Damaz Mur

Stalagmites and stalactites lined the thin, winding path as it sloped down into the earth. Beyond the faint, white light cast by the trio of glowing sparks floating over his head, a wall of dark melted back down the passage.

Harry cupped the silver acorn against his chest and fed a whisper of magic into it. Tu me manques, mon Amour. 

The pendant flashed warm and a small smile crept onto his lips. 

Je t’aime. 

He swept the lights down the slope and strode down along the smooth stone walls, picking his way over the small stalagmites rising from the ground and ignoring the cold spots of water falling on his shoulders and head from the ceiling.

The passage twisted around a tree-trunk sized column of stone and opened out into a small cave. An empty arch stood at its centre, covered in hundreds of lines of unfamiliar square runes branching off at odd angles, and a soft pale glow shone through the slim carved screens shielding the windows of the low stone hut beyond.

These goblin gates look like the Veil. Harry frowned. Is that where whoever made it got the idea from? A gate to step through to somewhere else? 

He picked his way closer to the faint shimmer between the columns, slipping his wand from his sleeve. ‘Best not to leave anyone behind to trap me.’

The largest stone screen slid aside and a hulking figure prowled out, a broad short-bladed axe in its fist. ‘Bring blades, I smell foe,’ it growled, sniffing the air. ‘Human.’

That is a lot bigger than any Gringotts goblins. He flexed his fingers on his wand. At least Violette’s ring half-works to translate.

Two more broad figures padded out, thick, gleaming bronze blades in their hands. Crude runes glowed on the weapons, flickering like failing candles.

‘I am here,’ Harry said, raising his wand. ‘I came for the grudge-blade, the grudge of the crown.’

The first goblin stepped forward out of the light, raising its axe. ‘Here. Our lands.’ Thick muscles coiled beneath the weathered, scarred green skin as its nostrils flared. ‘Your head. Ours.’

The other two spread out either side of it, holding their blades low.

‘I only want the grudge-blade,’ he said, pointing toward his chest with his left hand. ‘Damaz-kar.’

A low snarl echoed through the small cavern from the goblins’ clenched fangs. ‘Kill human.’

Harry sent three piercing hexes into its chest.

The goblin stumbled back, thick blue blood trickling from the deep gashes on its chest, and Harry twisted, banishing the other two goblins back into the walls.

Okay, they’re as magically resistant as those damn trolls were. He watched the cuts creep closed as the other two goblins leapt to their feet. And they heal like I do. Harry frowned, spinning his wand in his fingers. I should’ve done more reading about goblins before I came down here.

He conjured a stream of black butterflies and swept them into a swirling cloud, transfiguring them into gleaming steel spikes and sending them hissing across the cave. They thunked into the chest of the leftmost goblin and crunched through the skull of the rightmost. The first goblin dived behind the arch with a guttural growl.

Harry circled around to his right, keeping one eye on the goblins lying prone on the floor. 

Thick, blue blood pooled beneath the nearest as it spluttered fading, ragged breaths into the cool cave air. The furthest lay still as stone, a gleaming steel spike sticking from above its right eye.

‘Send watch-light,’ the remaining goblin shouted, edging around the far side of the arch. ‘Warn Grakatdarsydon.’

Well, whatever that is, it didn’t translate.

It snarled and glanced at the shimmering air in the arch.

‘Oh no you don’t.’ Harry thrust his magic into the air and wrapped it around the goblin, hurling it back across the cavern into the wall. ‘I am not fighting through an entire hive of goblins.’

Not unless I have to.

The goblin pushed itself to its feet.

Harry crushed its head like an egg with a flick of his wand and strode into the hut, releasing his hold on the air. Small stone seats and three flat stone slabs lined the walls around a central pillar veined with glowing white stone.

Nothing much useful. He backed out and approached the arch, studying the trembling glimmer between the pillars. I’ve been through one before. It’ll be fine.

‘Well, here goes.’ Harry stepped through the shimmer into a vast cavern. 

Neat rows of blue mushrooms flanked the thin path up to another archway, yellow sparks flitting around their dark gills; they glowed in the gentle pale light of the veins of shining white stone snaking up the cavern walls and across the ceiling. Short goblins trudged between them, poking at the gills with long spike-tipped poles, and five tall muscle-bound goblins toted short, thick weapons around the arch plinth. A fierce, raw, organic reek stung Harry’s nose, bringing tears to his eyes.

He pressed his face into his arm. I guess I just follow the arches. But no risks. Who knows if they can shut the gates. Harry disillusioned himself, picking his way through the thick stalks. And I should save my strength. Daphne and Astoria weren’t wrong about my duelling.

He levelled his wand at the back of a small goblin’s head. ‘Lacero.’

The cutting curse split its skull open from top to brow and it crumpled to the floor at his feet, a slim trickle of blue blood snaking across the stone into the reeking heaps of dung.

Harry crept through the mushrooms, slashing open the throats of the small goblins one by one and leaving their bodies slumped on the ground. They won’t be able to smell me this time. He prowled from the mushrooms and down the thin path on the balls of his feet, the tip of his ebony wand aimed at the leftmost of the five hulking goblins. 

‘Quiet.’ The fifth goblin pushed itself to its feet and tilted its head to the side, its sharp yellow eyes narrowing. The short thick curling horns gleamed in the light of the yellow sparks. ‘The drones. Quiet.’ It lifted a rune-marked hammer from the ground at its side. ‘Drones dead.’

The four other goblins leapt to their feet, snatching up their weapons.

‘Go Grakatdarsydon.’ The horned goblin pointed its hammer at the arch.

Harry thrust out his left hand, summoning them forward and rolling to his knees as they flew over his head, thudding across the stone. His Disillusionment Charm melted away as he spun, hurling piercing curses into the goblins. 

Blue blood splattered the stones as they staggered to their feet. One goblin’s head snapped back and it flopped to the ground. Harry conjured a swirl of butterflies and transfigured them into spikes, unleashing a storm of sharp steel. It ripped through the group, riddling the front three with metal spines.

‘Human.’ The horned goblin snarled as its fellows crumpled around it. ‘Deep places not yours. Head forfeit.’

‘Damaz-kar,’ Harry said, motioning at himself with his free hand.

‘You bear grudge?’ The goblin’s yellow eyes narrowed.

Harry shook his head and pointed at them. ‘Damaz-kar.’ He pointed at himself. ‘Damaz-kar.’

A low growl rumbled in the goblin’s throat. ‘Thief. Come to steal grudge-blade.’ It sprang forward, covering the ten metres between them in a blur.

Harry banished it into the mushrooms and put three piercing hexes into its chest. The spells ripped three inch deep holes into the horned goblin’s muscled chest, spattering blue blood across its leather-like, scarred green hide and baring white bone.

These big ones are incredibly resistant to magic. He picked the hammer up and strode across to where it lay, groaning on the stone. But this ought to do it.

Harry brought the hammer down on its face, caving its skull in with a cold spray of blue blood. ‘Eventually I will find a goblin who tells me something useful.’

Whatever it takes. He tossed the hammer into the mushrooms and strode up the path through the arch. I will not be stopped.

A cluster of drones dragged a large cart of rough, dark ore along slim tracks from a narrow passage toward another shimmering arch through a thicket of stalagmites. Harry spun his wand in his fingers and stepped toward them, sending a hail of glimmering purple spells through the gloom.

They tore the drones apart, spraying blue across the pale stalagmites and splintering the cart. Ore tumbled out as the trolley rumbled down the tracks into the dark of the passage. 

He stepped over the still bodies and over the bloodstained tracks, following them through the shimmering arch.

Thick bronze barricades marked with square patterns of goblin runes ran across the broad, low cavern, broken by a narrow passage no wider than his armspan. The veins of glowing white stone spread like spider’s webbing through the roof above, lighting the cave as bright as day.

‘Foe!’ A loud cry rang from behind them. ‘Warn Grakatdarsydon!’

Is it a name? Is that why the ring doesn’t translate it? Harry watched short spikes sprout from the bronze barricade, bristling like gleaming rose thorns, and recalled the flash of the gold-fanged goblin. Is it the one that drone at Château D’Acier thought of?

Hulking tall goblins thronged through the narrow gap, the flickering runes on their short thick weapons and broad shields gleaming. 

Merde. That’s a lot of well-armed goblins. He flexed his fingers on his wand. It’s going to get messy now.

Three horned goblins stepped through the gap, toting rune-marked hammers and broad crescent-shaped shields.

‘Take human head. Earn name.’ The tallest of them bared its fangs and shoved its fellows aside. 

Harry poked his magic at the shield, but it washed back at him like water off rocks. Enchanted. All their weapons probably are. He glanced at the swarming figures gathering behind the bronze barricade. And there are at least thirty of them.

The tallest horned goblin leapt forward. 

Harry banished it back with a slash of his wand, watching with a small swell of satisfaction as it smashed into the spiked bronze wall and convulsed, slipping off the bronze spikes and thudding to the ground.

‘Ossasula,’ he whispered, whipping through the wand motions, twisting from bone-splintering curses into rupturing hexes. 

His spells splashed on their shields and weapons in showers of sparks as they charged. A bone-splintering curse slipped through and struck the nearest on the thigh, spinning it around and dropping it to the floor. 

Harry hurled rupturing curses into the chest of the other, ripping its ribs open in a splatter of blue gore. The remaining goblin hobbled forward, its yellow eyes burning. He put a piercing hex through each of them and watched it collapse.

A wall of bronze shields and blades waited in the gap.

If I try to hammer my way through here, I’m going to tire myself out long before I reach the damaz-kar. He thrust his wand at the felled goblins, burrowing into their dead flesh with his magic, threading his intent through them and weaving the strands of magic together. Structure, not just will. 

The corpses shuddered.

Let’s even the odds.

An eerie yellow glow flickered over the dead goblins’ limbs as they jerked and convulsed, dragging themselves up to their feet.

One hard hit when the shields are down. Harry poured his power to the tip of his wand, twisting it into a swirl of crackling white sparks. And then whatever’s left I’ll deal with as efficiently as possible.

The inferii charged, hurling themselves into the wall of bronze shields with a great crash, clawing and thrashing and biting.

‘Fulminis,’ Harry murmured.

The searing beam of lightning tore through the knot of goblins, scattering ash across the cave; little crackling white arcs splashed back off half a dozen shields as the survivors drew together. Yellow flames rippled over his remaining inferius as it ripped at the shield of the nearest goblin.

Harry strode forward, firing bone-splintering curses at thigh-level, scattering the cluster and burying them in a storm of rupturing hexes, forcing his arm faster and faster. His spells burst in showers of hot sparks, but some hissed past the crescent shields, punching through scarred leather hide and thick muscle in bursts of blue.

A bronze-armoured goblin with one broken horn threw the burning inferius back and crushed its skull beneath its foot, kicking the corpse aside. Wisps of smoke curled through the warped, twisted bronze bands wrapped around its stomach and weeping burns stretched across its left side and shoulder.

‘Damaz-kar,’ Harry demanded, pointing at his feet.

‘Grakatdarsydon take skull. Gild with liquid gold.’ The one-horned goblin ushered the others up after it into the gap, raising its shield, its yellow eyes locked on the tip of Harry’s wand. ‘Pile with others. Totem to grudge-blade. As close as will ever be!’

A flash of frustration tore through Harry and the yearning bubbled up like burning magma. ‘Have it your way.’ 

He thrust his magic at the corpses, knitting the threads of his intent together into a thick patchwork of magic within their still dead flesh.

They rose, shrouded in a pale yellow glow, lunging at the living goblins, dragging them down into a writhing tangle of snarling, howling and hissing. 

The one-horned goblin bared its fangs and levelled its hammer at him. ‘This warrior Gorkatzkar, it slew three with own broken horn. Matriarch Sorogdartakon named it Gorkatzkar when queen. What name, face-changing human?’

Harry spun his wand in his fingers. Names don’t matter.

‘Humans,’ it muttered, twisting the word with its thick speech. ‘Gorkatzkar take skull if cost last horn!’ It charged.

Harry fired rupturing curses at its chest; they splashed off the melted bronze bands in bursts of white sparks. Merde. He hurled a banishing charm.

Gorkatzkar dived over the spell and seized the front of Harry’s robes, raising the hammer over its head. Harry grabbed Gorkatskar’s wrist and wrenched, but the goblin’s grip was strong as steel. 

The hammer ripped the wand from his fingers. Harry ducked the backswing, feeling the wind of it whisper across his face and kicked out, knocking Gorkatzkar back. He thrust out his hand, snatching his wand from the air and slashing it forward.

The hazy basilisk lunged; its jaws hammered into Gorkatzkar against the spiked bronze barricade and it dissipated on the metal wall in a ripple of magic.

Gorkatzkar tugged itself off the spikes, its shield slipping from blood-slickened fingers. ‘Good foe.’ It snarled, wrapping both hands around the handle of the hammer. ‘Age not shame Gorkatzkar. Honour death.’ 

Harry watched it stagger forward, meandering toward him through the corpses, clutching the hammer in both hands. The inferii poured through the gap in the barricade behind Gorkatzkar, dragging him into their midst and ripping him limb from limb.

A blue-spattered arm rolled down the slope as Harry strode toward the arch.

At least it thought it died well. A small twist of pity stabbed at him as he stepped over the severed limb. For something. Not nothing.

Harry ushered his inferii through the shimmering veil of magic and stepped after them into a broad cavern as tall as Hogwarts’s highest towers.

A narrow set of steps rose at its edge through a wall of stalactites. The stone poured from the cavern above like frozen water, gleaming in the pale light of the glowing white veins snaking across the cave’s ceiling. Sharp-beaked bronze sentinels lined the edge, staring down at Harry, their dark empty eyes shadowed by the thick, curling horns upon their heads.

The inferii shambled toward the steps.

Runes shone goblin-blood blue in the eye sockets of the statues; strips of glyphs flared along their limbs, the flickering blue light creeping along the square spiral on their chests until it reached the centre.

The whole row shivered and took a step forward.

Goblin-forged. Cold fear clamped its fist in his gut. So all but impervious to magic.

They leapt from the top of the stalactite waterfall, thudding to the ground before the inferii. Short, thick blades of bronze sprouted in place of their hands.

‘Face-changing human.’ A single hulking goblin warrior stood at the top of the steps. ‘This warrior Adagkarmur, first of Queen Grakatdarsydon’s first spawn. Grakatdarsydon command death. Honour to die at hand Kar-on. Death-god.’

‘It doesn’t seem like a great honour,’ Harry muttered, waving the inferii forward. ‘But I’ll take your word for it.’

The bronze sentinels leapt forward, their rune-marked blades slashing through the inferii and ripping the eerie yellow glow from the corpses as they fell. Blue goblin blood drenched the stone.

Merde. Harry’s spells splashed off their bronze bodies as they tore through the last undead goblins. Maybe I should go back through the arch and see if I can trick them into following me.

He glanced over his shoulder.

A vast statue stood over the shimmering arch, deep blue runes glowing bright as flame upon its bronze body.

Harry stared up into the fierce grimace of its saber-fanged maw as it raised a hammer as tall as he was in its left hand. ‘Double merde.’

He wrenched at the world, but it hung still as stone and the hammer swept down.

Harry dived across the cavern, rolling to his feet.

The hammer smashed into the ground, spraying him with sharp stone shards and hurling him to the floor. 

‘Kar-on.’ Adagkarmur stepped off the stair into the lower cavern. ‘Death-God guardian.’

‘Damaz-kar.’ Harry pointed at the goblin and then at himself as the small stinging grazes and cuts crept closed. ‘Damaz-kar.’

‘Grudge-blade?’ Adagkarmur hefted the axe in its fist. ‘Grudge of Crown never end, human. Your skull for totem.’

A dull rumble echoed through the huge cavern as the vast statue tugged its hammer from the ground. The small sentinels closed in around Harry beneath its tree trunk thick legs, their short-blades gleaming as they hemmed him up against the cold stone, forcing him back into the cool dark shadows like Vernon shoving the cupboard door shut against his flailing feet.

Why does everything have to get in the way? Frustration flared into sharp, cold fury, churning into the molten yearning, flashing hot and cold as it tangled into a tight trembling knot in his heart. All we wanted was to be free. For it to be just us and our little girl.

‘You’re just in the way.’ The words slipped through his lips, bubbling up in the back of his throat as he clenched his fist around his wand. ‘I hate this.’

Cherry-red flames poured from his wand in a roar of hungry whispers, swirling together into the blazing coils of the basilisk. Its eyes burnt white hot as it reared its head and lunged.

The bronze sentinels clawed their way into its fire, weeping tears of molten metal from the flickering blue runes.

Harry poured his fury into the flames, let their whispers swell into a piercing scream as the statues crumpled to their knees in the searing heat and slumped into pools of molten bronze. Sweat trickled down his forehead, stinging his eyes. 

He blinked it away to watch the last of the small golems collapse within the blazing crimson coils of the basilisk.

Burn. A swell of sweet satisfaction spread into a small smile on his lips. I will not be stopped.

The vast statue brought the hammer down on the basilisk, splashing the flames across the cave and leaving little pools of cherry-red fire flickering and dancing as they ate into the stone.

Adagkarmur pointed its axe at him. ‘Great foe,’ it snarled as the huge bronze golem raised its hammer in both hands. ‘Grakatdarsydon gild skull gold. Place above grudge-blade.’

Harry drew the Fiendfyre back with a flick of his wand; it coalesced into the basilisk, coiling around the sentinel’s legs and chest and dragging it to its knees.

I’m going to take the damaz-kar. His smile broadened into a fierce grin as the golem dropped its hammer to strain at the coils of Fiendfyre. Whatever it takes.

Adagkarmur growled and sprang toward Harry, but the tip of the basilisk’s tail swept back around, lancing through its chest.

‘Hot.’ Adagkarmur stared at the crimson flames piercing its ribs. ‘Kar-on… come.’ It crumbled to ash and the axe thudded to the floor.

Molten bronze wept from the vast statue as it strained against the Fiendfyre basilisk. The blue runes in its eyes flickered and guttered out like dying candles, dimming to nothing as the red flames swirled over it, eating through the bronze.

A delighted smile curved Harry’s lips as the light in the glyphs died and the golem collapsed in a wash of glowing liquid metal.

Almost there, baby bird. The crimson flames faded with his fury, softening into a quiet insistent murmur of yearning. I must be close now.

Harry grimaced as a dull ache settled into his limbs, the faint weight of fatigue hanging from him like a thick, cold, damp cloak clinging to his skin. 

Almost there. He trudged up the steps, spinning his wand in his fingers, glancing back at the steaming spread of molten bronze. If you want it destroyed enough, Fiendfyre will consume anything, even goblin-forged metal.

Buildings of fine, webbed stone rose from between towering columns threaded with glowing veins of white rock. Narrow stairs clung to rising stalagmites and floated beneath rune-marked stalactites, spreading through a cluster of stone as large as Hogsmeade.

A lithe, slim goblin as tall as Harry stood before a host of hulking warriors, four long curling horns upon its brows and thick, glyph-engraved bronze scales encasing its limbs.

‘Damaz-kar,’ Harry demanded, striding forward and thrusting out his left hand.

The slim goblin stepped to meet him, baring its teeth. A thin spiral of gold wrapped about the extra third fang sticking from its jaw. ‘Faceless wizard,’ it snarled in French, twisting the word in its mouth. ‘I am Grakatdarsydon, Queen of the Danagdūryakatekz. You bring blood and fire to our hive.’

‘I want the damaz-kar.’ Harry raised his wand. ‘And I will kill every last goblin that gets in my way.’

‘Damaz dar Ekz is not ours to give away,’ Grakatdarsydon replied. ‘It is a grudge-debt owed to the hive. A debt that must be claimed from Roman bones.’

‘Rome is gone,’ Harry snapped. ‘It’s been gone for a long time. Give me the damaz-kar.’

Another legacy. Unease prickled down his spine. I’ll destroy it for La Victoire Finale.

Grakatdarsydon bared her fangs. ‘The damaz-kar cannot be given up, wizard. It is the oath of the hive, sworn on our own bone, to repay Rome with bitter fury for what it took from us. This is not Gōringotzar. You cannot buy or barter our pride to hoard in the vaults.’

‘I will not stop.’ Harry glanced back down the steps to the cooling pools of bronze. ‘I will raze your hive. I will slaughter every warrior and every drone in my way until I have it. What good will your oath do your hive then? Rome’s legacy is done. Give the damaz-kar to me.’

‘Prove your power.’ Grakatdarsydon drew a slim, short blade from behind her back. ‘Face me. If you are victorious, I will believe you can match your words and take you before the matriarchs.’

Harry watched blue light creep through the runes on her sword. ‘To the death?’

‘No, wizard.’ Grakatdarsydon dropped into a low stance, her feet spread and her weight poised. ‘I am Queen. If I die, the hive is left weak. The hive comes before all.’

‘Alright then, so just to my death…’

A harsh bark of laughter burst from Grakatdarsydon. ‘Yes, wizard. If you lose I will take your skull and gild it with molten gold. My first victory as queen.’

It doesn’t matter. Harry took a deep breath, steadying his heart to a slow thrum in his ears, and tugged at his magic. I have no choice but to win anyway.

‘Are there any rules?’ he asked.

‘Just us. My sword against your wand.’

‘As you wish.’

Harry bowed his head and took three paces back.

Grakatdarsydon closed her sharp yellow eyes and bared her fangs. Little wisps of magic rose from her shoulders like tatters of white silk, curling into a shimmering aura of pale blue magic. Bright blue runes burst to life along her long, curving horns and across the overlapping bronze scales.

The warriors behind her shivered.

‘What is your name, wizard?’ Grakatdarsydon demanded. ‘I will carve it on your skull if you lose.’

‘It doesn’t matter what my name is,’ Harry murmured. ‘Only my purpose. Call me what you wish.’

‘A name from a queen is earnt.’ Grakatdarsydon raised her blade before her face and tilted her chin up. ‘If you win, I will give you one.’

A low mutter rippled through the warriors behind her.

Harry shrugged. ‘Whenever you’re ready.’ 

She’s probably the same as those warriors, but stronger. He spun his wand in his fingers, showering the stone with silver sparks. I’ll need to chip through that armour somehow.

‘Come.’ Grakatdarsydon beckoned with her hand. ‘You want our oath. Come take it.’

Harry conjured a stream of butterflies, surrounding himself in a swirling demi-sphere. Grakatdarsydon burst through them in a bronze blur, the blade in her fist crackling with blue magic. He conjured a whip of flame, wrapping it around her arm and forcing it white-hot.

The fire hissed and sparked against the bronze scales. Grakatdarsydon tossed her sword into her other hand and severed it with a snort.

Harry transfigured his butterflies into steel spikes and swept them forward. She leapt ten metres over them into a light crouch, prowling forward, her golden eyes sharp and narrow beneath the shadow of her horns.

Time to improvise. He reached for the rage, let it coil its cold dark scales around his heart. Feed it. Feel it. How I did.

Ebony mist poured from his sleeve, curling through his fingers, and frost crept across the stone beneath his feet.

Grakatdarsydon lunged.

Harry slashed his wand, sweeping the black vapour to seize her arm. Tendrils of his horcrux’s magic wrapped around her blue blade, snuffing the crackling blue magic out, and lanced into her armour, gouging deep scratches into the bronze scales.

She growled and wrenched at her blade, swiping her rune-marked horns through the dark mist as it snaked around her and straining every sinew until her claws scored the stone.

‘You’re stuck,’ Harry said, ignoring the bite of fatigue. ‘I could rip that armour off you or tear off your head.’

Grakatdarsydon snarled. ‘I am queen, I will not be defeated with a leash like a beast.’

‘That’s my soul,’ he murmured. ‘Not a leash.’

Little bubbles swelled and burst in the black pouring from his sleeve; countless needle-like fangs gnawed at the bronze armour as his magic swallowed her up to the neck.

She closed her eyes and clenched her jaw. Wisps of pale blue magic burst through the dark mist, but the curving teeth tore through them, scattering her magic into the air.

Harry tucked his wand into his sleeve and yanked the blade from Grakatdarsydon’s grasp with both hands. ‘If I kill you, what happens to your hive?’ He rested the point of the blade in the hollow of her throat.

A low growl echoed deep in her throat, but her head dropped and the pale blue aura faded away like smoke into the breeze. ‘I am defeated.’

Her warriors’ shoulders sagged.

‘The damaz-kar,’ Harry demanded, letting the dark mist curl back into his sleeve. ‘You lost.’

Grakatdarsydon’s golden eyes bored into him. ‘I owe you a name. Sydgaskzār, I call you. In your tongue, it means Sea of Swallowing Dark.’

‘The damaz-kar.’

‘For that is what you are. A heaving storm come to drown us all.’

Harry pressed the tip of the blade into her throat. ‘The damaz-kar, Grakatdarsydon.’

‘I will take you to the matriarchs within the hive. No more blood will be shed.’ Grakatdarsydon wrapped her long fingers around her blade. ‘My oath as queen is given.’

Harry studied the gleam of her golden eyes. ‘I don’t trust goblins on their word.’

A short harsh laugh tore from her. ‘The drones of Gōringotzar are the same as all greedy drones. Compelled to bring all that might hold value back to the hive however they can. I am queen. A queen doesn’t break her word.’

He released the blade.

Grakatdarsydon flipped it around and sheathed it behind her back. ‘Come, Sydgaskzār.’ She strode through the parting cluster of warriors toward the tallest building.

Almost there, Katie. He kept one eye on the warriors as he strode through them and into the hive. Almost there.

‘No human has ever been so deep,’ Grakatdarsydon said. ‘None. Even Rome did not pursue us to our deep places when they burnt our homes above the surface and destroyed our Crown Temple. This wound to our pride will not heal.’

‘If you come after me…’

She snorted. ‘Come after you? My spawnings are done. You have slain too many of my warriors to risk pursuing you beyond the hive. Another hive’s queen may come through the deep ways to conquer and subsume us.’

‘But one day…?’

‘No, Sydgaskzār, you fought and you won. We are shamed. The shame is ours. The debt is ours.’ Grakatdarsydon paused before a pair of carven stone doors bearing twisting square patterns. ‘But if we had fought after my change from spawn-maiden to queen was complete, I would have won.’

Harry laughed. ‘If we fight again, I will not have to destroy so many statues first and it will be easier.’

She shoved the doors open. ‘Matriarchs. I, Grakatdarsydon, come here.’ Her harsh Gobbledegook rang off the domed roof. ‘I bring Sydgaskzār. I am… bested.’

Soft white light crept through the veins of stone snaking across the dome. Four thin, leather-skinned goblins with long, curling horns shuffled from a back room into the centre of the dome, their long golden robes sweeping along the stone floor.

‘Grakatdarsydon.’ The first snarled, bearing gem-studded fangs. ‘You bring human. You bring shame. You—’

‘I am bested.’ Grakatdarsydon raised her chin, baring her throat. ‘A name earnt. Our warriors slain. Our bronze guardians destroyed. Even Kar-on. Sydgaskzār demands the grudge-blade.’

The matriarchs hissed to each other in soft Gobbledegook.

The first stepped forward. ‘Does human understand, Grakatdarsydon?’

‘A little, Gotkirdardyon. I translate when words ready.’ 

Harry watched them mutter together.

Gotkirdardyon waved the other three matriarchs back. ‘Grudge-blade our oath. It cannot be lost. Crown-grudge still unavenged.’

Grakatdarsydon bared her fangs. ‘Hive burns for old grudge? Rome gone. How avenge?’

‘Young Grakatdarsydon,’ Gotkirdardyon hissed. ‘Not yet queen body. Devour mate and spawn and think matriarch?’ 

‘I am bested.’ Grakatdarsydon’s head fell. ‘Never matriarch. Hive first. Sydgaskzār not stop. Grudge-blade or fire.’

Gotkirdardyon snarled. ‘Sydgaskzār name given?’

‘Sydgaskzār name fits.’ Grakatdarsydon shuddered. ‘Magic horror. Despair. Hunger. Drown. Drown. Drown again.’

Like I did. A faint bitterness tugged at the corner of his mouth. 

Gotkirdardyon muttered to the other three and Harry bounced his wand in his sleeve, one eye on Grakatdarsydon’s blade.

‘Tell Sydgaskzār words.’ A second matriarch stepped past Gotkirdardyon. ‘What grudge-blade take for? Human cannot wield.’

‘Thrūkogdarkaron asks what are you taking it for?’ Grakatdarsydon turned to Harry. ‘It is useless to you. Our oath. Our magic.’

‘To end the grudge,’ Harry said. ‘There was a prophecy. A last son of Kart Hadasht to eclipse the legacy of Rome. I will destroy the damaz-kar and end this legacy of Rome.’

For Sophonissa and all those screaming firstborn sons I can never go back to. He shivered at the memory of the swirling storm of red screams. And for our baby bird.

‘Kart Hadasht spawn.’ Grakatdarsydon turned to Thrūkogdarkaron. ‘Rome eclipse. Grudge-blade destroy.’

The matriarchs whispered together and the other two strode back into the gloom through the far door.

‘Take grudge-blade. Destroy.’ Thrūkogdarkaron balled her fists. ‘Great shame. Great wound. Great fear. Grakatdarsydon hive-bound. Matriarch never. Hive survive.’

Grakatdarsydon’s shoulders slumped. ‘Take the damaz-kar, Sydgaskzār. Do not return here. If we meet again, I will take your skull or die trying.’

The other two matriarchs returned. A spear of jagged bone shards rested across their hands, its runes glimmering poisonous green.

‘Damaz-kar,’ Harry whispered.

The matriarchs held it out, fangs bared. 

He grabbed it, feeling the magic flowing within the bone squirm from his touch like water from oil. ‘I will not return…’ Harry levelled them with a cold stare. ‘Unless word of this spreads, then I shall come and burn your hive and every goblin here to dust.’

‘Wait.’ Grakatdarsydon pulled her blade from her back and Harry tensed. ‘Sydgaskzār, you doom me to be a hive-bound queen and die old without honour. Let my blade bear the mark of your magic, so at least none can say Grakatdarsydon lost to a weak warrior.’

‘No.’ Gotkirdardyon slapped the sword aside. ‘No shame. Young queen. Would not leave seek victory. Defeat cannot shame now. Hive-bound serve hive. Not shame.’ 

Grakatdarsydon raised her chin high, her golden eyes huge and soft. ‘Will not shame again.’

Harry turned away.

‘Wait.’ Grakatdarsydon growled. ‘When you give your name to goblins you are Sydgaskzār, named grudge-free, of Queen Grakatdarsydon.’

He paused. ‘Do you know anything about phoenixes?’

‘Fire-blood-magic bird?’ Grakatdarsydon glanced at the matriarchs. ‘What know of fire-blood-magic bird?’

They muttered to one another and shook their heads. 

‘Phoenixes have never sought goblins,’ Grakatdarsydon said. ‘They have powerful magic of their own. Their song is like the aura of a queen. But never sung in deep places.’

It was worth a try.

Harry strode out back through the throng of goblins, the runes carved into the cold bone of the damaz-kar casting a poisonous green glow over his hand.

Two steps, little chick. Just two steps left.

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