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- "Seize them! These verminous bugs that must be crushed..."
- —Vilnix Pompolnius
The Knife-GrinderVilnix Pompolnius was born in Undertown, under the name of "Vil Spatweed". Abandoned as an infant, Vil was found by a drunken Greywaif in the Undertown Sewers. The waif taught him how to pick pockets from an early age, and when he got a bit older, he ran away to seek his own fortune on the streets of Undertown.
Vil Spatweed soon established himself as a knife-grinder. Though his trade was far from respectable, Vil soon established himself as the best knife-grinder in Undertown, and sharpened weapons for a whole host of shady characters, no questions asked. Though a champion in his field, however, Vil Spatweed was highly ambitious, and wanted to make something more of his life. Just such an opportunity arrived when he found a lost telescope on the streets of Undertown, which happened to belong to none other than the Professor of Darkness himself. Vil polished and repaired the telescope, added a few clever improvements, and journeyed up to Sanctaphrax to return the telescope to its owner. The Professor of Darkness was highly impressed, and offered to sponsor Vil through the Knights' Academy, which he eagerly accepted. It was at this time that Vil Spatweed changed his name, taking the long form of his first name, "Vilnix" and his last name, "Pompolnius", from a rich Leaguesman who had recently been assassinated with a weapon he himself had sharpened.
A Squire of the Knights' Academy
Vilnix Pompolnius entered the Knights' Academy as the Professor of
Darkness's protege, alongside Quint, who was sponsored by the Professor of Light. Both Vilnix and Quint excelled in the academy, but Vilnix, malicious, spiteful, and unpleasant, quickly became an object of hate by most of the other squires. Believing that all Vilnix needed was a friend, Quint tried to show Vilnix kindness, but Vilnix, outraged that Quint felt "sorry" for him, only hated Quint more. Ever deceitful, Vilnix Pompolnius found ways to get back at those he disliked. He paid regular visits to the School of Potions and Poisons, where he purchased mild poisons to use on fellow squires.
Before long, the squires of the Knights' Academy graduated from the Lower Halls. Vilnix greatly looked forward to this event, for Hax Vostillix, Hall Master of High Cloud, had promised him a position as an Apprentice High Professor. However, to Vilnix's chagrin and outrage, he was chosen to receive training as a Knight Academic, a position which he not only had no interest in, but also considered to be a death sentence, for most Knights Academic at the time were perishing on their voyages. Furious, Vilnix dreamed up an evil plan to not only get back at Hax, but also get rid of Quint and Maris.
Vilnix broke into Hax Vostillix's private chambers and plucked the valuable marsh-gems off Hax's coat. He then used the gems as a bribe to have Ferule Gleet of the School of Colour and Light Studies forge Quint's handwriting to send false notes to Maris. Vilnix pressured Maris into stealing money from her guardians, Heft and Dacia Vespius, and sending it to him. He then used this money to purchase deadly woodwasp eggs from the School of Potions and Poisons. To get rid of the witnesses, he sabotaged a gantry on the Loftus Observatory, the tallest building in Sanctaphrax, and sent notes to both Quint and Maris, having them meet on that platform. Then, he disguised the woodwasp eggs as delberry bonbons and placed them in Hax's chambers. After Hax ate one, the egg hatched in Hax's stomach, and the wasps stung their way out, killing the unfortunate Hall Master.
Unfortunately for Vilnix, his plan to kill Quint and Maris was less successful. Although the gantry collapsed, they managed to cling on to the door long enough for their friends to come by in a sky ship and help them to safety. Once Vilnix realized this, he tried to hide, but he was found and brought to the office of the Professors of Light and Darkness. Though they were unable to prove that Vilnix had murdered Hax Vostillix and tried to kill Quint and Maris, Vilnix was still expelled from the Knights' Academy on the grounds that he had visited the School of Potions and Poisons, an act of utmost insubordination. After leaving, Vilnix swore revenge on Quint and the Professors.
Though Vilnix was expelled from the Knights' Academy, the Professor of Darkness didn't have the heart to cast him out of Sanctaphrax completely. He arranged a position for Vilnix in the Faculty of Raintasters in the College of Rain. For several years, Vilnix trained as a Raintaster.
Nine years after Vilnix Pompolnius's admittance to the College of Rain, the city of Sanctaphrax was in crisis. Over time, the floating rock on which it was constructed grew larger and more buoyant, and the supplies of stormphrax were now insufficient to keep the rock stable. Curious about the substance that anchored the rock down, Vilnix stole some stormphrax from the Treasury Chamber and brought it back to the Raintasters' Tower. He and the other Raintasters attempted some experiments on the stormphrax, but didn't learn anything. One night, a frustrated Vilnix crushed a crystal of stormphrax with a pestle, and discovered that, when ground, it became a strange, beautiful sepia powder. Eagerly, the other Raintasters tried to grind another crystal, but, this time, they caused a massive explosion. The Raintasters' Tower was badly damaged, Vilnix was injured, and all of his colleagues were killed. As Vilnix lay on the floor, a drop of his blood fell into the mortar containing the sepia powder, and instantly turned into water. Vilnix realized that he had discovered a substance capable of purifying foul liquids.
A few days later, Quint, now a fully trained Knight Academic, was being prepared to set sail on his stormchasing voyage, in front of a large crowd. As part of his ceremony, Quint had to drink from a chalice filled with water from the Edgewater River. However, the water was too foul to drink. At that moment, Vilnix jumped out of his seat, and addressed the crowd. He spoke contemptuously of stormchasing and the traditional ceremonies, announcing that the only way to stabilize Sanctaphrax would be to build more emergency chains. In response to worry that chain production would cause the Undertown factories to pump more waste and pollute the Edgewater River further, Vilnix announced that he had discovered a water-purifying substance, and dubbed it "Phraxdust". He then announced that, if he was named Most High Academe, he would commission chains from the League of Free Merchants, compensating for the pollution with the use of phraxdust. The academics then declared Vilnix Pompolnius the Most High Academe of Sanctaphrax.
Vilnix's reign as Most High Academe was marked from the very beginning with treachery, bribery, and corruption. One of his first acts was to move the Professors of Light and Darkness into the Raintasters' Tower, so that he could establish an opulent office for himself in the School of Light and Darkness, known as the Inner Sanctum. His cohorts in the Leagues of Undertown created new chains to keep Sanctaphrax in place, and, in return, Vilnix provided them with Phraxdust to purify the Edgewater River. However, as more stormphrax was taken from the treasury, Sanctaphrax became even more unstable, requiring more chains and thus more phraxdust. To make matters worse, nobody was able to recreate the effects of Vilnix's original experiment; every time someone tried to grind stormphrax, it exploded. This meant that phraxdust steadily became rarer and rarer over the years.
Several years later, Vilnix learned that Quint, now the sky pirate captain, Cloud Wolf, had set off on a stormchasing expedition with the Professor of Light. Vilnix knew that if Cloud Wolf succeeded, Sanctaphrax would become stable and his alliance with the Leagues, the only thing keeping him in power, would fall apart. After torturing the tavern waif of the Bloodoak Tavern, Forficule, for information, Vilnix discovered that Cloud Wolf had left his son, Twig, behind. Vilnix attempted to kidnap Twig and use him as a bargaining chip, but failed because Slyvo Spleethe had already sneaked Twig aboard Cloud Wolf's sky ship, the Stormchaser, for the exact same purpose.
Later on, Twig returned to Sanctaphrax with a cargo of stormphrax crystals and the secret for safe phraxdust production. Upon learning that stormphrax had returned to the treasury, Vilnix attempted to arrest Twig and the Professor of Darkness, but, now that the floating city had finally been stabilized once more, the academics, encouraged by Vilnix's manservant Minulis, finally turned on Vilnix. Fearing for his life, he tried to run for it, and made it to the hanging-baskets on The East Landing. However, the Leagues of Undertown, double-crossed by Vilnix when he stopped supplying them with phraxdust, had sabotaged that particular basket, which tore from its rope, causing him to plummet to his death.
Vilnix Pompolnius was ambitious, cunning, ruthless, and cruel. He went to any lengths to achieve his goals, including murder, and his philosophy from his days when he first entered Sanctaphrax was that cunning, malice, treachery and deceit were the keys to power. During his days as Most High Academe, Vilnix was also exceptionally vain, monogramming many of his possessions with his initials.
Vilnix also relished and took pride in his own cruelty. During interrogations, Vilnix would often wear exceptionally uncomfortable clothing, deliberately putting himself in a foul mood and a towering temper.
Another skill that Vilnix took pride in was his ability to gauge the emotions of a crowd. This skill in particular enabled him to become Most High Academe, though it failed him once the academics of Sanctaphrax finally rose up against him.