The vampires camped within an easy march of the city. There was no reason to lay siege to a place when one could storm it. The vampires brought no siege weapons, no ladders… they brought shields and bows plundered along the way because enemies could still kill them from a distance if they began firing before the vampires reached the walls.

Once the vampires were on the walls though, there was no stopping them.

The vampires kept both human and undead servants to watch the camp during the day. They had learned to camp in wooded areas, and to pitch double the number of tents needed, to minimize damage as skirmishers attempted to raid their camp by day.

But these were old tactics for an army vulnerable to sunlight. Their enemies seldom raided their camp out of fear… or a misguided belief in the vampires’ honorable conduct. Or perhaps the humans underestimated their foe.

As dawn broke, the last of the vampires bedded down. Only a few would remain active during the day, under the protection of thick canopies or magic darkness.

Many were awakened less than an hour into their reverie by the quake of hundreds of marching feet. But there were no horns, and there were no drums. This army creeped up on them… and not from the direction of Sarthel.

While the canopy of trees protected the vampires from sunlight, they also limited the effectiveness of ranged weapons. This worked both for and against the vampires… limiting range all around and forcing a melee more often favored the preternaturally strong undead.

Skirmishes erupted on the edge of the camp while the vampires roused themselves and prepared for a careful battle in the shade of the trees. Living and undead servants were cut down in droves as the vampires organized themselves and prepared for counterattack.

Word quickly spread through the vampire camp: they were under attack by an army of devils.

The vampire commanders made it clear there was no possibility of retreat. Beyond the canopies of leaves and canvas, there was no protection from the sun.

Vampire soldiers formed ranks, armed with tooth and claw and shield. Few of them carried bows now: the tents and pavilions made sighting difficult, even under the best of circumstances. But they could likewise use the pavilions for cover.

The first sight of the enemy ranks confirmed the rumors: an army of bearded devils was descending upon them. Armed with glaives the vampires knew well enough to fear. The devils were better-armed and outnumbered them: it would be a close battle.

Then they heard the dragon’s roar.

High overhead, the vampires sighted a red dragon. It would have been enough to rout a mortal army, but the vampires’ blood could run no colder. Accompanied by the roar was a thunderous rattling of chains. A slave dragon then.

Thick chains dragged through the vampire camp as the bearded devils charged into the midst. Troops of vampires were able to corner and outflank the devils within walls of canvas. The glaives gave the devils the advantage of reach, but the vampires knew their own camp, and worked well in small numbers.

But the devils didn’t break.

Vampire commanders noted with growing alarm that the red dragon was not attacking. It flew over the camp again and again, dragging lengths of chain. Tents were smashed and pavilions were uprooted, which diminished the vampires’ cover, but not significantly.

The vampires were unafraid of the dragon, so what was this intimidation tactic?

After that, the terrified screams began–vampires feared only those things which could truly do them harm. Lassos descended through the treetops and between pavilions to snatch up unwary vampires and drag them above the canopy.

Screams of surprise changed sharply to screams of pain as the fledglings ignited upon contact with unfiltered sunlight above the trees.

The commanders ordered a few vampire troops to fall back and pick up bows: they would attempt to shoot down the flying devils, and perhaps the dragon. Other vampires fought amid the flagging pavilions.

Through the sea of ruined tents, the vampires saw a terrible new sight: devil reinforcements.

But the battle was going in their favor, the vampires had already slaughtered wave upon wave of devil attackers–the devils’ bodies boiling away in stinking black ichor. The vampires’ own losses were growing, but more slowly.

Reaching their wagons of bows and arrows, vampire soldiers armed themselves and began searching the treetops for sign of the winged attackers, or the dragon.

Hours had passed, and the morning sun was high overhead.

The vampire commanders ordered their archers to hold while the devil reinforcements continued to close. Much of their cover was lost, but they still had more than enough vampires to defend–many now armed with glaives from fallen devils.

But the devil troops marched forward relentlessly. There wasn’t a glimmer of fear in them: a few vampire commanders began to glimpse the trap.

The vampires weren’t merely fighting for their lives: they were fighting a completely disposable army. The devils were coming, and they would keep coming, like waves of heedless automatons.

And then the chains began to move.

The chains: which the red dragon had dragged through camp had not been used to restrain the beast–they had been carried across the battlefield to crisscross and overlap the entire field.

And the chains began to move.

From behind the ranks of the bearded devils, chain devils were seen moving in small teams. Dozens of chains animated and began thrashing and scourging the vampire troops before their soldiers were close enough to engage.

And then the devils charged.

It was no difficult thing for a vampire to escape from a scourging chain that looped itself around him–but it provided enough of a distraction that the supernaturally-coordinated devils would run the vampire through a dozen times or more before he could shake free the lengths of barbed chain.

There was no hiding from the chains: they ran the length of the camp, encircled it.

The vampires held their ranks, but they were forced to retreat by the superior discipline and training of the devils. The vampires fell back again, and again. The net of chains drew tightly closed around them.

And then the dragon appeared above them, crashing through the treetops. The vampire archers loosed their arrows, but not before the dragon breathed.

Fire washed over the scourged vampires, setting alight undead flesh and canvas alike.

And the devils kept marching, their flesh unharmed by the rising conflagration. Super-heated chains cut through the vampires’ flesh and many died where they stood from fire, the whirling, white-hot chains, or plunging glaives.

Vampire archers fired volley after volley into the dragon, until it finally crashed to the ground.

Soon, the archers and the few commanders to escape the dragon’s breath were the only vampires to remain. And the bearded devils marched through the burning remains with hardly a care for the licking flames.

The archers fell back, beyond the edge of the camp and the circle of burning chains. They attempted to regroup, rearm, and prepare for the next wave of attackers. But the devils had already won the battle.

The vampires formed themselves into two bands: they would cover one another and fall back, again and again. They would wear down their attackers. The devils might have been fearless, but the undead were tireless.

Before the vampires could break apart though, the glowing lassos descended from the treetops again, pulling several vampires to screaming, burning deaths in the sunlight above.

It was almost noon.

The bands formally split and engaged their strategy: engage and fallback under covering fire. Engage and fallback. It was hard to see how many devils remained. The vampires knew they were outnumbered, but they knew they could outlast the devils as long as they were smart.

The noonday sun continued across the sky: the vampires were nighttime creatures but they understood the sun’s passage across the sky. They had survived for hours beyond their fellows in the camp. The morning seemed like a lifetime ago–even to a timeless creature like a vampire. And they would live for lifetimes more.

But the engaging party never got the signal to fallback. No covering fire came.

Instead, they were met by another contingent of devils which had encircled their band and annihilated the remaining archers.

At the lead was a human–a human!–in black armor, spattered in blood, carrying a skull-shaped helmet.

“You’re the last of them,” he said. The inflection was odd, but it hadn’t been a question.

The human commander donned his helmet within sight of the vampires, but they lacked the bows of the other group and he was beyond the range of a charming gaze.

“Leave seven of them for me,” he said. One of the devils handed the commander a sword.

There were fewer than twenty vampires left–the lassos appeared, dragging two more to their deaths far above.

The devils charged, and encircled the vampires. Glaives kept them at a distance, and drove them together until they were fighting back-to-back.

The chains reappeared–fewer this time, but more than enough to matter. A lasso here, a chain there, and the vampires were dragged apart from each other until they were fighting separately.

One vampire would be torn apart by chains, and another would be dragged up into the canopy. Glaives felled a third.

And abruptly, the fighting ended.

Held in place by chains, or glowing lassos, or devil claws, seven vampires remained. They could see one another, after a fashion, by peering between the overwhelming mass of devils.

The human commander reappeared. His sword had been broken and so he cast it aside. He called for another from among the devils.

He looked down on the first vampire and uttered, “For the greater good.” He then struck off the vampire’s head with a magically-empowered arc from his fresh sword.

“You’re a paladin!” cried one of the surviving vampire commanders.

The human commander moved to the next vampire, uttered the same words, and beheaded the undead.

The vampire commander started laughing, before he was shoved to the ground.

Each time the human took the head of a vampire, one of the gems on his skull-faced helm began to glow. “For the greater good,” he said again.

At last he came to the vampire commander, who was struggling on the ground with poles pressing him into the forest floor.

The vampire spat out a mouthful of dirt. “A paladin, leading an army of devils. What is this?”

“Let him up. On your knees, vampire.”

The vampire pushed himself up off the ground. “You want the city for yourself? What is it? You didn’t want us poaching?”

“For the greater good.” The human commander cut down the last vampire.

Reaching into a pouch, the human removed a slightly-crumpled, black rose. He waved it in front his face as if to smell it, then tossed it onto the vampire commander’s corpse.

He turned back to his devils. “Send word to the Iron Circle. I need to get cleaned up before I enter the city.”