Much was told of the figure of Ignotius Quintus Martin d'Alburci in the Canvas City of the Fourfold Horde, but little of it had the substance of truth. It is known that he was handsome, and quick upon his feet. It is known that his tongue was almost as sharp as his eyes. It is known that he could handle a rapier tolerably well, and a knife slightly more than tolerably. It is known that he was a gentleman rat, raised among gentlemen in the intrigue riddled, Machiavellian and frequently fatal politics of the twin cities of Vecine and Genaloa.
He was, however, a gentleman without a title, having had the misfortune to be born the thirteenth son of the Marquis d'Alburci. Like all titleless sons of nobility, he had it placed upon his shoulders to make his fortune elsewhere, and make his family proud with news of his great and glorious deeds.
He had traveled northwards, along the tropical coastline on the east of the Marque Bay, and arrived in his fourteenth year at the Canvas City, and enlisted himself into the Horde, making quite an impression because he signed the enlistment papers with his name, rather than the more usual X. Immediately following, he signed his name within the rumors of the town, by finding the best knife-fighter the Horde had, and challenging him to a mortal duel.
And so Ignotius had ended up as the greatest noble scoundrel in the history of the Fourfold Horde. His blade was dreaded, his wit famous, his bravery, his quickness, and his following among the ladies were popular tales in the taverns of the Canvas City. He quickly rose to because the head scout of the illustrious Autumn Guard.
As a gentleman rat, Ignotius had been raised to appreciate the finer things of life. A perfect rose blossom, intricate metal work, a trap well set, all of these held great fascination for Ignotius. One thing of beauty that he did despise was the sunrise. Honest laborers got up with the sun. Sons of the noble merchant families were too busy enjoying the comfort of a bed.
So, it is with a touch of regret that Ignotius awakens each morning in the Guard, for when he does, it is without a bed, and before the sunrise. It is usually also to the sound of Captain Nak'ran's loud, commanding, and most times insulting, voice.
"Come on, you rotbreathed daughters of field mice! I let you sleep in, and still you move like a bunch of blind squirrels! Up! Up! I've known babes that could do better than this! Voles could do better than this! I'll take the last one of you to finish packing your gear, fry your guts and serve them to you for breakfast! Move! Now!"
Ignotius sprang up and dusted himself off. He took a moment to straighten his uniform, and buffed a speck of dirt from his bronze breastplate, for a gentleman always look his best. Then he simply stepped outside the tent, using his tail to pull the central pole out with him. He folded the now collapsed cloth in two, and began rolling it around the pole. Captain Nak'ran's voice was booming in the background, shouting several improbable statements concerning the nature of the Guards, their parentage, and their future offspring.
"Hell's Gates, Kenvek, but the captain sounds delightful this morning. Almost operatic."
The hulking red fox next to Ignotius grunted and continued to pack his tent away into his rucksack. The rest of the Guard was doing the same. Ignotius sighed, bemoaning, as he had right to do, the deft of intelligent conversation among his fellow guards. He decided to keep his voice to himself as he finished packing his own rucksack. He set his knives about his person, and slung the strap of his rapier sheath over his shoulder.
Breakfast was a quick meal of thick oatmeal with raisins, scrapped hastily off of scrubbed bark sheets, which were then thrown in the deep latrine, dug last night. The vermin quickly refilled in the hole and after a final check on the campsite began their southward journey.
The day was long and hot, but despite the leather and bronze armor, the spirits of the Guard were high. Home was close, and getting closer every minute. In a straight line, the eight of them marched up over the high ridge that marked the beginning of the hills on the northern coast of the Marque Bay. Further south, nestled in a fertile valley, was the Canvas City, home of the Horde of Four.
There was also smoke. Ignotius blinked, thinking he was hallucinating. He scanned the horizon, and his fear was confirmed. A huge plume of smoke, like some diseased tree trunk rose from where the Canvas City should be, slowly drifting westward in the winds that blew across the bay.
"I see it, Ignotius. I see it. Don't panic, we'll go down and investigate. Mayhap the Summer Guard got a little rowdy last night."
There was a sudden red flash among the smoke, and a muffle thundering, as if the flames, hungry in desperation, had found a hidden reserve of oil within the city.
Ignotius jumped quickly down the ridge, bounding, using his tail for balance. He began running once he hit the bottom, crested another hill, and then bounded down again. The others were behind him.
The swift rat crested the last hill and screamed in rage. The Canvas City lay ruined before him. Tents torn and burnt, warriors, women and children lay slaughtered, death and destruction stretched as far as the eye could see. The stench of burning and rotting corpses was like a wall, slamming into Ignotius' sensitive nose. The smoke stung his eyes, and the coppery tang of blood in the air touched his tongue.
Shocked, Ignotius stood there, silent, watching the fires burning his home down. The others arrived behind him.
"Darkgates . . ."
"Wot in . . ."
"Anybody alive . . ."
"Who did this . . ."
"Dead . . ."
"Dead . . ."
"Who . . ."
The whispers of his fellow Guards drew Ignotius' mind back to reality. He twitched his snout.
The captain nodded.
"Go down. If you find survivors, help them. If you find anybody who did this, break them open and let their blighted souls flee back to the dark pit that spawned them."
The group broke silently. Ignotius followed Kenvek. As they drew closer, the pop and crackle of wood increased. They stepped onto one of the gravel paths that ran through the city. The white stone, taken from the beach down by the bay was now splotched with red. Silent bodies littered the ground like the leaves of autumn.
Then it hit Ignotius. Silent bodies. They had not heard a sound besides the wind and the fire since they entered the camp. All dead. All of them, dead. No wounded were left to make noise, to cry piteously. The rat flexed his wrist, letting a dagger slide down from his forearm sheath to his hand. He looked over at Kenvek. The giant fox was running his thumb over the edge of his battleaxe.
Suddenly, a mewling emerged from under a sheet of canvas pinned down with a pile of rubble. Ignotius leapt forward, slicing the canvas aside, hoping in his heart to find somebody he knew.
It was a mouse. Bloody, scarred, barely alive, and dressed in torn leather armor.
Ignotius' face twisted with rage, and he grabbed the mouse by his shoulder, nearly flinging him out of the rubble and down at the feet Kenvek, who silently watched the pitiful wreck with smoldering eyes.
"Who did this, mouse? What army? What lord?" Ignotius demanded and he leapt from the rubble to stand over the mouse.
The mouse coughed up blood, with a brave and utterly useless smile upon his face.
"Lord . . . lord . . . we serve no lord . . . King Konstan . . ." the mouse's body shook with pain. "King Konstan . . . he led this . . . this glorious attack. You . . . you too will . . . will die, unclean vermin."
Kenvek let his axe drop. No force was needed, the sheer weight of the axe head was enough to slice open the mouse's throat. Little blood flowed, for most of it was already soaked into the ground. Kenvek lifted his axe back up and licked the blade clean, then looked at Ignotius.
"Small mice should not speak big words."
Ignotius nodded, and kicked the body before heading off to see if he could find anybody else.