Worldbuilding: Where to Hide Sealed X in a Can

No, not about storage caches when prepping for the Apocalypse. We’re talking Sealed Evil in a Can. Or Sealed Good. Or Lost Artifacts. Or any of a number of items and people that you want in your plot, but don’t want your general population to know about or encounter until the appropriate story moment.

So they have to be out of casual sight, but someplace your hero (or villain, or both) can get to. There’s a couple of good ways to pull this off.

First, and most handwavy, the hidden thing or person has always been there, you just have to meet the exact right conditions to see it, access it, or wake it out of its thousand-year nap. A lot of Masquerade worlds rely on Invisible to Muggles to pull this off. While that may be convenient for the plot, it may not easily jibe with either the original folklore (where usually anyone could see monsters) or with audience suspension of disbelief that anyone would make something reliant on a once-every-thousand-years conjunction or Ancient Bamboo Technology to keep things sealed up or open them when you need to.

(And then there’s the out-and-out ludicrousness of finding an artifact lost thousands of years ago depending on a glass bottle also locked away thousands of years ago that has to be placed in a statue… less than 1500 years old. Why yes, I’m still salty about Aquaman, why do you ask?)

On the more realistic end of the scale, maybe whatever it is, is just very far away. And most people don’t know about it because they don’t travel halfway across the “known universe”. This is easier to pull off in stories where there’s no reliable internet, but it can still work with one. Nobody knows every little nook and cranny of odd phenomena and odder people out there. How many people know about the Brown Mountain lights – and of those who do, how many would be able to draw a connection between them and Naga fireballs to figure out where a foreign monster might be hiding out?

In between, something hidden might not be that far away, but it’s difficult to find or get to unless you have very specific skills and info. In a shipwreck in the Caribbean. Part of a lost desert expedition (shades of The Mummy Returns). Or if you were trying to track down a specific note in an Italian soldier’s diary… when the last historical record of the man had him on mountain sentry duty on Mount Marmolada, 1916.

That would be a very hard guy to track down. There’s possibly 10,000 bodies up there no one ever found….

Which leaves open the possibility that (in fiction at least) not everyone on the fatality list was dead. Or that another, secret battle was concealed in the avalanches that day; the perfect plan to freeze a villain, or a hero, and provide your Sealed Evil/Good in a neat frozen package.

On that note – have Sabaton’s take on White Friday, that inspired this bit.

39 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Where to Hide Sealed X in a Can

  1. Looking at it from the other side, no security system is perfect.
    As long as there is a way to get to it, that way can be faked or bypassed.
    It doesn’t matter how good your vault door is if they deconstruct the building.

    This can be easy to overlook when you read the story about the one time the protections fail.
    Especially when they don’t mention all the times they worked.

    “Why did they make all those sacrifices for a defense that didn’t even work!?”

    A good security system isn’t impossible to bypass, it’s expensive, slow, and complicated to bypass, and includes a lot of alarms.
    That gives the defenders more time and opportunity to respond.

    Having a barrier that protects absolutely against 99% of people, but falls instantly and silently to 1% just means you have 79 million people you can’t stop.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yeah, I’m recalling a bit in the Cat Tales (Batman fanfiction series, it takes status quo out behind the chemical shed and puts a couple thousand bullets into that thing’s existence) where Selina is talking about the problem with any sort of security system guarding something, especially a residence: in the basic analysis, they’re meant *to let someone through them and thus are always vulnerable to being bypassed somehow.*

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Scene just popped into head:

        “Why did you dig me out?!”
        “Our records say that you were the last person that had an idea of how to stop the Big Bad Evil!”
        “I did! It was, ‘lure it to a battle field and then bury us all in snow’!”

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I… just envisioned the same…enthusiastic use of what colors they had … that hte folks who painted the Greek statues used….

        but with modern colors.

        The seventies think there’s a lack of restraint.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Henry VIII’s petition to get out of his marriage, with all the seals, was hidden from Napoleon inside a ratty armchair in the Vatican Archives. Guy who did it died, and they found it a few years back when they decided to restore the chair.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it was actually a chest that was built into the armchair, underneath. Which is really quite nice, because one seldom turns over a big stuffed armchair to look underneath, and there’s a sort of box structure already.

      Henry VIII’s petition and all of the seals was pretty substantial, and the seals of his lords were delicate in their attachment. So it was important to keep it both safely hidden and securely supported.

      One suspects the fine hand of the Vatican’s families of maintenance and construction workers, although I guess the archives guys could have just hired a furniture guy.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m glad someone else was salty about the statue in Aquaman, I was watching it with my family and literally got up and walked away at that reveal.

    on a side note, was this inspired by ongoing work on “lonely oni”?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My personal hate-sink for stunts like that is the National Treasure movies. Clues based on particular buildings, or streets… those things *move* in a century or two!

    If you need to leave crucial information, you don’t write it in a book and bury the book! *Anything* could happen! Instead, start or co-opt a monastic order or something, who keep *copying* the book religiously as the originals rot.

    Likewise, ancient death traps. Without magic or Sufficiently Advanced Technology, they’re not going to *work* after a few *decades* without maintenance, much less centuries.
    There *are* ways to make traps that would last for millenia (the one in *Cryptonomicon* comes to mind), but they have to be very simple, not Rube Goldberg machines.

    Best case, if you can attach your sealed item to a living being, or an ongoing spell, something that can maintain itself over time, adapt to changing conditions (continental drift, the odd flood or earthquake, a random Tunguska…), and can *come find you* if/when you satisfy the right conditions. An AI battleship hiding out in the asteroids, eating rocks and solar energy to keep itself in fighting trim. An immortal dragon bound by an old bargain or geas. Or those monks (just make sure the documents you left with them have some sort of protection against transcription errors!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Try to distill the Important Parts down into a really good mythology type story?

      Which will, of course, be corrupted– but if you build it right, it gives the important parts and an Everybody Knows to work with.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Creates a need for professional Folklorists and… (I forget the term for someone who studies comparative mythology). Maybe linguists too.

        “Okay, we have to find the clues to save the world, but they’re buried in this ancient myth that’s spread across multiple societies and become corrupted over time. So we’re going to have to track down all the versions, and reverse-engineer the original details.”

        IOW, a typical treasure-hunt quest, but trawling for stories instead of digging for artifacts. And some clannish cultures might be a bit *tetchy* about outsiders nosing around asking about their ancestral myths, so there’s still room for Dramatic Conflict….

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Sometimes things move even faster. There’s a plot-crucial bit in Bring It On Ghost where they’re looking for something in a station storage locker… only it turns out the station they’re in is the wrong one, because the original burned down only 5 years ago. It’s still accessible, but you have to know which door to look behind….


  5. Personally, I just started my world building and plot that does involve sealed evil in a can. I’m torn between my sealed evil being conscious and very aware the entire time and finding a loophole to set itself free—

    Or having my sealed evil truly be sealed…right up until an earthquake cracks it open; and it’s been long enough that most people just think it’s an old horror story and don’t know to be afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that most people just think it’s an old horror story and don’t know to be afraid.

      Hm… the usual comedic take on that is that the SEIAC depends on people’s terror to be powerful, and since no one is actually afraid of it anymore, it is terribly terribly nerfed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Belated: In the real world, this just landed in my podcatcher (or, to be more precise, I finally got to this point in the backlog):

    Which, with the context of this post still fresh in my mind, gave me an image of “hiding” your Sealed Can by hiding it in plain sight at a place like this. Or maybe figuring out some way to get it into the local UPS or DHL equivalent with a routing tag that will ensure it just keeps circulating, forever, wandering between warehouses without ever being delivered or chucked into Lost&Found.

    At least one novel I recall, the mundane protagonist did this: he was a shipping expert, and when he knew Magical Beings might be coming after him, he rigged the McGuffin to do such a permanent circulation, set up in such a way that even *he* couldn’t get at it if he was mind-controlled.

    More broadly: Atlas Obscura is a *great* source for oddball real-world places that would make good Worldbuilding Bunny fodder.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It might be personal bias, given I am a librarian, but I would think hiding documents in a library would do for a few centuries at least. Especially if you miss shelve or miss catalog them, they’ll just sit there quietly gathering dust.
    An academic library or archive is probably better; they often have a culture of hoarding *everything*, rather like highly literary dragons.
    Or stick your can in the bowels of the British Museum stores (or local equivalent). Describe it as a “ritual object”, exact purpose unknown (archaeological designation equivalent of John Smith) and it will stay there forever. Longer if it’s in the BM, they don’t ever let go of stuff in their collections.

    Liked by 2 people

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