcerting sound, emanating as it did from the draconic shadow that enveloped her. “But I think you would be most entertaining mad. You are the one who must choose, Kingkiller. Join the Draumar. Join me, and serve our dread master Azlagûr as have those who came before us.”


Tsk, tsk, tsk. So repetitive. So boring. You must think of more creative answers, my wayward child. Do not force me to chastise you, though chastise you I shall, for thine own good.”

She lifted her clawed hand again, and he forced himself to say, fast as he could: “D-does…Azlagûr speak to you?”

A secret smile formed on Bachel’s face, and her claws paused in the air. “In a way. He speaks to all of us, Kingkiller, even you, if you but have the ears and eyes to understand. When you dream, those are Azlagûr’s dreams, and by them we understand His will. As His priestess, as His Speaker, He sends dreams to me most particularly, and I share them with my people, and I interpret for them the dreams that they have. This is how we receive Azlagûr’s wisdom.”

“To what end?”

“That we bring about the destruction of this era and the beginning of another. That we remake the world through fire and blood and bring to fruition prophecies and plans that span millennia. Do you not understand, Kingkiller? We are the instruments of Fate. We have been chosen to set the pattern of history, and by it, we shall have recompense beyond mortal imagining.”

Then Bachel’s claws again descended, and Murtagh again gave voice to his pain.

Deep in his mind, he felt a matching agony from Thorn, and the feeling heightened his torment, for he could not help the one who mattered most to him.

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