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Longshadow's lost key was a Shadowgate key mentioned to have once been in the possession of Longshadow. Nothing about its physical appearance or its origin is recorded in the Annals. Despite subsequent historical confusion, it is certain that Longshadow's lost key and the key known as the golden pickax were two different talismans.

This was the mysterious key which was used by Longshadow, his apprentice Shadowspinner, as well as a group of shadowweavers to cross the lethal glittering plain safely and to enter the homeworld after they were exiled from Hsien. The relic must have been acquired by Longshadow, and not created by him, as he later proved incapable of manufacturing a replacement even with the resources of a vast empire at his disposal. (The Howler and Tobo also confirmed that Longshadow's understanding of Shadowgate sorcery was always rudimentary and incomplete.)

The key was then stolen from him an unspecified number of years before the Battle of Lake Tanji, and was lost forever when the unidentified thief died. The likely suspects for the identity of the thief are the other 3 Shadowmasters: Shadowspinner, Stormshadow, or Moonshadow. Shadowspinner is arguably the most likely suspect as he once traveled in the presence of the artifact, and, his mutual distrust of Longshadow was infamous and predated the presence of the other two Shadowmasters by many years.

Mentions in the Annals[]

Longshadow's lost key is referred to at least twice in the Annals of the Black Company.

Longshadow recalled the relic in She Is the Darkness as follows:

It had been a long time since [Longshadow] had sent someone through [the Shadowgate] to watch him die a cruel death. He just had no time for himself anymore. Nor could he open the way these days, without the Lance. The only other key had been stolen long ago by one of his dead colleagues. He did not have the necromantic power to call up their shades and compel the villain to reveal where the thing was buried.

More than 15 years later, toward the end of Water Sleeps, the Annalist Sleepy wondered about Longshadow's lost key. Sleepy had just been granted a series of external memories directly into her mind by the golem Shivetya during her first visit to the fortress with no name. However, to her disappointment, none of those memories included the whereabouts of Longshadow's missing Shadowgate key:

A startled bluebottle of speculation buzzed through my mind. I checked to see if I had an answer. But I had no memories of what might have become of the Key that would have been necessary if, indeed, Longshadow, as Maricha Manthara Dhumraksha, with his student Ashutosh Yaksha, had come to our world from the Land of Unknown Shadows.

Possibilities about origin[]

  • Although it is not directly suggested in the Annals, it is entirely plausible that Longshadow's key was the same as the Nyueng Bao ancestor key, the mysterious talisman that had been used by the ancestors of the Nyueng Bao De Duang to flee Hsien, safely cross the plain, and enter the homeworld. This is the key which Tobo stated in Soldiers Live had been "secretly manufactured" by his mother's ancestors using the information kept at Khang Phi. After the first wave made the journey, at least one person returned to Hsien with it for the purpose of escorting the next group of a planned "regular, gradual evacuation" across the plain. But the subsequent waves never arrived, and their key disappeared. Longshadow – the tyrant of Hsien who was persecuting these families of Kina worshipers in the first place – could have captured the relic after its return to his empire, and later used it to permit his escape upon his own exile.
  • It is also possible that Longshadow's lost key was the same key he and his brethren Shadowmasters must have used to enter Hsien and conquer it in the first place. Longshadow was one of "many lean, pale bonesacks" who were "invaders from another world" that "had brought no wives with them" into Hsien. If this was the case, the key sourced from the utterly mysterious origin world of Longshadow, Shadowspinner, as well as those "many" unnamed others of his race who did not survive into the times of the modern Annals.