Philius Stirp was born the son of a cobbler in Lower Dianess. Upper Dianess was for nobles, especially the town's leader, Marion Exeter (a cold woman most would say could chill a bowl of boiling stew with a stir from her little finger). Lower Dianess was for everyone else -- including biting insects in the summer, biting cold in the winter, year-round criminals, occasional famine, and pervasive corruption. Lower Dianess residents weren't cursed, but they felt that way most times. Although Upper Dianess suffered the same weather as the rest of the city, it experienced little crime, no famine, and the corruption was entirely political and subtle. If you lived in Lower Dianess, you resented everything Upper.
Except Philius. Ever the pragmatist, Philius often said that the only thing the commoner need concern himself with was himself, and to let the fate of Marion and her lot rest squarely with them, for "no one who lives alone like Marion Exeter could ever be really happy." Philius lived with his mother.
When Philius's father died, the family's only weapon had passed to him: a bright-bladed halberd that was in remarkable condition considering its age. Philius, having just come of age, did not know what to do with his life. He certainly didn't want to become a cobbler, which had been his father's trade. But he needed to provide for his mother, so when the city watch approached him asking if he would lend the halberd to the city's armory, Philius agreed -- but only if he went with it. His mother approved, for it meant that Philius would still remain close to home and wouldn't have to take on the very dangerous occupation of adventuring. She also trusted the heirloom to keep Philius safe, for it always brought good luck to its owner.
Thus, Philius became a member of the Lower Dianess watch.
Years passed, and Philius settled into mediocrity with a dedication few had ever seen. He managed to reach a perfect balance of laziness and initiative that ensured he never fell behind or made mistakes but also never broke out of his routine.
However, he did have charisma that few seemed to possess. Everyone liked him, even the criminals he arrested. (Well, at least they didn't hate him like they did the other watchmen.) His secret: working with the criminal element to maintain the status quo. To Philius, maintaining order in the city meant everything should remain in the order it started. He would arrest someone or not depending on what his choice would do to the balance of crime in his neighborhood of the city.
Until that is, his halberd saved the day.
Philius was walking his normal patrol with Gorodnk, a dwarf and fellow watchmen, when they saw a known thief, Hroan, running out of an alley. They stopped him and saw that Hroan was pale and shaking. He claimed that he'd followed a mark down the alley, but when he got to the end of it, he found a skeleton with flaming red eyes standing over the dead body of the mark. Philius took hold of Hroan, who was too badly shaken to do anything but quiver, while Gorodnk headed down the alley to investigate the story. When Philius heard a horrible scream, he forgot about the thief and went running down the alley himself. He saw the red flaming eyes before he saw the glow from Gorodnk's fallen lantern. The undead thing still had bits of Grodnk's flesh in its bony fingers, and set immediately toward Philius.
Philius had never before seen, or even heard of, such a thing being in the city's walls. With a cracking and scraping sound, its spine twisted on its wide, bony hips to turn toward Philius. The watchman gripped his halberd tightly and gasped, frozen in terror as he looked deep into the fiery eyes that bore down on him. The skeleton clattered upon him, reaching with its bloody claws and somehow sneering with its askew jaw. Philius swung his halberd frantically. The blade first sliced through the air, but on the back swing, the wood handle caught the skeleton in the ribs. The bones cracked and blasted apart as the halberd broke easily through the skeleton. The thing's spine was still intact, but the blow seemed to startle the emotionless undead. Philius, though startled himself, brought his polearm down in a more controlled fashion to hit the skull, cracking it in two with the weight of the blade. The red eyes faded quickly as the skeleton collapsed, its bones falling into a pile as if they had never been connected in the first place. Philius was alone with the corpses and the smell of blood.
It was just the experience Philius needed to give himself confidence as a fighter, a career he started to pursue more vigorously from then on.
The mark Hroan had followed turned out to be someone important to the nobility of the city: the personal servant of the major domo at Lady Exeter's mansion. The servant had been sent on an errand and either gotten lost or deliberately strayed the wrong way. Those familiar with the city's politics said that the servant must have been carrying something important, perhaps a love letter, and that the skeleton had been summoned to kill the servant and retrieve the item -- but the plot had been stopped by Philius.
As a reward for his bravery, Philius was asked to serve in the honor guard for Lady Exeter during an official function. This recognition did nothing but encourage the rumors that he had foiled a significant political plot. The ceremony went well and Philius got to meet Lady Exeter. He accepted a promotion to sergeant and began to enjoy his fledgling reputation.
Lady Exeter knew that she was not the most popular noble in Lower Dianess. In an effort to improve her connection with "those people," she made Philius a member of her personal escort. She believed that if a commoner, such as Philius, distinguished himself in the eyes of the aristocracy, he should be rewarded with the opportunity to walk amongst the nobles -- and do things like serve in any armed conflicts that might arise. Philius didn't care about her machinations. He focused his attention on securing a better home for his mother and himself in the good part of town, which he eventually did: an airy house overlooking a small orchard maintained by one of Lady Exeter's cousins.
Philius hoped the assignment would prove easier than his watch duties, given the amount of crime in Upper Dianess. He could not have been more wrong. Within weeks, Lady Exeter was attacked while strolling in her garden by winged demons with barbed whips. Philius, in the garden along with the rest of her entourage, reacted quickly and came to the lady's defense. He managed to fight off one of the foul creatures with his halberd before he was knocked to the ground. One of the demons got hold of Lady Exeter and was about to fly off with her when Philius used the blade on his polearm to snag her dress - slowing the demon just long enough for archers to fell the beast.
Lady Exeter was injured, but alive and still in the city. She thanked Philius by promoting him again and giving him an increased allowance. Philius's fellow watchmen encouraged him to improve his arms, or at least to get a good sword he could wear for ceremonies, but he would have none of it. "This halberd's been in my family for generations and it's always done right by us -- I can't see letting go of it now," he would say.
Lady Exeter also made Philius a personal bodyguard, closer to her than any other guard. Over time, the two became lovers. Lady Exeter then discovered the vast amounts of street knowledge that Philius had acquired during his years on the watch. This knowledge turned out to be quite valuable in her machinations to rally Lower Dianess to her. Philius supplied her with the names of the people who, if persuaded to support her, would have the most effect on the common people in Lower Dianess.
This involvement inevitably drew Philius into politics, which opened up his horizons and gave him experience in a whole new area. He managed to attract a small number of trusted followers who came to defend him as closely as he defended Lady Exeter. He also received a gift of enchanted armor -- the only enchanted arms or armor he would own. Philius believed that a proper soldier doesn't rely on magic, but skill and the people around him.
His followers came in handy during the murder attempt made against him. No one could ever say whether it was a rival noble to Lady Exeter or an enemy from Lower Dianess who was behind it. But the incident crystallized Philius' role in life: a political player in the city's machinations. By mid-life, he became the one person who had the personal courage to face danger and the political knowledge to handle Lower Dianess and Lady Exeter (and Upper Dianess by extension). His knowledge could upset the balance of power in both worlds, making him the most dangerous man in the city. . . .
About the Author
Eric Haddock is a game content writer for Xbox and PC games at Microsoft, publisher of Abashima Press, and former assistant editor for Dragon Magazine. When not hiking in the Pacific Northwest and avoiding lopers, he games about 60 hours a week, not counting gaming at work. Fortunately, his wife, Julia Martin, is a gamer too. They have two cats, Oracle and Ororo, who like the dice from games but do not play very much.
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