Chapter I: The Circus of Death:
In the fourth century, Saint Jerome said that the face was the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart. I wear a false face, true. One that is hideous and deformed to hide my true nature. Or perhaps it is the mask that is real and the face…perhaps the face is the disguise…
Wearing his blue Demon mask, Kurt Wagner presents himself to the circus audience in Transia, alongside his trapeze partner Jimaine Szardos, the Red Rose. The crowd chants his artist name: Demon. The ringmaster presents them and greets their special guests in the audience, Prince Wyn’Garde and his family and friends.
The Prince smiles to the audience and waves while one of his men asks whether that is the woman they were speaking over wine the last night in the tower. Indeed it is, Wyn’Garde replies. The first speaker, the prince’s cousin, admits she is as lithe and delectable as he claimed. Imagine what pleasures one could indulge in with that body… Wyn’Garde warns his cousin to have a care. He may be talking about his future queen! His cousin replies he understands that she is betrothed to that Wagner fellow, the Demon. He was once her foster brother.
Wyn’Garde explains that they are invited guests to his private tower in the castle. He is sure, given time, that he could convince her of the folly of her choice in suitors. After all, this demon character apparently has to jump and frolic all over creation to keep a woman’s attention…
Kurt Wagner has taken off his mask, a handsome, fine-boned man with black hair.
Wyn’grde takes the Ringmaster’s megaphone and thanks his subjects for helping him in welcoming these able and talented performers to their beloved land. Though their countries are not always, as they say in the New World, “bosom buddies,” that is hardly the fault of these poor intrepid souls who braved the mountainous crossing in order to entertain them with their humble skills.
Kurt seethes at the barely veiled insult and Jimaine asks him to be careful. Kurt steps up, stating that such humble performers as they are honored. And, of course, they could never hold it against his highness, the questionable tactics used against their people. After all, it is war. Not yet, Wyn’Garde corrects him while the Ringmaster becomes nervous. And surely it never will be, Wyn’Garde adds with a smile. Their people are brothers! Surely, brothers quarrel, but eventually brothers… and sisters – he takes Jimaine’s hand – come together! Of course, he wouldn’t expect an artist to know of such matters, he continues in a normal voice. It is the arena of brave men, he is afraid.
Ah, bravery, Kurt remarks mockingly. A subject to which he has of late given much thought – behold! He draws a black cloth from something looking like an altered electric chair with additional traps. This is the Rose’s Embrace, he explains, a trap that Houdini himself would not attempt to escape. The physical embodiment of man’s courage. As simple as it is deadly. A series of straps and locks to keep the victim firmly in place and, once the timer goes off, the bear trap snaps shut, killing the victim. Unless he escapes. He doesn’t suppose the Prince would like to try it?
Nonsense, Wyn’Garde scoffs. He doesn’t know the trick. There is no trick, Kurt assures him. No secret button to press and release the trap. No hidden key to open the locks and escape death. It is one’s wiles and one’s skill alone that will save you. And, of course, courage.
Circus hyperbole, the Prince scoffs. Her brother never lies, Jimaine announces. Regardless, Wyn’Garde points out, he has practiced this trick. Kurt interrupts, this is not so. With a flourish and a grin he announces this is the first and perhaps only time he will attempt this escape. Perhaps tonight is the night for the Demon to meet his infernal maker! Donning his mask, he adds that this is how he keeps a woman’s attentions. With him secured to the chair, it is dragged up into the air, spikes below it.
Wyn’Garde’s cousin sardonically remarks he seems to have impressed the lady Szardos. The Prince orders him to be quiet. He will have her! However many traps that German scumescapes, he won’t escape his clutches for long. She and her country will be his!
He changes the subject. Has his cousin caught sight of their mystery man, yet? He’d hate to think he exposed himself to the rabble for nothing. Not yet, he is informed. His men are watching but he understands from his contacts in his government that he is man that is not seen unless he wishes it. Bah! Wyn’Garde scoffs. He hates spies. Damn odd choice for a meeting place. With or without Weapon X, whatever the hell that is, they will have their war and will emerge victorious! Let the whole world burn, if need be!
Everybody is looking up at the Demon when, suddenly, a shot rings through the tent. Prince Wyn’Garde is hit.
A clown tries to get past the guards, announcing he is an agent of the American government. But in vain.
A little later, it is announced that the Prince has been shot. What happened? Kurt asks, just having freed himself from the Rose’s Embrace. The Prince’s cousin gives order to attack him. The shot came from above so the Demon must have been the killer! That’s impossible! Kurt protests. He was strapped down and locked tight. He barely got out alive!
Don’t worry, the cousin replies. His next trap awaits him and he won’t escape it. Take him away! He’s innocent! Kurt shouts as he is dragged away. He’s never even fired a gun!
The man who was dressed as a clown before picks up the Demon mask at his feet. He is not a Godly man, he muses, but he’s heard tell that the face is the mirror of the mind and soul. And that man’s face tells him one thing… he is innocent.
He drops the face mask he’s been wearing in front of the feet of a boy. “Don’t worry son,” he tells him, He was done with that face. He turns away. He left his home of verdant forests and lush country for this land of blackness and stone in order to prevent a war… a World War, if one can imagine such a thing. To help these aristocratic fools find this Weapon X and capture it… or stop it… looks like he found a mystery instead. Good.
Chapter II: The Black Tower:
The Prince’s cousin smirks, musing that his late cousin often liked to take his evening repast here. He liked to dine in this very room and discuss the matters of the day with the sounds of the tortured souls housed in these cells filling their ears. He used to think it would one day drive him insane. The Prince used to laugh at that. Of course he is now dead. And they both know it was Kurt Wagner’s doing…
Outside the tower, a blond thin man with an eye-patch arrives and walks up the tower. He enters the room, announcing the king is very upset. Is this him? he asks, referring to Wagner who is roughed up and tied to a chair. It is, the Prince’s cousin agrees, he murdered the Prince. That’s not true, Wagner protests. Liar! the cousin shouts and strikes him in the face. Who sent him? he demands and warns him he will reveal his secrets or they will hear his screams all the way to Berlin. He continues and Kurt screams. Then he orders the American who has witnessed all this to go.
He doesn’t look like much, the blond man, Andreas Strucker, observes. Perhaps he should take over the interrogation. He thought his sister was the expert in persuasion, the Prince’s cousin remarks, calling him Andreas. Andrea is consoling the king, comes the arch reply. And call him Fenris or he will kill him very slowly!
Suddenly, the American draws his gun and hits the Prince’s cousin in the face. He fights Fenris, who warns him he is a master of combat with or without weapons. He will be the judge of that, the American replies.
They fight for several minutes. He believes him, the American announces. He can tell a master. He knows this because after watching Fenris, now he is. He imitates the other’s moves and beats him.
The Prince’s cousin realizes he is the American spy Rankin. Is he going to be trouble? Rankin asks. He didn’t think so. He turns to Kurt trying to get him out of the chains, but Kurt has already freed himself. Why didn’t he do that before? Rankin asks. He didn’t believe he could overpower the guard, Kurt explains. Knocking comes from outside and someone asks for Lord Fenris. The Prince’s cousin warns them, there is no way outside. There is always a way out, Rankin corrects him and shoots down the chandelier. “Okay, Jerry, time to go,” he tells Kurt, who corrects him that his name is Kurt. Pleased to rescue him, Rankin replies.
As the guards force their way in, Rankin and Kurt grab the chandelier’s chains and use them to swing outside and downward the tower.
Chapter III: Blood Red Rose:
Inside, the guards try to drag the chain upward. Any ideas? Rankin asks. He thought Rankin was rescuing him? Kurt points out. A contribution right now would be helpful, comes the reply. Hold fast! Kurt orders and stems his legs against the tower wall.
The Prince’s cousin suggests he let them drop to their death but Fenris wants them alive. However, he loses his grasp on the chain and it slips through the window.
The two men fall and luckily land on the roof of a carriage. Quickly, they take out the coachmen and drive away. Kurt announces that this is all a mistake. He is innocent of this crime. Eventually, the truth will come out. “Don’t count on it, Jerry,” is Rankin’s reply. He is being framed. Again Kurt tells him his name is not “Jerry.” And how can he be so sure? He’s got a nose for these things Rankin replies, his true face in sight, a scarred mess. Mein Gott! Kurt exclaims.
Fenris and the Prince’s cousin take a car to give chase before their quarry get to the bridge. They don’t manage and Kurt and Rankin collapse the bridge after them.
Kurt thanks Rankin for saving him. Rankin warns him not to thank him yet. This isn’t over yet. What does he mean? Kurt asks. Is he not to rejoin his friends and leave this wretched country? Yes and no, Rankin replies, having gotten another face. The circus caravan is indeed hightailing it out of the country as they speak. They should be able to catch up with them close to the border.
He changes faces very quickly, Kurt observes. In his line, he gets a lot of practice, comes the reply. May he ask how he received those terrible scars? The best way, Rankin replies, he betrayed someone he loved. But he’ll find out about that soon enough. What does he mean? Kurt asks. Does he think whoever set him up out there just picked him out of a hat? Rankin asks. He didn’t come there to meet the Prince; that was pretence. He came here to meet him, the circus to be specific.
Over the past four years, in every country his damned circus rolls into, a major political figure dies. Usually not as dramatically as the Prince. But an assassin, someone that his government believes is this Weapon X people keep whispering about… seems to be trying to cause a world war. And guess who’s been with his little menagerie of freaks for the past four years? His girlfriend, Jimaine Szardos. Her real name is Amanda Sefton and she killed the Prince of Wundagore. And when Rankin got too close, she betrayed Kurt.
The final chapter: The Secret of Weapon X:
Rankin announces their coach should be catching up to the circus caravan soon. Assuming they are hauling ass back into Kraut-land. He does not see the point in assisting Rankin if all he is going to do is falsely accuse his fiancée of murdering the prince of Wundagore, Kurt replies stiffly. Rankin reminds him that he rescued Kurt. He is not a player in this. Secondly, it’s not a false accusation. From that vantage point, Jimaine was the only one in a position to shoot the prince. But he loves her, Kurt protests. He knows it’s hard to hear but people do all kinds of things for all sorts of reasons, Rankin replies. If it makes him feel better, it doesn’t mean she doesn’tlove him.
After a moment’s silence, Kurt tells him he is running the horses into the ground. Their hearts will burst. Their hearts are not his concern. A moment later, shots hit the coach. Their pursuers are gaining ground. Ranking hands Kurt a gun. When Kurt asks what to do, he calls him a dumb jerry and tells him to shoot back. Kurt immediately fires at their pursuers and shouts at Rankin not to call him jerry!
They reach the circus caravan convoy. Jimaine shouts at the others to stop. It’s Kurt!
Fenris catches up with them. He tells the circus people to get back. Those men are coming with him! He is going to get to the bottom of this. What does he mean? Wagner murdered the Prince, Wyn’Garde’s cousin states. Fenris replies he is no fool. He could tell that interrogation was a farce. That bucket of blood in the cell? The man barely has a mark on him! He is right, the Prince’s cousin admits. He does think Fenris a fool. He shoots him.
However, a moment later, he is executed by Kurt who also kills his men, then points the weapon at Rankin. What is he doing? Jimaine exclaims horrified. Rankin laughs, remarking he is such a yutz and tells Jimaine he will explain. He had his suspicions about Kurt. He can see Rankin isn’t calling him “Jerry” anymore, Kurt remarks. Oh, he always extends professional courtesy to his peers, Rankin replies. That’s what Kurt is, of course. A spy. He had also noticed the cow’s blood and had he had a moment to think he would have noticed Kurt’s injuries didn’t quite measure up to the staged scene. The weapons, et cetera… What should have torn it was Kurt’s handling his gun like a pro. Hadn’t he yelled out when he was arrested that he’d never even fired a gun before? What he doesn’t get is how Kurt shot the Prince when he was still trapped in the Rose’s Embrace.
That was the easiest part, comes the cold reply. Because he is the greatest escape artist that ever lived. But why would he do this? Jimaine asks uncomprehending. Yeah, what’s the game? Rankin agrees. If he just wanted to assassinate the Prince, why all the rest?
Hasn’t he surmised? Kurt asks, calling him Herr Rankin. Of course, comes the reply. How else would he know his real name unless he is the game. Quite, Kurt agrees. There are very intelligent and rather ruthless men in Berlin eager to unlock the secrets of his special abilities. Being able to transfer those talents to an army of supersoldiers would make the oncoming world inevitably turn in their favor. He is Weapon X.
Only one thing, Rankin asks. Kurt may have a gun on him, but he has the feeling he could take it away from him if he wanted to. Possibly, Kurt agrees. The rest of the circus acrobats threateningly surround Rankin, save for Jimaine who is disgusted.
Kurt tries to embrace her, telling her the war is coming. Nothing can stop it. He has assured them a place in the new order where they can be safe and hap—Get away from her! Jimaine strikes him away, still holding the torch which burns his face. Reflexively, he shoots her.
Horrified at what he has done, he holds her corpse. While he is led away Rankin calls Kurt “Demon,” saying he guesses he has his own scars now, bought for and paid. As good as he is, he can’t escape fate!