Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Key to Space (3/3)

Third Fragment: The Twilight City

I. The Shadow Theatre

Penelope’s quest for the final fragment of the Key takes her to Paris. While Louis XIV is busy building Versailles castle and becoming the Sun King, a sinister Harlequin is treading a secret stage before an entranced audience. But what is the true purpose of the Laughing Mask’s comedy of madness?  Together with her old friend Bellegarde, the Time Lady investigates…

II. The Final Masque

The Shadow Theatre has given its last performance - but the Laughing Mask is on the run, plotting a terrible vengeance against Louis XIV and his court of sycophants. Penelope and Bellegarde must stop the mad Harlequin before his actions derail History. But first, the Time Lady must face the three faceless rulers of Twilight, also known as the Gods of Ragnarok…


And thus ends The Key to Space, our six-part baroque cycle, set in the cities and courts of 1668, from Charles II’s London and Oxford to legend-haunted Prague and Louis XIV’s Versailles…

To be fair, it was more of a trilogy or triptych, with each of its three segments being divided in two parts for convenience and ease of play.

So how did our final two-parter go down in actual play?  Well, wonderfully!  But before we get to Penelope’s final decisions, a few words about the historical context, references and personages of the City of Twilight.

The scenario featured many historical NPCs from the world of French classic theatre, including cameos by the famous playwrights Molière (whom Penelope had already briefly met 20 years before, in her previous incarnation) and Racine, as well as some slightly more substantial parts for the doomed actress Thérèse“Marquise” du Parc and the actor La Grange, Molière’s most talented and trusted disciple in his later years.

But the historical figure who dominated the whole show was, of course, the King of France LouisXIV, then aged 29 and in the process of becoming the glorious, so-called Sun-King. The monumental construction site of Versailles castle and the extravagant royal feast that took place there on the 18th of July 1668 played a major role in the plot, embodying the heady mix of splendor, vanity, domination and extravagance that would define Louis XIV’s reign in history… While he hardly appeared in the scenario itself (he didn’t even have a single line of dialogue!), Louis XIV’s presence loomed over the story from its beginning to its end.

This story gave me the opportunity to create my own imaginary solution to one of France’s most fascinating and enduring historical mysteries – that of the Manin the Iron Mask!  But instead of presenting it as a riddle to be solved, I orchestrated things to make the whole Iron Mask business the consequence of Penelope’s adventure.

To cut a long story short, I made Eustache Danger (the purported, enigmatic identity of the Man in the Mask) a young, revenge-mad architect who had been socially destroyed by his association with Superintendent Nicolas Fouquet, whose fall from grace and imprisonment were one of Louis XIV’s most dramatic demonstrations of power – and have, incidentally, often been associated with the Iron Mask mystery.

Armed with the second Fragment of Morrolan’s Key (which allowed its user to open passages to other dimensions…), the driven architect had come into contact with the Gods of Ragnarok, who had transformed him into a sinister Harlequin, not only able to drive his audience mad with his sarcasms and antics but with the powers of masking himself to other people’s perceptions and of changing his face at will – think of him as a Vampire – The Masquerade Malkavian adept at Obfuscate and Dementation and you won’t be far off. His powers could have given him the possibility of precipitating the King into utter madness – and even to steal his face and rule in his place…

Luckily for history as we know it, the Laughing Mask was stopped in extremis by Penelope and her friend Bellegarde (acting as His Majesty’s most special agent). Naturally, the only way to prevent Harlequin-Danger from using his sinister powers to escape and wreak havoc once again was to trap his ever-changing face in a cage of its own… And thus the Laughing Mask became the Iron Mask…

As for the Gods of Ragnarok (whom Penelope had already encountered with her long-lost friend Everett Blake in this special episode), they played the proverbial role of the “unseen hand”, the “power-behind-the-scene” (quite literally, in this case) that had observed and, sometimes, manipulated events before revealing themselves in the final act.

And yes, Penelope did manage to outwit them and send them back to their out-of-reality place of exile… a feat which she achieved by destroying the three Fragments of the Key to Space, her father’s flawed artefact of power – a dramatic gesture which was the perfect way to close this story.

In a very touching epilogue, the Time Lady decided to go back to Prague to reunite with the English student of alchemy and seeker of arcane knowledge John Wycliffe, who had helped her during the Secret City segment and whom she had to leave without a word of explanation to pursue her quest. And yes, you guessed it, their reunion ended up with Penelope welcoming the 17th century dilettante scholar as a new travelling companion in the TARDIS…  

See you in a couple of months (give or take) – for season 17 of Lady Penelope’s Odyssey and more adventures in time and space!

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