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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

of all them hammers workin' away was like no other sound ye ever heard. Tell yer light-
fingered friend there's nothing down here to be looted either,” Clavis mentioned to
Nellise, after noticing Pacian had vanished. “The place was cleaned out all the way down
to the collapse on the third level, long ago.”
“It's the only way he'll learn,” she admonished, shaking her head. “Don't worry, he'll
grow bored with the lack of things to steal sooner or later.”
They continued along the street until they came to another collapsed section blocking
their passage. Clavis was unperturbed, instead choosing a different route through the
ancient city that avoided the obstruction. Pacian re-joined the group after a while,
sporting a flaming torch held in one hand to light his way.
“Anything interesting?” Aiden inquired, already knowing the answer.
“Nah, it's completely cleaned out,” he replied, sounding crestfallen. “Are you sure
we're going to find anything at all in this place, Clavis? I'm starting to get worried that
it'll all be for nothing.”
“The blockage on level three has been there for a long time,” Clavis recited from
memory. “When we get past that, we're bound to find a whole section of the city that
hasn't been accessible for nearly a century. Ye'll get yer fill 'o loot, don't ya worry.”
The tightly-clustered buildings of the city ended abruptly, giving way to an immense
open area before them. In the middle of this cavern was a gargantuan device, much like a
giant pot – it had to be over fifty feet in width, and he couldn't even guess at the weight of
the thing. One of the massive braces holding it up had failed years ago, leaving the
cauldron leaning heavily to one side. O ld and decaying leather gloves, rusty metal tongs
and other equipment were strewn around on the stone floor at its base, as well as a fine
layer of sand that had spilled out of a large clay vessel.
Huge blocks of stone, carved to channel molten iron hung suspended by big, rusty
chains over a gaping hole in the floor, where the white hot metal would have dropped.
Their puny lights could not penetrate the darkness of that hole well enough to see the
bottom, though he could see the outline of a sta irwell not far from their position.
Beyond the pot, a colossal furnace lay dormant, charred black from years of use and
decaying slowly with time. A solid layer of rust covered the machine, along with
scattered parts to what could only have been an elabora te pulley system. Aiden stared in
amazement at the sheer scale of the foundry, unable to fathom the need for such scale.
“Told ya ye'd be impressed,” Clavis chuckled at their faces. “This is just a hint of
what the dwarves of Ferrumgaard were capable of back in the day, and I doubt we'll see
their like again. They'd forge massive engines here, both for peacetime and for war, and
of course parts for maintaining the great doors. There's no point dwelling on the distant
past, for the real treasure lies beneath us. The stairwell beckons, over yonder.” He pointed
towards an area past the gaping maw of the furnace, over near the northern wall.
Wordlessly, they moved on to the stairwell down to the next floor. It was just like the
last one they had taken, wide and smooth. This one circled around the great hole in the
floor where they would have been able to see the machinery of dwarven industry at work,
had it still been operating.
The air was becoming stale as they descended into areas where fresh air couldn't
reach, and the dry smell of stone and dirt was becoming stronger. Aiden heard the sound
of someone sniffling, and guessed that Colt was dealing with his issues once more.
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