By Michael T. Noe

              The cavernous room was dark, save for the glare of torches high on the rock walls, and the glowing red coals of massive iron braziers set at intervals into the stone floor at the sides of the chamber. From the number of flames in the room, one would have expected more light, but here it seemed the shadows always held sway.  

The master of the realm sat in quiet contemplation upon the massive black throne that dominated the far side of the room. Fanged muzzle resting on razor clawed hand, huge bat-like wings furled, the being known only as the Lord of the Fire Demons gazed balefully at the writhing dance of flame and shadow.  

On the left side of the throne sat a large black flail, its twisted coils formed of leather stripped from the hides of beasts long passed from the world of man. On the right side a massive sword leaned, its metal black as the darkest night, its aura blacker still. 

He had sat long, his thoughts turned inward, darker and more twisted still than the flame and shadow before him. How long? A day?  A week?  More? Time mattered little here, in this blighted sanctuary of chaos. Long and longer still he might have remained, but for a sudden nagging presence at the edge of his thoughts, a presence that demanded attention. 

With a muttered snarl, he sat upright upon the dark throne, turned his gaze to the center of the room, and with a gesture of one clawed hand, lowered the spells warding his dark sanctuary. “Who dares disturb my solitude?’ he spoke, seemingly to the empty air.  

A faint blueish light began to grow in the air in front of the throne, growing larger as it fought back the clinging shadows. The figure of a man could be seen in that light, cloaked in mail, an evil looking heavy axe hanging at his side. Tall, beardless, dark of hair, he seemed human, save for dark eyes that looked to have seen such sights as to turn lesser men mad. “You know well who I am, Lord of Demons. And you know why I have come.” 

“Yes, I know you, oh Black Prince, know you well indeed.” replied the Lord of Demons. “Although it has been long since we last spoke. Come you now to pay me the homage that is my due?” 

“Homage, Lord of Flame? I normally grant you the respect due an occasional ally, Demon. But you know the Black Prince gives homage to no being, mortal or infernal. And especially when that beings reckless actions have threatened all, threatened the very fabric of reality…” 

“Ally Prince? Yes, I suppose you may think it so, such as a blowing leaf might see the wind propelling it as an “ally””. The Lord of the Fire Demons sat upright on his throne. “Remember to whom you speak, Prince. You may be old in the reckoning of men, but I am far older. Far older, far wiser, and it seems, far braver, if those harmless little dimensional rifts that my battle with that accursed cleric Ibranham opened are frightening you … “ 

The Black Prince gazed speculatively at the Demon Lord. He stood easy, arms partly crossed, but with the palm of his right hand resting upon the wicked looking head of the axe hanging from his belt. “You know me better Demon - I fear nothing… What concerns me though, as it should you, is not so much the rifts you’ve opened, but rather what may issue forth from them.  The balance of power we share with our mutual enemies is complex and fragile. The entry of new players of unknown affiliations could easily upset it and plunge the world into war.” 

“A world at war, Prince? And what would be the wrong with that” The Lord of the Fire Demons stood, lazily stretching his wings, to gaze down upon the Prince. “As I said Prince, I am far older than thee. For uncounted ages I fought and schemed for power in the Dark Realms. Aye, and found it, such that all creatures herein call me master. Then boredom set in, for relief of which I set my sights upon the material planes. My success there has been - mixed, tis true. Mixed, but never dull” He laughed softly, smiling at the Prince, exposing gleaming fangs. “After all the long eons, Prince, my prime enemy is boredom, boredom and ennui. If a world at war will relieve that, then I welcome it. Besides oh Prince, I am, as you know, what I am. Chaos is my nature, I revel in it, I feed upon it” The pinioned wings slowly unfurled, flames licking along their length. “If war comes, let it come. I shall embrace it as would a lover…” 

“Oh it will come Demon, you have seen to that. Even as we speak, the dogs of war stir. The Doom Legion gathers for battle, Lord Benithrock marches with his skeletal legions, and the forces of light begin to gather in response. The great conflict comes. Perhaps ‘tis time, after all.” The Black Prince smiled then himself, if more grimly than did the Demon. “The game begins, and it remains for us to turn it to our advantage. I leave you to your beloved darkness Demon, for I have forces of my own to muster, and plans to make. I trust that I will see you anon…” With a final ironic salute, the Black Prince faded away, the blue light following, leaving the room once more to the flame and shadow.  

The Demon stood silent for a moment, then turned to pick up the grim flail and fell sword from beside the dark throne. “Aye Prince, make your plans, muster your forces. Mine have already been in play for longer than you could know…” A wave of a taloned hand, and the massive iron doors at the front of the chamber swung wide. “Now, let the dance begin” Laughing, the Lord of the Fire Demons stalked from his chamber. The doors swung shut behind him, leaving the room once more to the dance of shadow and flame, a dance that would soon spread to the entire world…