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Narayan Singh by Didier Graffett

The golden pickax – still encased in the iron shell – being retrieved by Narayan Singh from the temple of the Stranglers in the Grove of Doom. Art by Didier Graffet.

Not to be confused with the unrelated Golden Hammer magic spell

The golden pickax – also called the Key or simply the pick – was an ancient, extremely holy relic of the cult of the Stranglers which featured prominently in Water Sleeps. It was lost to the Stranglers after their near-extermination at the hands of Rhaydreynak, centuries in the past; afterward, it was rediscovered by the Nyueng Bao, who incorrectly conflated it with a different, long-lost talisman from their own history.

The object turned out to be a priceless Shadowgate key, but it also doubled as a cult tool used by the Stranglers to pulverize the bones of their sacrificial victims (hence its shape). At first glance, it was initially mistaken to be a war hammer, but only because a crumbling, cast-iron outer shell concealed the object's true form for hundreds of years until it was chipped away in Water Sleeps.

The golden pickax beneath the iron shell featured inscriptions and symbols, including the personal sign of Kina, the goddess of the Stranglers. The alphabet of the inscriptions was the same as the language found in the Books of the Dead... as well as the comparatively newer first book of the Black Company's Annals, which was written by a different group of Kina cultists: the Free Companies of Khatovar.

Before Croaker's Annals[]

Era of Rhaydreynak[]

The origin of the golden pickax is not detailed, but it was presumably created by the first Stranglers, a shadowy group of proscribed Kina cultists in the Taglios-area of the homeworld who preceded the first Free Companies of Khatovar by centuries. It became the prototype of the bone-crushing picks carried by each independent band of Strangers, and was the finest of them all in craftsmanship and materials. It is unclear if the pickax was created as a Shadowgate key, or, if those enchantments were added later.

The pick is associated with Mahtnahan dan Jakel, the most holy saint of the Stranglers, who "antedated the appearance of the Free Companies by several centuries supposedly" according to Sleepy in Water Sleeps. When an emperor named Rhaydreynak began a murderous crusade against the Stranglers, the cultists used the pick to safely cross the Shadowgate and enter the glittering plain. They hid their Books of the Dead beneath the fortress with no name, and returned with the pick to the homeworld. At some point, Mahtnahan dan Jakel killed Rhaydreynak. The survivors of Rhaydreynak's pogrom chased the Gunni out of the Vinh Gao Ghang Temple of Ghanghesha in the swamps west of Taglios, and hid the pick beneath the temple. It was forgotten, according to Tobo in Soldiers Live, because the Stranglers faded away from this region.

It is unclear when the cast-iron outer shell was added to the pickax, but given the shell's crumbling state in Water Sleeps, it is plausible it was added by the Stranglers themselves.

Rediscovered by the Nyueng Bao[]

Sometime after the Nyueng Bao De Duang inherited the Vinh Gao Ghang Temple of Ghanghesha, their priests discovered the pick during renovations. They incorrectly associated the artifact with the long-lost Nyueng Bao ancestor key, and began to refer to the pick as "the Key". For this reason, subsequent generations of the Nyueng Bao came to consider it to be a holy relic. The object was not accessible to anyone but the highest Nyueng Bao priests; even Uncle Doj, a respected master of the Path of the Sword, never saw the object until after it was stolen.

Bleak Seasons[]

Stolen by Soulcatcher from the Nyueng Bao[]

Although the pickax was not mentioned in the Annals of Bleak Seasons, later revelations would expose that the relic played a major role in those events.

Sometime between when the Siege of Dejagore was lifted and when Ky Gota and Thai Dei moved in with Murgen in the Palace of Taglios, Soulcatcher stole the holy relic from the Nyueng Bao priests at the Vinh Gao Ghang Temple of Ghanghesha, where it had been kept for generations. In the process, she murdered many masters of the Path of the Sword, earning the unforgiving enmity of Uncle Doj, who had not even seen the relic before despite his status within the Nyueng Bao culture.

Prior to and during Soulcatcher's time with it, it was referred to only as "the Key" and was still covered with its sheath of cast-iron. She believed it was an oddly-shaped war hammer. Even the champion sorceress could not identify the underlying pickax, and she did not seem to know it was made of gold.

Role in the earthquakes[]

Using the talisman, Soulcatcher safely crossed the Shadowgate, traversed the glittering plain, and entered the fortress with no name... all without ever being noticed by the watchful eyes of Longshadow in nearby Overlook. In the nameless fortress, at the feet of the immortal but immobile golem Shivetya, she tinkered haphazardly with the machinery that Shivetya used to maintain the sorcery of the plain. Her careless activity caused the gigantic earthquake that occurred at the end of Bleak Seasons. It created fissures not only on the plain, but also reached back into the homeworld, where the quakes took thousands of lives. The most devastated city was Kiaulune, geographically the closest place to the Shadowgate. Evidence discovered years later revealed that the terrible quakes also devastated the southern portions of at least 2 of the 15 other worlds linked to the glittering plain: Hsien and the Voroshk world.

She Is the Darkness[]

The golden pickax – referred to as "the Key" – was discussed only briefly and obliquely in She Is the Darkness. Uncle Doj was attempting to reclaim the Key for his people, the Nyueng Bao, when he ambushed Soulcatcher after her attack on Lady's fireball projector factory. He believed the wounds he sustained from Catcher were fatal, and he implored his protégé Thai Dei to continue searching for the Key and to finish Catcher while she was weak. This rare glimpse into the secrets of the Nyueng Bao was carefully observed and recorded by Murgen (ch. 94).

Doj was operating under the impression that "the Key" which Soulcatcher had stolen from his people had been the Nyueng Bao ancestor key. About 19 years later (in Soldiers Live) Tobo would explain to Croaker that these were actually two different Shadowgate keys.

At some point, the pickax was stolen from Soulcatcher's compound by Narayan Singh, the most notorious Strangler jamadar. Narayan's goddess, Kina, clouded Soulcatcher's mind to permit the theft. He placed it inside a well-concealed spot in the Stranglers' temple within the Grove of Doom.

Water Sleeps[]

Retrieval from the Grove of Doom[]

Narayan Singh turned over the pickax to Sleepy (the Annalist of the Black Company) in exchange for the partially-transcribed Books of the Dead. When he retrieved it from inside the Stranglers' temple at the Grove, he accidentally dropped it, creating a crack in the iron shell. The older son of Iqbal Singh soon pointed out something strange within the deep crack. Iqbal pried away some of the iron, and for the first time in untold centuries, the gold underneath was visible.

Later, One-Eye and Goblin chipped away the iron shell entirely. Some of the ancient lettering on the pickax resembled the alphabet of the very first Annals, the "Book of the Company", as well as the first of the Books of the Dead. When they showed the relic to their captive, the Daughter of Night (who was Kina's "Foretold" messiah), she reacted desperately and attempted to seize the object despite immense personal pain. This proved without a doubt Sleepy's educated guess that the relic was originally a Strangler talisman.

Usage to rescue the Captured[]

Sleepy, Tobo, and the rest of the Company and their allies then used the talisman to exit the homeworld by crossing the Shadowgate. They safely traversed the glittering plain because the pickax, functioning exactly like the Lance of Passion, provided the necessary magic shield of protection against the millions of lethal shadows on the plain. Sleepy brought it inside the fortress with no name, where she finally located the Captured, who had been trapped for 15 years in the cave of the ancients. There, they also recovered the Company's Lance of Passion (another Shadowgate key) but that one was soon lost by Goblin when he impaled Kina with it.

After liberating 5 of the Captured, Sleepy then used the pickax to bring her band safely across the Shadowgate of Hsien, where the Company created their new headquarters, the Abode of Ravens. She made several expeditions with the pickax back and forth between the fortress and the Abode of Ravens, liberating small groups of the remaining Captured each time, until they were all freed.

Soldiers Live[]

The pickax was discussed briefly in Soldiers Live by Tobo and Croaker. Tobo stated that he left the relic with Shivetya at the nameless fortress, and it is not mentioned again. Its usefulness as a Shadowgate key was superseded by Tobo's 10 new keys, and, any ability it may have had to liberate Kina was nullified after her defeat at the hands of Croaker and Goblin.