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Burnock Shadowforge turned the heavy metal gear over and over in his hands, looking for flaws. The gear was several hundred years old, maybe a lot older. A skilled dwarf could tell by the amount of oxidation on the inner groove of the gear. Very slight, but it was there. He took a hammer and steel chisel and tried put a dent in it. The steel chisel blunted without putting a scratch in the gear. This was a size 7, #fourteen hardened dark iron gear. This gear was used in hundreds of different dwarven machines. Millions of this type of gear had been made by dwarven mechanics. But not out of this material.

The hardening process had been a secret of the Shadowforge clan. It made their metal stronger, their picks better, and their machines need less repairs. This monopoly had let his clan expand their mining operations in many places, but especially under this city. Deep copper and dark iron had flowed like a river out of their mines. They had been a rich and respectable clan!

That all ended, so the clan elders say, the day that the old city went away. Details were sort of sketchy on the why of it all. Humans and Elves were having a war with each other, and the Light and the Dark were involved. Dwarves stayed out of it. They didn't care about property topside. Dwarves had built their own part of the town deep in the hollow mountain that loomed up next to the human’s coastal city. Trade was good. The humans always needed metal, and dwarven stone smiths found a lot of work building the ever-expanding city.

At some point the human mages had done something wrong, or maybe the elves had used a spell that should never have been used. No dwarf trusted elves so they mostly blamed them for what had happened. If you were topside and could see it, you were dead. All the dwarves knew was that one moment they had a city inside a hollow mountain, and the next moment there was a tremendous light that blinded one person in three, and scooped away a good chunk of the mountain.

And all of city. And a huge amount of earth under the city. Whatever had hit the city, it was like a giant sphere all around it had gone away. The only thing left was one tower of black stone, comically sitting on a perfect pillar of stone nearly a half mile tall, holding it above a perfectly shaped hemisphere of nothing. The city was gone, and a good chunk of the coastline. The seas came pouring in, creating a perfectly round bay whose edge was now under the overhanging cliff of the mountain. The old city of the humans, Sartothra, was gone. The dwarven city of Hollowmount was nearly destroyed, with its buildings knocked flat and too much light pouring in.

But worst hit were the clan holdings, down low near the mines. The earthquake that accompanied the destruction collapsed mineshafts and tunnels, and destroyed the dwarven enclaves. 90% of the Shadowforge clan was killed or never returned. And the secret of hardening dark iron had died with them. His clan, like many of the dwarven clans, went from wealth to poverty immediately. Hollowmount was never truly rebuilt. The remaining dwarves and refugee humans built what they could to survive, and bay was perfect for large ships to stop and shelter from the frequent storms. The city of Shadowport was built on the rubble of Hollowmount.

And today some snot-nosed human had wandered into the guildhall and sold machine parts no one had seen in ages. Machine parts made by his clan. The kid had only been a member of the miner's guild for a couple of days and could barely haul a sack of ore. What the hell was he doing stealing his clan's property and running around their old mines! Because Burnock knew that was where he'd found these.

He'd sold deep copper ore along with the machine parts. That gave Burnock a rough idea of the area. And it wasn't good. That part of the deep-down was avoided. It was filled with poisonous mushrooms, copperheads, myconian monsters, and layers of soft earth that shifted to easily. 'Shakytown' they'd called that area. Start swinging some picks and making some noise and it was even odds over whether you died from some critter or the ceiling fell in on you.

But that made a bit of sense, that the boy found those parts there. It might not have always been so treacherous, or the clan wouldn't have put in the mines there. But now it was avoided, and those parts had sat for ages. The appraiser had bought them for a fraction of their value, paying in weight of metal as they bought everything. The real value was to a mechanic with older machines.

Burnock called in his cousin Shifty. He'd had another name once, but the clan had taken it away when his fingers were caught taking money that didn't belong to him. So now he was missing a joint on his right index finger and he name was Shifty. No one in the clan would deal with him except Burnock. Shifty got a bit of coin now and then, in exchange for doing things Burnock didn't want traced back to him. It was an arrangement that worked for both of them.

"Get an adventuring party together. The type you like. Then find out where the kid goes, and track him back to the old areas he found. I want to get in and claim them before someone else finds out.

Shifty smiled. He liked 'adventuring'. Almost anything could happen. "And when we're done getting the info?"

Burnock held up his hands. "I don't need to know. I'm hiring you to follow a clue hoping to reclaim clan secrets. You handle it your way."

"Sure cousin, I'll handle things my way."

                     =*=

Samantha found a very depressed Sidney sitting at her desk and angerly typing. Normally Sidney typed with one hand and drank her coffee with the other. Today her cup was empty. That was a very, very bad sign.

"Everything Ok?"

Sidney slowly turned. "You know it isn't, and yet you say that hoping I'll give you some clue. But I'm on to you! "

Samantha took the empty cup, and brought Sidney two fresh cups. She looked at them, drank one

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The Walrus King

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