1. Black Flag Leaves Last

The Ukraine, 1921

The wind howled through the mountain pass as the small column of horseman wound their way through the desolate hills. The wind tore at them, and their black jackets and scarves blew around them as if they were alive. At the head of the column was a wiry young man with smoked glasses, an upturned collar, and a fur cap hiding his features. He carried the battle standard, a black flag in both hands.

Behind him rode their leader, hatless in the cold, his moustache flecked with ice. Nestor Makhno, leader of the Makhnovist movement, otherwise known as the Free Insurgency of the Ukraine, otherwise known as the Black Guards. They were anarchists in the finest sense, and the past several years since the Russian Revolution shocked the world in 1917, had been filled with endless war.

First had come the Austrians and their German allies, their spiked helmets gleaming in the Ukrainian sun. They had occupied the country, but the fast moving, hard-hitting Black Guards had driven them out. Then, nationalist Ukrainians, and White Russians, Cossack Hosts had descended upon them, but with their determination and sheer bravery, the Black Guards had defeated them all.

They had charged entrenched enemy positions with bayonets, for all the ammunition was gone. They had fought alongside peasants armed with pitchforks and cudgels against tanks and armored cars, and they had won. They had invented Tachankas, lightweight horse-pulled carriages armed with machine guns, and used them to strike lightning fast against all the invaders.

And they had one. Tsar-loving White Generals, mustachioed Cossack atamans, and even the commissars of the communist Bolsheviks had scratched their heads and wondered what must be done to defeat the Insurgents.

It was the Bolsheviks who had done it. They had made an alliance with Makhno to destroy the incoming Tsarist White Army and their French and English Allies charging down the Crimean. The Red Army had faltered against them, and it was only thanks to the heroism of the Black Guards that the Whites and their allies were finally defeated.

But then, Lenin and Trotsky had turned against Makhno. They sent in the Cheka, the secret police who would one day become the feared NKVD and assassinated Black Guard leaders, executed entire regiments by the firing squad and the gallows. They had put Gulyai-Polye, Makhno's hometown, to the torch.

Now, the Black Guards were on the run, with the massive Red Army close behind. The standard bearer turned around and rode up to Makhno, pointing to a rocky outcropping.

"One man could hold off an army there," he said. "I could delay the Bolsheviks, give you and the others time to escape."

Makhno looked at the outcropping and nodded. He was a brilliant tactician, constantly dividing his army until he enemies were fighting smoke. "Indeed, Comrade Flensky, but we would need to leave someone behind to man in. I am not willing to leave any comrade behind."

Flensky, Basil Flenksy, for that was the standard bearer's name, shook his head. "Please, Comrade Makhno, I will do it! You have seen me in combat, you know how many I will kill and how much time I will buy you and the others." Flensky took off his sunglasses. "Please, comrade, I have nothing left to live for."

"You're family-"

"Dead. Killed by the Bolshevik traitors when they burned Gulyai-Polye. My parents. My wife. Our two-year-old son. All murdered." Flensky's calm green eyes were filled with rage. "Please, comrade, let me join them. You have family still alive. You must live on for the cause of Anarchy."

Nestor Makhno took another look, and then nodded solemnly. "Very well. You're sacrifice will be remembered, Comrade, and I thank you for it." He and Flensky dismounted and embraced quickly. "But I want you to carry the flag."

"Comrade? The flag, but then the Reds will capture it-"

"It is nothing but a symbol, and I can think of no more fitting funeral shroud for such a brave warrior than the symbol of our cause. Take it." Makhno put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "You know, Comrade Flesnky, I met with Peter Kropotkin once, in the days when the revolution was still young. He told me that he admired our cause, and that we must be true to ourselves. I hope I have done that." There were tears in his eyes as he examined the few survivors of the Cheka's purges. "Go, comrade. Defend the pass."

Basil Flensky did. He climbed up there with his rifle on his back and planted the flag in the cold rock beside him as Makhno and the surviving Black Guards rode under him. He saluted Makhno, his eyes hard, and Nestor Makhno saluted him back.

The Soviet Red Army soldiers came soon after. Flensky looked down the sight of his Mosin-Nagant rifle and remembered cradling his infant son in his hand as he saw the red Sickle and Hammer on the hat of the commissar leading the regiment. He fired and the commissar went down.

The soldiers sprang for cover, struggling to return fire, but Basil Flenksy moved too fast. He worked the bolt, selected another target, fired, and saw another Red Army soldier go down screaming. The Reds scrambled to get behind some sparse cover, fighting amongst themselves to get away from the Black Army sniper. Again and again Flensky fired, worked the bolt, and fired again. He stood boldly on the rocky cliff, gazing at his victims through smoked glasses.

Slowly, Flensky drew a stick of candy red dynamite from his pocket, struck a match on the rock below him and then lit the explosive. He hurled it below him and the explosion was deafening, filled with the screams of Red Soldiers and the harsh laugh of Basil Flensky.

For one day he held cliff, killing countless Red conscripts without giving them the chance to even get a shot off. His dynamite destroyed horsemen and even crude armored automobiles and tachankas. Finally, his rifle clicked empty for the last time. There were no cartridges left.

Cursing, Flenksy tossed aside the Mosin-Nagant and grabbed the black flag with one hand. He drew his saber with the other, and with a roar of anguish and rage, leapt down into the fray, hacking and stabbing at the terrified Red Army troops.

He killed twelve of them with his saber before the sword was knocked from his hands, and then he fought with the flag pole, the black fabric unfurled and glorious as he bludgeoned hapless conscripts. Flensky expected to die at any second.

He was perhaps looking forward for the bullet to finally end his torment, longing for whatever sad experience awaited him after life. But the end never came for Basil Flenksy.

A rifle butt crashed into his head from behind and Flensky toppled over, the black flag falling from his hand. A commissar bound his hands and rested a boot on his chest, then, not taking any chances with the anarchists militant, struck him again.

And blackness, the color of the Makhnovist battle standard, consumed Basil Flensky for a long time.

He was taken to Siberia, placed in the most secure prison the Soviet Union had to offer. Flensky's legend stayed alive, the survivors of his onslaught telling them in hushed tones to his comrades.

Black Flag! The legendary anarchist soldier who held the pass against thousands and allowed Nestor Makhno to get away. Black Flag! The brutal gunman who never seemed to miss! Black Flag! Master swordsmen, ace bomber, cold-hearted insurgent battling for the loss of his loved ones against all odds.

Black Flag they called him. It was only a moment of time until events occurred in far-off Mongolia that threatened the entirety of the Soviet Union, and it wasn't long until the Cheka devised a brilliant plan of ridding themselves of the problems of their anarchist prisoner, and the challenge to their power in the far east.

In 1927, two high-ranking Cheka officers paid a visit to the Siberian prison where Black Flag, Basil Flensky, was kept. With them they carried a series of photographs that would change Flenksy's life forever, and would force him to battle the insane monarch of the far east, the Bloody Baron.