The Century Hunt
The Assassination of Senator Tramman
A popular tale in the Chyden Republic, The Assassination of Senator Tramman offers insight into the life of a politician in the country. The events, if true, likely occur around the year 150, though official records of the senators are not available to the public. As for the author, it remains anonymous, though many have theorized that the “Mr. X” character is the original.
“So, tell me about your ‘friend’,” began the assassin. Senator Volgut cleared his throat.
“Well, he’s tall, lanky, olive complexion…” The assassin snorted, and Volgut sighed. “Fine. He’s Heritage, so he should be easy to spot. He wears a golden sash with fair blue embroidery, depicting a hunt of some kind. His sigil is on it, which as you probably know already is-“
“Not interested,” interrupted the assassin. “What of his manhood? I know who you are, Senator.”
“Don’t call me that here,” hissed Volgut. He had taken care to alter his appearance for this meeting, and didn’t want the extra coin paid for discretion to be for naught. “At least four knocks, probably more than five,” he added reluctantly. The assassin whistled in appreciation.
“Must be hard to concentrate at work, eh?” Volgut was already beginning to regret volunteering to meet with the contract killer. As the junior member of the group paying for Senator Tramman’s death, he had felt it his obligation. Also, he wished to impress the others with his initiative, hopefully paving the way for future investment opportunities. He was only now seeing why they had been so thankful for his ambition.
“Hazards of the job. I don’t think the man softens until he leaves the council chambers.” He paused so the assassin could finish his obnoxious silent laughter. “So will you do it?”
“Mmph, I suppose. The terms are adequate.” The assassin wiped flecks of ale off his beard and extended his hand towards his employer. “Shake?” Volgut begrudgingly took the man’s hand in his own, offered a firm handshake, and rose to his feet.
“It’s been a pleasure, Mr. …X?” Volgut turned and left the small, hazy tavern. X ordered another drink, drew a piece of paper and quill from his jacket, and began his work.
Senator Ilgus Tramman had just finished yet another meeting with the informally named Cease Fire Committee, which left him irritable and in no mood for another speech. “Damnable Reformists,” he thought, “Their fathers should have beat some sense into them a long time ago.” He stormed nudely (save his family sash) through the capital council halls, seeking not to make a big show for the moderates as he often did, but simply to get home as quickly as possible. He was soon flanked by his elite guard, size befitting one of the heads of the Heritage Party. They checked rooftops for snipers and guided him the short walk to his mansion, steering him away from dark places and crowds.
After a few minutes, Senator Tramman arrived home safe and sound. Two of the guards left his side and began a patrol of the grounds, relieving other council-provided men-at-arms. The others walked him to the door, where one moved in front of him to open it while the other stood back. The guard at the fore opened the door, and a small piece of paper fluttered towards Senator Tramman. He scooped it up and unfolded it, despite the silent objections of his escort. It read:
“Dear Senator, I find myself in quite a delicate situation. I have been paid to end your life, but the very idea of shedding your blood on your beautiful stone floors shakes me to my very core. I could scarce imagine harming a hair on your head, much less murdering you in cold blood. It would do me great service if you could take your own life, sparing me the awkwardness of killing you despite my admiration. Yours truly, X.”
“What is the meaning of this… vile joke?!?” roared Senator Tramman, holding the note aloft. “Who delivered this? I demand to know how this got into my house!” Wordlessly, some of the guards outside searched the grounds for any sign of forced entry, but of course they found none. No trace of unfamiliar footsteps along the perimeter, either. After hours of searching and with great resignation, Tramman decided it was a stupid prank made by hooligans with far too much time on their hands. He retired to his study to draft a request for more guards during council sessions.
Volgut returned to the dusty tavern a few days later, fury melting off his face. He approached the familiar figure of Mr. X, who was wearing slightly fancier clothes. “What the hell is this? We paid you to kill him, not write him a sarcastic letter!” X took a large bite of pork sausage, chewing with great relish.
“My dear Senator, you have me all wrong. You paid me to kill and discredit him in a manner up to my choosing, and I do not recall you establishing a time limit.” He wiped the mustard off his hands and drew a document from his coat. “This is a copy of the contract I signed, in case you don’t believe me.” Volgut ignored the offer.
“Just make it quick. What do I have to add to expedite the… work?” Volgut slowly regained his composure. Mr. X smiled softly.
“Well the terms in this contract aren’t being violated, so you’ll have to draw up a new one, since you’re so particular to the terms. The bidding starts at fifty thousand, which I believe is fair.” Volgut felt bile rise into his throat.
“That would double the price! What’s stopping us from finding someone else to do the work for you?”
“Well, that’s a poor idea, as you’d be violating our original deal,” replied Mr. X in a low voice. “I trust you’ve heard the stories of previous clients who got cold feet after the contract was signed; I try not to add to that aspect of my reputation.” Volgut seemed less angry, but still unconvinced. “Don’t worry, everything has gone according to plan so far. If we’re lucky, I may even be ahead of schedule!” Mr. X smirked and finished his sausage.
“Sure,” Volgut sneered, rubbing his eyes with his right hand. “I’ll just go let the others know how well everything is going.” As he weakly pushed his way out of the establishment, he pondered how much it would cost to kill both Tramman and Mr. X. When he concluded that fifty thousand gold was an optimistic assessment, he resigned himself to a long wait.
“Another letter, sir,” called a particularly obsequious guard. After setting down his glass of Scythian brandy, Senator Tramman sauntered out of his library. He was quite pleased the latest letter had been discovered before the evening grew too late. He recalled how irritated he had been a mere month ago, when that first week brought him (only!) three letters. He had posted guards along every possible vantage point leading up to his home, but no one had seen them delivered. The letters grew more frequent in that second week, and by now he was receiving as many as two a day! He approached the boy, who held the folded piece of paper at arm’s length.
“Ah, at last, the night’s entertainment!” Tramman beamed. “Thank you, m’boy!” He snatched the letter out of the guard’s hand and returned to the library. The suicidal exhortations had been insulting at first, certainly. However, as time passed they became more creative, and Tramman caught himself giggling at the implications in the fourth or fifth. In the third week, he started bringing the letters to the council hall, showing off what had to be the strangest death threats in the world. He was extremely disappointed to learn his puzzled peers didn’t find them quite so amusing.
“Bah, no need for their lack of imagination,” he said to himself, far louder than he intended. Yesterday’s had been simply sublime, feeding him suggestions on how best to drown himself in his bath. His favorite was still the one he received three days prior, which came with a diagram for a contraption that would bash his head in with a mallet. He jovially unfolded the newest release and began reading.
“Dearest Senator, I see you have still not taken to heart my sincere request to hold your own head underwater until the bubbles stop. This is most disappointing, as I was certain that would be the most rewarding method of self-execution. No matter, I am ever the optimist! Perhaps the bath required too much preparation; I know how much scented oils and salts cost. Therefore, the budget-conscious public servant might prefer to use items found readily lethal around the home.
“Kitchenware is simply too predictable, and by now I know you to have lofty standards for your imminent death. But never fear: you needn’t leave your study for deadly weapons! Take firm hold of one of your many quills, and stab yourself in the left eye socket as hard as you can. Then take your inkwell, mix in kromer leaves (I have heard you grow plenty of kromeri in your garden), and pour the inky mixture into the bloody socket. The poison should kill you fairly swiftly, and it will make for quite a show.” Tramman chortled lightly. It was a good letter for certain, but his expectations had been raised. The next paragraph, however, gave him pause:
“This humble author can recommend which of your quills would make maximum impact. The gold-inlaid hawk’s feather is certainly a powerful symbol, though the simple gull feather quill would provide the most confusion for whoever happened to find your corpse. Sadly, my favorite option is unavailable to you: the azure feather quill was simply too beautiful to sit unused in your desk drawer, so I have decided to keep it. I do hope you don’t mind, but since you’ll be dead soon, I thought it better to remove it before your estate is divided and bequeathed. Many apologies, X.”
The Senator quivered with fear. He raced to his desk to verify the letter’s assertion of the quill’s absence, and after some rummaging he found it spoke the truth. The bastard had managed to enter his house! And yet every letter was found outside or slipped under a door frame, and no sign of forced entry was ever discovered. Obviously his security was fully compromised, and the most likely conclusion was one that shook Tramman to his core: one of the guards was in league with the assassin! He slowly rose from his chair, left his spacious study, and silently walked towards his bed chambers. The young guard rounded the corner and offered up a cheerful “Hail, Senator!” Tramman took off in a full sprint in the opposite direction, found the long way to his bedroom, and latched the door shut. He stayed propped against it all night in order to keep the guards from forcing entry.
“Who are we missing?” asked Senator Ferend. The other members of the Cease Fire Committee scanned the room and instantly knew Tramman was absent yet again. Ferend breathed through his nose in exasperation. “What a time to pick for a mental breakdown,” he thought, recalling the afternoon in which a giddy Senator Tramman had shown him a page full of gibberish and nonsense statements. The month-long slide into dementia was only unexpected in its severity; no one forced themselves to work harder hours than the key orator of the Party.
“Shall we postpone once again?” wheezed fat Senator Affarad, feigning concern.
“No, we’ve delayed a decision on the matter for far too long,” sighed Ferend. The moderates would not be changing their opinions anytime soon, and the reformists had made massively enticing promises on what foreign businesses would bring to the capital. The deadlock had been broken, and Heritage had lost. With it went thousands of years of Republican tradition, and Ferend knew in his heart that it signaled the death of his party as well. “All in favor…”
“Thank you for your help in last week’s subcommittee vote,” said Volgut graciously. Senator Affarad shook his massive head and raised a single hand up to stop his colleague from excessive compliments yet again.
“It was no trouble. Ilgus was always quite persuasive in his rhetoric but the recent, ah, events certainly threw his skewed perspective into question. I know many others who feel the same.” He drew a sack of Kopic dates from his robes and began popping them into his mouth.
“Ah, you’re referring to the poor man’s suicide,” Volgut lamented disingenuously. “It was awful to hear how far he’d slipped, I always considered him a most worthy opponent.”
“Indeed. And the way he went… My dear boy, they’ll be talking about that one for ages.” Volgut fought a grin. If the tales he heard from Tramman’s guards were to be believed, he couldn’t imagine a less dignified way to kill oneself. “I heard he was reduced to an almost feral state towards the end. But I digress, it is good to have many new promising avenues for profit on the horizon. Shall we have lunch tomorrow?”
“It would be my pleasure, Senator.” Volgut bowed slowly and took his leave. He hadn’t met with Mr. X for over a month, but he had heard from the other council members who commissioned the hit that X had picked up the dead drop and was on his way to a new contract. A pity, as Volgut was incredibly curious how he’d pulled it off. He had seen the “evidence” of the letters X had presumably written. As the guards said, they were nothing but random words, and what few phrases he could make out certainly implied no violence. Council investigators had scanned the documents for mind-altering spells but came up empty. And the handwriting samples matched Senator Tramman’s hand, though that did not necessarily eliminate the possibility they were forged. Regardless, the case was swiftly closed to avoid distractions.
As Volgut pondered these mysteries, he arrived at his small apartment in the city. He thought of the places to which he could soon afford to move, when a small piece of paper on the floor caught his eye. He scooped it off the ground, closed his door, and opened it.
“Dear Senator Volgut, I am sorry that we could not meet before my latest contract, as I know you had earlier expressed much professional curiosity on the nature of my work. By now I hope you have full faith in my methods, as from your peers’ comments they found the results more than satisfactory. But only you asked, so only you shall know: I did indeed use a spell, but one so minor that no magic detection could ever pick it up.
“I write what appears to be utter gibberish on common paper, using a pen taken from the house of my target. My spell binds the words to the owner of the quill, so that the first time he reads them, they appear to make perfect sense. It embeds in his mind as an unshakeable memory, no matter what the eyes tell him on future viewings. The spell has no channeled source, and because I do not return the pen, the focus is never discovered. The capacity for a mind to turn against itself in spite of the senses has always been more interesting to me than the Enchantment school. I recognize I am in the minority in this regard, but you are probably uninterested in the fine points of magic.
“The time is short and I must bid you farewell. I have many contracts to attend to, and this most recent project caused me to fall behind considerably. Our time together was brief, but I quite enjoyed our little tavern meetings. Nevertheless, it is with extreme reluctance that I make the following request: kill yourself. Regards, X.”