The Revenge of the Scythians Chapter 3: The Path of Nightmares As the last evanescent rays of amber light dipped beneath the western horizon, and the crimson sickle of the Feluccian moon arose to take its hallowed place, a mournful silence descended upon the lips of those brave few and bloodied souls, who by some trick of Tyche or by the blessing of the Holy Light, had managed to survive that days betrayal and the merciless horrors that followed. The Battle of the Black Gates. Yes, that is what the chroniclers shall one day call it. Old men, centuries from now, who know nothing of its glory or its sorrows, for such words can never truly describe the evils done that day. The Order of the Royal Flush, as the rebellion against the tyrant king had come to be known, was now broken by whispers of betrayal and divided amongst its various factions and orders. Where was the Grand Alliance that had bravely stood against the Shadowlords themselves? But there they gathered, a handful of bloodstained and battered survivors, at the J'helom moongate in Trammel. There to await the King of Thieves. There to await the location of their next battle. They would break Casca's mercenary horde. Or they would die trying. Nicholas, the one called The Old, closed his eyes as he stepped through the blue portal, summoning to his mind an image of J'helom. A moment later, there he stood amongst them, his wolflike eyes watching the battered knights and weary sorcerers that surrounded him. Before him stood a disorganized band of mercenary knights and adventuring companies, the badges and banners of their various orders catching the breeze that lifted off the sea. To his left, he saw old friends and allies. Lady Wildstar, surrounded by Knights of the Blue Rose. Lady Drusilla, and others. Soviet Knuckle loaded a bolt into his crossbow. To his right, mounted on her black charger, was Cymidei Fier, flanked by members of her own order. Never was there a more villanous looking woman, he thought to himself as he stepped towards Wildstar and Drusilla. The Widow appeared first, stepping from the gate amongst the crowd. Lady Fahnzjell British, who according to her own accounts, was the wife of Lord Cantabrigian. Although there were skeptics, the Scythian Bretheren and the True Sosarians had chosen to back her claim. She offered a few words of support to the weary men and women who stood there, rousing them with portents of victory. While few doubted the foresight of Lady British, few could imagine taking victory this day. And it was then that Talus appeared to them. Talus stepped from the azure portal, where Nicholas the Old and the Widow had stepped from only moments before. The man, an unimposing figure garbed in an ebon shroud, announced that he had been sent by the Thief Master and had discovered the secret lair of Casca's second army. "I will meet you at the Gate of Minoc," he announced, disappearing through the portal from whence he came. The Order of the Royal Flush, and their various allies and companions, followed him. A moment later, they emerged one by one in the forests west of Vesper. The Windemere, the natives call it. Talus awaited them as they streamed through the portal into the circle of stones, and readied their weapons for battle. "Casca has sealed this door with another password," Talus announced. "I think you know it. It is the name of Casca's favorite pet." "Trubo," someone jeered, sending bellows of laughter throughout the crowd. "Close," he replied with a smile. "Bar? Bartal?" Proserpina looked to Asimov. "Oh, Bartalbe!" She clapped her hands together, bouncing excitedly. Lord Asimov, known to some as the Cabal of Death, stepped towards the blue door. "Bartalbe," he mouthed with contempt. The azure portal shifted before their very eyes, turning dark, revealing a crumbling stone staircase that wound into the black abyss below. The Cabal smiled, shifting his gaze to the Old Priest, his Mistress, and then to his young Apprentice. "I will be right back," he hissed. The Dryad stepped through the portal into the darkness below. They watched as he descended the crumbling stairs, swallowed by the blackness. "Master?" his apprentice called after him. Nothing. They waited another moment. "This is bad," a voice finally answered from the darkness. An explosion erupted in the darkness beneath them, sending a section of the ancient stair collapsing into the sea of black beneath them. The Cabal backed up the steps, his twin swords drawn. He swung, beheading a Controller, only to have another step forward to take its place, lashing out at the necromancer. A fireball launched over his head, whistling up through the portal before erupting in a shower of sparks and embers into the skies above. Asimov fell back through the portal into the crowd, acrid smoke rising from his armor. "You were saying," Nicholas replied, murmuring the words to a healing spell. "Kill them all," a feminine voice hissed from behind them. Together, The Knights of the Royal Flush and the Scythians descended into the darkness below. They emerged in a crowded antechamber, surrounded by Mercenary Ninja's and Fan Dancers. The warriors went to work, hacking and slashing at any who stood in their way. A few immidiately made for the door. Two men began hammering their maces into the door, attempting to break the lock that held it closed. Mama Faith heard voices on the other side. "Do NOT open that door," she shrieked. But it was too late. The door swung open with a loud, thunderous crack. The Controllers, Casca's mercenary wizards, began swarming into the hall. Before anyone realized what had happened, lightning rained down from the cealing above, striking down the combatants below. "Get the dragons back, you fools," Sleath shouted, beheading a mercenary ronin with one clean swipe. "You'll get us all killed." The Dragons, who had followed their human masters into the battle, seemed to be setting off some sort of anti-draconian mechanism, causing even more lightning to rain down upon them. The bodies of the mighty lizards began collecting at the door. Nicholas gazed up at the cealing in confusion, a streak of blood running down his forehead. A bolt of lightning had exploded nearby, he remembered, and he had been thrown to the wall and knocked unconcious. As he looked up, a man in a dark robe stood over him. "I can heal you," the man smiled. "But it will cost you." "You've got to be blinkin' kidding me," the old man groaned. After several moments of intense fighting, The Knights of the Royal Flush watched in amazement as the few surviving ronin retreated through the doors into the darkness. They quickly gathered their weapons, knowing they only had moments before the retreating ronin would warn their masters. The gift of suprise was no longer on their side. "Ladies," Xel grinned, stepping towards the shattered doorway. "It's been a real pleasure knowing each and every one of you." The Wanderer winked at the Duchess of Dawn, and then at Cymidei Fier. "I expect a sixty-nine gun salute at my funeral." The Legendary Wanderer reached beneath his cloak, producing two bottles of Sake. Quickly, he bit off the caps, guzzling down the contents. When he was done, he wiped his chin, and lept into the darkness. Malthonion looked to Lorenzo. "I think I just saw his forearms grow to the size of tree trunks," he mouthed in amazement. "And what the hell is a gun?" The other just shrugged in confusion. "What a man," one lady breathed, fanning herself. The Knights of the Royal Flush lept after the Wanderer, charging down the corridor and into the merciless hordes that awaited them. After what seemed like hours to some, mere moments to others, the bodies of hundreds lay strewn throughout the Halls of the Mercenary Horde. An ankle deep river of their crimson blood snaked languidly amongst the scattered remains and dismembered parts of Casca's personal army. It beckoned to them. Follow me. Nicholas gripped his two blood-stained katanas, his eyes seeming to flicker red in the darkness for a moment. There he found them. Asimov, Sleath, Cymidei, Proserpina, and several of who he did not recognize. They were at the controls of a strange, complex panel with glowing buttons and strange switches and levers. The Old Priest ground his teeth as he sheathed his blades, watching as his old enemies worked the strange device. A massive, dark crystal rest atop the controls, three black cables snaking their way down from the device to a glowing projector. And atop his projector, hovering in the darkness, was a portal. It was not unlike the moongates of the Britannians, but this one seemed strange to the eye, as though it consumed the light itself. Nicholas gazed through the portal, a familiar woodland visible on the other side. The Village of Scythe, a small community of hovels and lean-tos surrounding the infamous Dark Tower. "Here," Asimov hissed, shoving someone out of the way. The necromancers patience had worn thin. He laid his hand on the machine, closing his eyes. The transluscent crystal began to shake, a crack running up its surface. A series of clicks and snaps rang out in the darkness, as the portal began to implode upon itself. Without warning, an explosion sent the gathered, including the necromancer, reeling backwards. When the dust had settled, they pushed themselves to their feet, the wind knocked out of them. The Black Portal leading to Scythe was gone, only the shattered remains of the crystal standing where the machine once stood. It was now time to end the Siege on Heaven's Forge. They hacked their way through the defenders, visiting upon them the same cup of sorrows they had delivered upon the helpless peasants and gypsies of Dawn only a month before. Vengance was theirs, and oh how sweet it tasted. The Oracle appeared in their midsts, watching silently from the shadows as the Knights of the Royal Flush and their Scythian Bretheren burst into the Control Room of Heaven's Forge. The Knights wearily summoned the last of their strength. One by one, they began working the complex machine, pressing buttons, pulling levers, seeking the key that would lead to the clockwork monstrosities destruction and end this evil war. The Portal to Heaven's Forge finally collapsed, sending shockwaves throughout the ancient corridor. When the dust settled, the Knights stood. They laughed together. They cried together. They embraced one another, having snatched victory from the jaws of certain defeat. But as they celebrated their victory, they never noticed the echos that reverberated throughout the halls, or the silent trap that awaited them there. "I think I heard something," Proserpina announced excitedly, bouncing off her armored charger. The announcement fell on deaf ears, as the weary warriors and exhausted magi celebrated their victory, hugging some unrecognized hero in the center of the crowd. The Poison Girl finally shrugged to herself, bounding off past the distracted Duchess and into the darkness beyond. Asimov and Nicholas stood on opposite sides of the hall, watching silently as the Knights talked amongst each other. Neither the Priest, nor the Necromancer, seemed interested in joining them. Their cold eyes seemed to be searching for something. The sound of grinding gears and steam suddenly caught Nicholas' attention. He looked across the room, catching the Necromancers gaze. They had both heard it. They both realized at the same time something was missing. Nicholas nodded at the Necromancer, signaling up the Hall. The Necromancer sneered, and began sprinting, his divided riding skirts allowing him an ease of movement most ordinary mage robes did not allow. "Stay here," The Priest murmured to the Duchess, bounding after the Necromancer. Nicholas quickly caught up to Asimov as they rushed up the Hall. And at the same moment, something caught their eye. Proserpina. She was walking towards them. And the two watched in horror as a shadow formed behind her. The Clockwork Golem swung its massive arm, dealing a blow to her back that knocked her to her knees. She fell on her face. The Golem lifted its arm again, ready to grind the Necromancer's Apprentice into the dust. Suddenly, Prosperpina disappeared. The Golem stood their in confusion as two balls of fire slammed into its mechanical arm, melting the gears inside. Nicholas and Asimov stood over the invisible, unconcious form of the young woman, their swords drawn. Several axe wielding thugs emerged from the darkness. "So," the necromancer hissed with a cold rage. "Casca set a trap. How quaint." The Priests eyes flashed red, a dark smile forming on his lips. "We'll just have to kill them all, won't we?" "I don't mind if I do." The two men stood back to back, hacking down any who came near the unconcious Proserpina. Suddenly, out of the darkness emerged a man in a bright blue robe, sprinting past the two men. "It's a trap," he screamed. "Wait!" Nicholas howled in anger, grinding his pronounced canines in anger. He quickly threw an arm around an executioners head. He pulled, a sickening pop emiting from the mans body. He collapsed in a heap. He turned, watching as the Knight of the Royal Flush ran up the hall in terror. A moment later, the man began racing down the hall back at them. "It's a TRAP!" he screamed, followed by a column of mercenary ronin, armed to the teeth. "Get her out of here," Nicholas growled as the horde of soldiers slammed into him. "In Vas Por!" Wildstar and Claudia felt the ground beneath their feet shake. They looked to one another. "It's a trap." The Knights of the Royal Flush stopped their merrymaking, also having heard the sounds of the earthquake. Suddenly, a side door opened from the wall, and masked men streamed into the unprepared body of warriors. The Knights of the Royal Flush retreated back up the hall, hacking their way free of the mass of ninjas and mercenary ronin. There in the hall they found a bloodied Asimov and Nicholas, standing over the form of a green haired woman, barely able to hold the onslaught back. "We make out stand here," someone shouted from the darkness. The Knights rushed to surround the two defenders, a healer inspecting the unconcious Proserpina. It seemed like hours before a handful of remaining Knights, bloodied and shaken, stood in empty halls, having for a third time snatched victory from the jaws of absolute defeat. But at what price, one must ask himself? Lady Drusilla helped the limping form of the Old Priest over the bodies, back into the antechamber where the battle had first begun. As they emerged from the darkness into the chamber, they found a brilliant blue portal awaiting them. The Oracle stood beside the magical door, awaiting the two. Lord Casca the Tyrant would soon learn the meaning of fear. The Oppressor would soon pay for every life lost on that day.