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The sun had set, the sideshows had closed, and now the crowd waited expectantly. The wooden stage with its heavy fabric hangings was dark, but from behind the curtain, lights flickered. Squeaking, clanking, and slow, rhythmic thumps could be heard.

Suddenly, with a roar, a great plume of steam erupted upwards. Lights set high on poles flared to a golden brilliance. The curtain itself vanished in a ball of flame, through which strode Master Payne, unscathed. On the backdrop behind him could be seen the shadows of a great set of gears, slowly turning.

The circus master raised his hands with a flourish, and a swarm of electric blue lines burst to life, glowing in the empty air above him. They looped and swirled in intricate patterns, writhing like flying serpents.

Payne’s voice boomed over the crowd, silencing the gasps and squeals erupting from the more excitable members of the audience.

“Welcome ladies and gentlemen—to a show like no other! It is true that we bring you the usual amusements, sleight of hand, thrills, jokes both cheap and witty! Ah, but these can be had from any ragtag troupe or two-penny dreadful, and I can see that you are an audience that demands more! And we shall provide it!”

Another small explosion punctuated this speech, and easily half the audience shrieked as the surrounding light poles bowed gracefully toward them. Payne produced a glowing orange whip from within his voluminous coat and whirled it about his head before lashing out. After three explosive cracks, the poles flinched, then hastily straightened back up. Payne tossed the whip into the air—where it vanished with a bang.

“For tonight—” he roared, “we bring you a story of The Heterodynes! A story of brave heroes! Dastardly villains! Monsters both human and non! All set against a background of blood and thunder, tragedy and subterfuge, revelations and true love, laughter and tears, noble sacrifice and base betrayal, science and magic!”

The lights went out. Before the audience could panic, Payne reappeared, floating several meters above the ground and glowing brilliantly. He spread his hands and the lights came up, revealing the stage, now filled with fantastically costumed characters arranged in a magnificent tableau.

“For before you tonight is that glittering company known throughout the World—and beyond!—as Master Payne’s Circus of Adventure!”

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