The first warning came when a patrol failed to arrive back in town. With the rumors of war looming over the heads of all good folk, what with vampire armies on the march, patrols had been doubled.

In the hours before sunrise, the town of Ionic was on alert. Fires had started in the outlying villages, and their smoke heralded the approaching ruin miles away. Burned and scarred farmers were making their way to the gates in groups, begging sanctuary from the encroaching enemy.

Fear started up, fed by rumors of an army of devils. Led by Asmodeus himself, some said. Riding horses with manes of fire, and flanked by the Furies themselves.

The town mustered defenders and sent runners to neighboring settlements. Messengers set out for Harkenwold and Hammerfast, around the spur of the Dawnforge Mountains, and to nearby Silver Pudding… less than a day’s journey away.

A desperate quiet fell over the town. They had no heroes to their name, no great lord to protect them. As a frontier settlement, Ionic was one of the points of light people were drawn to in times of need.

Like Covalence had been.

The enemy arrived with the dawn. And with their arrival, hope fled.

Every able-bodied man and woman had turned out to defend the town from the infernal legion, but there simply wasn’t enough equipment to arm them all. What equipment they had on hand would scarcely be enough to turn back an army.

The best they could hope for was that their plea for help would be answered before the devils crossed the wall.

An elder dwarf by the name of Breunor rallied the guard and militia for the town’s defense. He organized for scouts to determine the size and strength of the approaching army. Unlike most of the defenders, he had soldiering experience from over a century earlier, fighting for the empire of Nerath.

But devils were different from gnolls.

The scouts that returned reported over three hundred devils. They were a highly-organized march, and the scouts had no trouble determining their number. Indeed, the scouts seemed to have come by the knowledge with ease.

What hunters and longbowmen Ionic had, Bruenor placed on the wall. The town had nothing like the numbers needed for a battery of archers, let alone the required ammunition–a situation they were rapidly attempting to correct. But a fletcher could only work so fast.

The few townsfolk who dared go atop the walls, watched the approaching army with growing dread. The devils pitched no tents. They clearly weren’t planning for a siege. They only marched, and they showed no sign of stopping until they reached the walls.

Before them, the devils carried banners of a black Rose on a red field.

Without archers of their own, the devils offered no return fire once their front ranks had closed within range of Ionic’s meager bowmen. Even still, the devils appeared to shrug off the wooden projectiles.

Breunor called a council with the town’s temple leaders.

The limited spell-casting abilities offered to them included healing, not magic of war. The spells necessary to imbue the defenders’ weapons to pierce fiendish hides simple wasn’t available in quantities sufficient to make a difference.

At least they had the walls.

Heroes had a habit of showing up at the last possible moment, and indeed a few came out of the woodwork as the devils closed on the town gates. A few stalwart men had been fighters in better days, and opted to come out of retirement in defense of the town. They even lent a few enchanted weapons to the fight.

Newly armed, Breunor and his men were surprised by a disarray when they returned to the gate. People were screaming and fleeing in a panic. It took the dwarf a moment to understand: the gate had been opened.

Someone inside the town had opened the gate, and the devils had walked right inside.

His eleventh-hour heroes sprang into action and charged to meet the devils, but Breunor could see it was a losing battle before it had even begun. The walls were for nothing if the gates had been opened.

Wrestling with disbelief, the dwarf ran through several different possible scenarios.

It occurred to him that in the town’s haste to bring in fleeing villagers, an enemy soldier or two might have entered in disguise. From there, they could have overpowered the gate guards…

But Breunor was still fighting that this was happening at all. Devils were fiends from beyond their world, perhaps this was an elaborate illusion designed to distract the guardsmen away from the gate…

It was the last thought to go through his mind before a devil glaive pierced his side.

Breunor was wounded, but he was a sturdy old dwarf. He watched the devil troop continue marching as he collapsed in the street.

The devils overran the gate in a matter of minutes. There was little time for anyone to flee the infernal horde as it descended upon the town.

First, the devils filled the lanes, cutting down anyone who resisted, until they occupied every nook and corner. An unsettling stillness hung over the town.

Then there was a terrible sound of rattling, and mysterious-looking devils wearing veils and clothed in lengths of chain filed through the streets. They stopped at each house, battered down the doors, and drove out any people within.

Most terrible of all was the thorough and systematic way in which they carried out the deed: houses were emptied like purses turned inside-out, their living contents led away in manacles to join the increasing legion in chains.

By the time the sun began to sink again, the infernal army had turned out the entire town of Ionic, and marched the surviving people beyond its limits.

The devils started their march anew, with prizes of war in tow. At the head of the army was the hag, Gul-Yara. She was occupied with interrogating a fevered dwarf who had been one of the town’s defenders.

The dwarf rambled about needing to protect the outlying villages. There were others to be warned if the devils were on the move. His rambling grew more chaotic, as though he did not know to whom he was speaking.

Gul-Yara hushed the dwarf, and gently caressed his cheek. She was careful not to disturb the thread with which she had sewn the guardsman’s eyes shut.

“Calm your fears, child. Grandmother will see to it. The little people of Silver Pudding can take care of themselves, I’m sure. I’m sure. Your messenger has probably arrived by now. Rest assured, they know what’s coming.”

She let the dwarf’s head sag, and turned back to the road. There was no more than a day between Ionic and Silver Pudding, but the slaves the army had taken on since they set out from Sarthel were beginning to slow them down.

Silver Pudding was a fat, ripe target just waiting to be plucked. To head back to Vor Rukoth now would be prudent, but Gul-Yara longed for another town in which to plant a garden of black roses.

And stalwart halfling souls commanded such a high value on the soul market, it seemed too great an opportunity to pass up…