Excalibur minus 1

Issue Date: 
July 1997
Story Title: 
A True and Terrible Sacrifice

Ben Raab (writer), Rob Haynes & Casey Jones (pencilers), Nathan Massengill (inker), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Matt Idelson (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

When Kurt Wagner reveals to his foster sister, Jimaine, that he is planning on leaving the circus to make a difference in the world, Jimaine gets upset about this, until he asks her to come along with him. Excited, Jimaine tells her mother, but Margali forbids her from leaving, and reveals to Jimaine her true destiny – that she will become the wielder of the Soul Sword. Jimaine tells her mother she doesn’t care about her destiny, and decides that she will leave without her mothers’ permission. On her last day, Sabu, Kurt’s trainer, asks Jimaine if he can stand in for her at the trapeze, as it is Kurt’s last time. Jimaine agrees, and Sabu warns Jimaine about defying her mother. Margali was spying on her daughter, who tells Sabu that she will leave anyway, and Margali decides a sacrifice is needed. As Jimaine packs the last of her things, Margali disguises herself as Belasco and threatens Jimaine with what would happen were she to leave, before Margali’s sacrifice is made, which is the death of Sabu, who dies when the trapeze snaps. Jimaine blames herself, and doesn’t leave with Kurt, but stays, becoming her mother’s disciple. Before they part, Kurt tells Jimaine that one day they will meet again…

Full Summary: 

Winzeldorf, Germany, where the circus is underway, the act, which is keeping the circus patrons in awe at the moment, is the death-defying without-a-net trapeze act, performed by the devilish looking Kurt Wagner and the angelic Jimaine Szardos. Jimaine leaps from the platform, high above the circus tent floor, and somersaults in the air. Kurt comes from the opposite direction, but as the foster siblings prepare to join hands in mid-air, Jimaine loses her grip. Kurt reaches out to her, but Jimaine just keeps falling to the net-less floor.
The circus patrons call out from their seats, shocked that the „goblin" dropped her, that Jimaine will fall to her doom and someone notices that the „demon" just disappeared. Another bamf sees Kurt reach Jimaine, correcting the audience under his breath that he in fact teleported not disappeared. Jimaine yells at Kurt before he grabs her and teleports again, landing on the ground. As the crowd goes wild, clapping and shouting in applaud, at the „masked man" and his „disappearing" act, Kurt whispers to Jimaine that as if a „goblin" like he would ever pass up an opportunity to rescue a genuine damsel in distress. Jimaine plays along and puts her hand up to her forehead in „woe-is-me" style. Kurt thinks to himself that this was even better now that it makes himself look better in the eyes of the prejudiced audience.

Kurt teleports again, Jimaine in his arms still, and they arrive in one of the nearby tents, Kurt saying that he can only share his secret with those he loves, and he and Jimaine are about to kiss, when she asks Kurt if he teleported her away from the adulatory crowds who think he is a costumed performer, to backstage where he can woo her with his charms. Kurt asks her if it is working, and Jimaine replies ‘Perfectly.’ Kurt proclaims that he has something to tell her, and before Jimaine can say anything, he announces he is thinking about leaving the circus.

Jimaine wrenches herself from Kurts’ arms, tears forming in her eyes, she turns away from him. Kurt tells her that he knows it is very sudden, when suddenly, they are interrupted by the circus performers. Haus tells the others that Kurt and Jimaine are here, and Kurt is annoyed by their arrival. The circus performers talk amongst themselves as they enter the tent, before Haus tells Jimaine that she moves through the air like ‘a fuzzy bluebird’ before telling her that he does not mean she is blue, but ‘as bootiful as ever’ Jimaine outstretches her arms at Haus and proclaims that unlike some people around here, he is as sweet as ever, before placing a kiss on his chin.

The flexible woman sees Kurt’s upset reaction to Jimaine’s comment and places a comforting hand on his shoulder, telling him that his aerial skills improve each time, and that he is almost as flexible as she. She asks Kirkegaard, the two-headed man, to back her up, who says that „they" are doubly impressed, before announcing that Feuer has something to say, and he does, burping fire. Kurt thanks everyone and says that coming form the stars of their circus „freak show" there is no higher praise.

The ringmaster’s voice is heard from the big top tent and announces to the audience that they will now be gazing upon the Freak Show! The performers run from the backstage tent to the main one, saying that they will show the macabrely curiouscitizens of Winzeldorf who the freaks really are!

Jimaine watches the performers run towards the big top, and says that it is great how they are all so carefree, despite their „deformities" With her back still turned from Kurt, she tells him that she knows why he has felt so at ease at the circus since their mother found him as a baby. But she tells him she cannot understand why he would want to leave it – or her. Kurt wipes away Jimaine’s tears and tells her that it is here, where they must hide from others simply because they are different. He reveals to Jimaine that he believes with help, he can change that, and tells her that that is why he wants her to go with him. Jimaine hugs him and excitedly says that she cannot wait to tell Mama the news.

A trailer stands a distance away from the rest of the circus, it belongs to Margali Szardos, the circus’ „fortune teller", and Jimaine and Kurt’s mother. The mysterious woman sits levitated above a red pentagram on her trailer floor, and utters a mystical chant; ‘By the hoary hosts and the ragged rings, make plain to my sight a most sacred, mystical thing!’ Jimaine rushes into her mother’s caravan and proclaims that she has the most wonderful thing to tell her – Margali cuts her daughter off, by saying ‘You are not going, child’.

Jimaine protests, asking why, before telling her mother that she is old enough to make her own decisions now. Margali’s aged face turns to her daughter, the image of a skull can be made out in her eye, and she says that it is not a matter of age, but a matter of responsibility. Disheartened, Jimaine looks to the ground, as Margali reveals that for centuries, the women in their family have safeguarded a powerful mystical discipline known as the Winding Way. Margali tells her daughter that as her mother taught it to her, she will teach it to her, so that one day, she will pass the knowledge to her own daughter.

‘But what if I don’t want to?’ Jimaine says, before Margali casts a blinding white light, and tells her daughter that her own personal desires are insignificant in the course of history. Margali says to Jimaine ‘Behold! A portent of the future!’ And the blinding light turns golden, revealing the Soul Sword. Margali tells her daughter that the Soul Sword is not only a threat to her place along the Winding Way, but to the material world as well. Jimaine’s eyes go wide, and starring at the Soulsword, she reaches out for it. Margali says ‘This sword, daughter…is the evil emblem of your destiny’. Jimaine is a little confused and still in awe of the sword, she questions what her mother just told her about it being evil, when it is so beautiful.

Suddenly, a hand reaches through the pentagram, and tells Jimaine that she has no claim to what will someday belong to the dread lord of Limbo – the figure is now whole – Belasco! The demon lord grabs the Soulsword and tells Jimaine that another will stake her right to the blade in the coming days, but Belasco says that for now, he alone holds the blade, telling Jimaine that he holds it against the schemes of her treacherous mother.

Jimaine starts to ask her mother if this beast knows her, but Belasco strikes Jimaine on her forehead with the Soulsword. Margali tells her daughter to fear not, as he is only a lesser demon amongst the ancient adversaries, ‘and by my power- he shall be gone!’ Margali sweeps her hands across Belasco and he vanishes. As Jimaine clutches her head, mystical power emitting from it, Margali says that like all dark imps, Belasco is a prince of lies, with delusions of grandeur. However, Margali adds, Belasco has unlike his brethren successfully sown seeds of destruction on this world’s soil.

Margali proclaims that Belasco’s evil harvest draws near – and Jimaine runs from her mother’s trailer, still clutching her head. Margali continues her speech, adding that when Belasco’s harvest does come, that only a true and terrible sacrifice will halt his rise to power. Margali tells Jimaine that it is a sacrifice she has to make, which is why she forbids her to leave. Jimaine shouts back that she won’t, and tells her mother that she cannot keep her here with her ridiculous sorcery. She says that Kurt is going to see the world, and she is going with him. Margali’s eyes narrow and to herself she says ‘I’m truly sorry you feel that way daughter, truly sorry indeed…’

Night has enveloped the circus, and Jimaine sits alone in the darkened woods. Still she holds her head, and thinking to herself, she asks why she had to be born the daughter of a sorceress. She thinks that her mother didn’t hassle her brother, Stefan, as much when he tried to leave home. Jimaine thinks how she doesn’t even care about the Winding Way, so why should she have to protect it someday? Jimaine sees a firefly hover by her side and reaches a finger out to it. She decides she knows what the toll for being a witch is, as she has seen it on her mother, and besides Kurt and herself, Margali no longer has anyone to call her own, or love. Jimaine decides that a person’s time on earth is fleeting enough as it is, and that she wants to spend it with someone she loves and who loves her. Still watching the hovering firefly, she proclaims to herself that no matter what her mother says or does, after tomorrow night’s performance, she is leaving!

The following morning, Kurt approaches the backstage tent, worried about Jimaine, he thinks that maybe he shouldn’t have told her about his leaving last night. He proclaims to himself that Jimaine and Margali already have many unresolved issues between them, and that the last thing they need it another bone of contention. Kurt says good morning to the performers in the tent, who are all preparing for the show later, and asks them if any of them have seen Jimaine today, but none of them have. Kurt leaves, worried, praying that all is well between his sister and mother, for if they have declared another war on each other…Kurt hopes God will protect the unfortunate who gets caught in the crossfire.

In the big top tent, Jimaine is practicing on her own, when she is beckoned by Sabu, who asks her if she minds an „old timer" warming up with her this morning. Jimaine tells Sabu, the master aerialist, that it would be an honor to train with him, but only if her mother did not send him here to try and change her mind about leaving! Sabu tells Jimaine that she knows her mother needs no messengers to make that clear. ‘Too true’ Jimaine says as she grabs the trapeze Sabu throws at her.

From across the other podium, Sabu asks Jimaine if she wouldn’t mind him standing in for her tonight, what with it being Kurt’s final performance. Jimaine lands besides Sabu, as he tells her that as Kurt’s mentor, he would be greatly honored to share the spotlight with his star pupil one last time. Jimaine tells Sabu that that is sweet, and Kurt would love it, before telling Sabu that she cannot wait to leave the big top and get on the road, even if it does mean leaving in the dead of night.

Sabu asks Jimaine if she thinks it is wise to challenge her mother’s wishes, especially as her prowess in the arcane arts belies her role as „fortune teller", Sabu reminds Jimaine that her mother is not the type of woman who takes deception lightly. ‘Like mother, like daughter’ says Jimaine, before adding that for all they know, her mother could be spying on them right now. She tells Sabu she doesn’t care, because when morning comes and the circus packs up to leave, she will be doing the same. Sabu looks at Jimaine with concern.

Blood drips from Margali onto her crystal ball, as she watches her daughter telling Sabu there is nothing her mother can do to stop her. Margali does not blink, she does not move, except for her hands around the crystal ball. She proclaims youth means foolishness, and that she warned her daughter of the awful destiny lying in wait over the horizon. Margali is cross that Jimaine mocked her ways and refused to heed that warning. The crystal ball fades from view, and the blood spins around in the air. Jimaine’s disrespect aside, Margali knows she cannot let her daughter leave the fold, and announces that Belasco may reap his evil harvest sooner than even she anticipated.

Hovering above the pentagram yet again, Margali decides that it is time for a sacrifice to be made so that the sanctity of her coven can be upheld against as a ward against the shadows. Margali decides that it must be a sacrifice that is true to the essence of the Winding Way, yet terrible for the human heart and mind to fathom. ‘A true and terrible sacrifice indeed…’

Later, after night has fallen, patrons have filled the seats of the circus yet again, and the stilt-walking ringmaster introduces the next act, Kurt Wagner, as the Nightcrawler! The audience looks around in anticipation for Nightcrawler, but Kurt is still backstage, wondering where his sister is, he thought she would at least be here for his last show. Haus asks Kurt if he and Jimaine are really leaving, and tells him that he misses him already. The flexible woman tells Haus that he is not the only one, as the bog top bleachers have never been this full! Kurt agrees, and hope Jimaine does not miss it, because this is going to be a killer show, he adds.

Jimaine packs the last of her things into her suitcase, and realizes that having spent her whole life in the circus all she has is one half-full suitcase. She decides she is definitely doing the right thing by leaving. A clawed hand reaches for Jimaine, telling her to go and not look back. Jimaine asks who is there, and is scared when she sees Belasco. He tells her it is her future master, and that if she forsakes her training now, not only does she break her mother’s chain of command over the Winding Way, but she also hastens his inevitable possession of the Soulsword!

Jimaine dodges out of the Demon Lords way telling him that his hollow threats don’t scare her, as she knows he is a practiced liar, and she proclaims that her mother is more than sorceress enough to stop him. Belasco asks if that is true before a loud snap is heard, and a cry. Jimaine’s eyes look back, and rushing from her room to the big top where the scream came from she asks Belasco what he has done. But what Jimaine does not see is Belasco’s form slowly dissipating, as he tells her to consider it a portent of things to come once she leaves, before the form fades completely, revealing Margali, Jimaine’s mother, who in disguise just tricked her daughter.

Jimaine runs to the bog top as the screaming mob of patrons runs from it, her heart filled with dread, and she enters the circus tent only to find…Sabu, dead. Jimaine cries out ‘Oh my God. No!’ Kurt kneels over Sabu, and the other performers stand nearby. Kurt tells his sister that it happened so fast, the trapeze just snapped. Tears fall from his eyes as he says he couldn’t teleport in time to save him. Wide-eyed still, Jimaine covers her face in shock, in her mind she tells Sabu she is sorry, as it shouldn’t be he who is broken…’It should have been – me’!

Days later, following Sabu’s funeral, Jimaine pouts as she asks Kurt if he is ready to go. He tells his sister that he is, that he has packed his Errol Flynn memorabilia and some changes of clothes, that he is ready to take it „on the road" like the American novelist, Jack Kerouac. He tells Jimaine he wishes she were coming with him and she tells Kurt back that she wishes she were too, but after what happened…Jimaine’s voice trails off, before telling Kurt that their mother was right, and if she is ever to avenge Sabu, then she must become Margali’s disciple.

Kurt and Jimaine embrace as she tells him that she is going to miss him while he is traveling, and again that she wishes she could join him. Kurt tells his sister that it is a true and terrible sacarifice that she has to make, but swears to her that someday they will be together before they kiss.

Characters Involved: 

Kurt Wagner
Jimaine Szardos (Amanda Sefton)

Margali Szardos

Feuer, Haus, Kirkegaard, and other circus performers
Circus patrons

In Margali’s magical image:

Story Notes: 

July 1997 was known as "Flashback Month" where a "minus #1" issue, an untold but often-mentioned story was told, replacing the normal issue for that month. As with all the Flashback issues, Stan Lee does an introduction, dressed like a ringmaster he introduces Kurt and Amanda.

The cover is a homage to X-Men (1st series) #111.

This story is set before Giant Sized X-Men #1

This issue gives different reasons for Nightcrawler leaving the circus than were originally cited. Originally Nightcrawler left, because the circus’ new owner, Amos Jardine, insisted on his becoming part of the freak show. Also, originally Winzeldorf was set to be somewhere in a mountain area, presumably the Bavarian Alps. Here it is stated to be in the Black Forest, which lies in a different part of Germany altogether.

Jimaine eventually did leave her mother and the circus, and took up her dream of seeing the world, as a flight attendant, calling herself "Amanda Sefton." Jimaine and Kurt were eventually reunited, though using her magical powers Amanda disguised herself from Kurt so that he did not recognize her as his foster sister, and the two dated. [Uncanny X-Men #98, Classic X-Men #6] Eventually Amanda revealed herself to Kurt, when they were forced to battle their mother Margali who blamed Kurt for her son Stefan’s death. [Uncanny X-Men Annual #4]

Amanda would often help the X-Men in battle, and later joined the Muir Island X-Men and Excalibur, as Daytripper, though was both times somewhat unsure of her role there. [Uncanny X-Men #254, Excalibur #75]

While Amanda’s dream was to see the world, she had two destiny’s which would eventually stop her from doing this, becoming ruler of the Winding Way, and as revealed this issue, becoming the wielder of the Soul Sword and guardian of Limbo, which she currently is now, as Magik II. [X-Men Unlimited #19, X-Men Black Sun #1-5, X-Men Magik #1-4]

The other possessor of the Soulsword that „Belasco" mentions, who will wield it before Amanda, is of course Illyana Rasputin, the original Magik. However the statement that she will "wield" the weapon doesn’t make much sense, as Illyana created the weapon out of a part of her soul that shouldn’t exist independently of her or Kitty Pryde.

Kurt’s travels will eventually lead him to be rescued and recruited by Professor Xavier for the "All-New All-Different X-Men" [Giant Sized X-Men #1]

The X2 Nightcrawler Prequel seems to be based loosely on this story, at least in the relationships between Kurt, Amanda and Margali. [X2 Nightcrawler Prequel]

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