Or, the Grand Finale.
Pieces of the incredibly ancient technology recovered from the equally ancient ruins in Australia were copied and shipped to the Penhew Foundation via Shanghai, a city which happens to be the home of a cult named the Order of the Bloated Woman. Given some of the things that have happened in the last two parts, this name is particularly disturbing.
Shanghai is also where Jack Brady was seen alive after his supposed death 5 years ago. Since he was the one member of the Carlyle Expedition who didn’t enter the Bent Pyramid, there’s a chance that he might not only have crucial information to thwart the cultists’ fiendish plans, but may be willing to help them.
Among the clues Jackson Elias left Hazel are a matchbox for the Stumbling Tiger, the seedy bar where Jack was last seen, and a photograph of a ship in the harbor.
While Hazel and Zeke go looking for Jack in the Stumbling Tiger, Victoria and Cecil stop by the local newspaper and learn about a strange murder that happened–what a coincidence!–at a brothel in the same street.
Zeke and Hazel don’t locate Jack just yet, but the bartender does identify the ship in the photo for them. Its name is the Dark Mistress, and it has an unsavory reputation and a fish-eyed crew. He can’t tell them where it goes or “anything about Gray Dragon Island either. ”
These investigations bring the group to the attention of Madame Lin, a mysterious lady accompanied by two large, albino apes who act as her henchmen (and are probably cousins of the late Arthur Jermyn). She’s looking for Jack Brady herself and “engages” Hazel et al to find Jack and recover something she claims he’s stolen from her; Penny O’Brien is held hostage as an inducement to ensure they do as Madame Lin requests and retrieve her property back.
Madame Lin also know something about the Cult of the Bloated Woman, and reveals that it performs its rites on Gray Dragon Island–both the island and the Dark Mistress belong to the missing Sir Aubrey Penhew.
After some further adventures involving Jack and the item he stolen from Madame Lin, a hurried translation, and another seance to consult with Victoria’s late sister Tennessee, the younger members of the party sneak aboard the Dark Mistress with plans to interrupt the cult’s ceremonies that night. The older members aren’t up to what Victoria calls “usefulness on commando raids” and return to Madame Lin’s to see about getting Penny safely back.
Zeke has a last piece of advice for Hazel as they board the ship with their comrades:
“If things get really bad out there–I mean, if there’s no way out–don’t let them take you. Save the last bullet for yourself.”
Before we’re through, this advice will turn ironically on them both.
There’s an unexpected twist or two as we near the exciting conclusion of the story. When they finally meet him face to face, Sir Aubrey makes the usual archvillain’s mistake of lingering over his gloating and taking too long to explain the details of his master plan to create a glorious, new Nyarlathotepic Age on Earth–which involves a volcano, an entirely new type of super-weapon, and a shoggoth (because there’s always a shoggoth around somewhere); this gives our heroes some time to act against him. Not all of them will survive this brave attempt, but will they succeed in the end?
Well, the Masks of Nyarlathotep has been a long ride, but an incredibly fun one. The dialog is snappy and the sound good especially during the cult scenes where there’s a lot going on. Each part has one or two references to Lovecraft’s original stories, or at least some little inside joke. As I mentioned back at the beginning, there’s a lot more use of third-person narration from DART’s announcer, Lester Mayhew, than usual, but it’s necessary to keep an already long story going at a brisk pace.
With a story of this length, it’s easy to lose the plot or lose sight of minor characters. More than once, I thought “Now, who’s that again?” when one of the secondary villains or a particular import/export business was mentioned after an absence, so I was grateful for the expository summing-up of what they’ve learned so far and what they need to do next that the main characters do at the top of each part.
What impressed me, beyond the worldwide scope of the story, was the diverse group of people who meet, assist, and often join Hazel and her friends as they move from country to country–from a Kenyan wizard, a little Indian street-urchin on the London docks, or a half-Glaswegian Chinese bartender, to a multi-millionaire with a yacht, and all of them done with a depth of characterization that bucks expected stereotypes (even the rich white guy).
But it’s best not to get too attached to anyone in this story. A whole lot of deaths occur, beginning with the murders of Hazel’s fiance and former lover that start things off: hapless victims along with cultists, both at the mercy of creatures who aren’t picky about who they eat, villains getting a well-deserved comeuppance, and brave people making noble self-sacrifices; some were quite moving, others upsetting, and only a couple felt gratuitous to me.
The ending really was up in the air. I know by now how HPLHS likes its Dark Adventures to be – well – dark, so it seemed just as likely that Hazel and her friends would defeat the cults, or that Nyarlathotep would have a good, evil laugh as he crushed them at his moment of triumph.
Several editions of Masks of Nyarlathotep are available. Even the Standard Set, which I got since I’m not a gamer, has an impressive collection of props. Too many–and some too large–to be tucked inside the CD box, they come in a folder all their own.
- The Stumbling Tiger matchbox, which I really like.
- A cocktail napkin from the Blue Pyramid bar in London (I received two, which I think was a packaging mistake).
- Newspaper articles about the Carlyle Expedition.
- Business cards from Emerson Imports and the sinister Penhew Foundation.
- Photos of the Black Mistress at Shanghai, of the ruins in Australia, and of a broken artifact that becomes very important to the group.
- Maps of the area around the Bent Pyramid outside Cairo, Nairobi and Kenya’s roads, and the world at the time this story is set.
- Chapter 11 of Jackson Elias’s typed manuscript, Gods of Reality, with handwritten corrections.
- A page from a book about African cults.
- Jackson’s last cryptic message written on a blood-spattered piece of hotel stationery.
- Plans for the design of that super-weapon, if you are inclined to build one at home.
And other stuff! I didn’t get the decoder ring, but I intend to the next time I make a DART purchase.