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The Nyueng Bao ancestor key was a mysterious Shadowgate key known to have been in the possession of the Nyueng Bao De Duang an unspecified number of generations before the lifetime of Croaker the Annalist. It was used by the Nyueng Bao – a subset of the Children of the Dead who worshiped Kina – to flee the religious persecution of the tyrannical Shadowmasters of Hsien, cross the lethal glittering plain, and enter an entirely different world, where they settled permanently.

Nothing about its physical appearance is described. At least two conflicting stories exist regarding this talisman.

Association with the golden pickax[]

Up until at least She Is the Darkness, the modern Nyueng Bao presumed that a strange hammer-shaped relic which they called "the Key" must have been the same talisman used by their ancestors. Stored for generations within their central temple called the Vinh Gao Ghang Temple of Ghanghesha, "the Key" was later exposed in Water Sleeps to be the golden pickax, a lost relic of the unrelated Stranglers cult.

Tobo's later research[]

The presumption that the Nyueng Bao ancestor key and the golden pickax were identical was later explicitly contradicted by Tobo in Soldiers Live. Tobo received a comprehensive education from Surendranath Santaraksita and the native monks of Khang Phi about the first generation of Nyueng Bao refugees. He asserted that the Shadowgate key utilized by his maternal ancestors was an entirely different talisman that was "secretly manufactured" using the information kept at Khang Phi. In this narrative, the Nyueng Bao were the vanguard of what was supposed to be multiple waves of further refugees. 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.

Although Tobo's explanation of the Nyueng Bao ancestor key is the more plausible, it was doubted by the ever-skeptical Croaker, who simply believed that the truth had been lost forever. However, Tobo himself would manufacture his own 10 new keys using the ancient secrets kept at Khang Phi.

Possible connection to Longshadow's lost key[]

Although it is not directly suggested in the Annals, if Tobo's account is accurate it is plausible that the Nyueng Bao ancestor key is the same as Longshadow's lost key. Longshadow – the tyrant of Hsien who was persecuting these families of Kina worshipers in the first place – could have captured the talisman after its return to his empire, and later used it to permit his escape upon his own exile. His key must have been acquired by him, and not created by him, as he later proved incapable of manufacturing a replacement after its theft even with the resources of a vast empire at his disposal.

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