Lockpicking is one of those glamorous skills that you think would be really handy for an explorer, and turns out not to be. Surprisingly few cultures use conventional locks, and on the off chance you’re looking for a lost colony or expedition from one of them, generally by the time you find the lock, it’s been rusted or gummed up for so long there’s nothing you can do with it. The few times that one may have a working lock, it’s usually faster and more efficient to simply apply the proper tool (i.e. Heinrich.)
If one is looking to be an explorer, therefore, I suggest one take up darning. One may or may not ever encounter a lock in the darkest wilds, but it’s a given that one’s clothes will be more hole than cloth by the end of an expedition.
At any rate, finding my lockpicks in the jumble of our no-longer-organized camp was the hardest part. It was a very large lock with only two tumblers, and even as unskilled as I am, it didn’t take very long to pick. There was even a handy gear embedded sideways in the floor that made a convenient seat. I unwrapped the chain and pushed the door open with a creak.
The room revealed was a small cube about ten feet on a side, floored with flagstones (the walls were still sand-colored concrete) with a square stand in the middle of the room. On the stand was a gong, and hanging next to it, a mallet.
The gong was beaten copper, the only design a simple, tightly wound spiral, but as if to make up for this restraint, the metalsmith had gone completely overboard with the mallet, and not in a good way. The head was a kneeling, nude woman, mostly human but with the flayed, pop-eyed skull of some gnawing rodent. Enormous chisel-like buck-teeth made up one end, and squared off buttocks the other. Each of the six breasts that the artist had seen fit to bestow on this figure extended off the head of the mallet, and wrapped down the ebony haft in a tight spiral, holding it in place, and ending in an ornate fringe of nipples at the end cap. Perhaps feeling that his creation had not gone quite far enough, the artist had worked each nipple into the likeness of a screaming chisel-toothed mouth, except for one that was a tiny, ornate chrysanthemum.
“Yow,” I said.
Heinrich didn’t have to say anything. I could feel his eyebrows go up from across the room.
Bolted to the front of the platform was a metal plaque with carefully inscribed letters:
While we fully understand that you are curious as to what
happens when the gong is struck, we must strongly advise
against it. The results are most unpleasant and dramatically
fatal. Human nature being what it is, we realize that this
warning may not stop you, and may in fact only drive you
to strike it, but since we are unable to destroy the gong,
and the lock was evidentally insufficient to keep you out,
we can only hope that you will take our advice. There are
neither riches nor knowledge here, but only an ugly death.
The Monks of Perdition
Under this plaque was another, much smaller and more discreet one that said simply:
Heinrich and I read this plaque through. I made a careful rubbing of it. Then we left the room and re-locked the door behind us.
Our readers may be disappointed at this lack of adventurous spirit on our part, and perhaps rightly so, but one doesn’t get to be an old adventurer without learning when to leave well enough alone.