Pride Goes Before
Bounties on the Blessed Isle
While at first glance bounties seem antithetical to the Realm, the reality is far more complex.Realm society, and those that rule it, would seem to have little use for bounties. Issuing bounties would send a lot of unhelpful messages to the public. First, and most dangerously, that an individual can improve their station in live by operating outside the system. Second, that the mighty Dynasts need assistance in doing something. Finally, it implies that a mortal will assist the authorities for the sake of reward, not out of religious and civic duty.
For this reason, the ruling classes ensure that the masses never hear about the concept of bounties, and certainly don’t let them discover just how much they rely on bounties.
The hard reality is that Dynastic and Patrician families have fingers in many pies, often more pies than can be managed easily. The legal system is primarily concerned with ensuring order, not ensuring personal justice. So, a brisk underground trade in bounties has evolved.
In order to maintain the tacit support of the Empress, the tolerance of the Immaculate Order, and prevent all-out war against the Houses, an elaborate, almost ritualized system exists. When necessary, these are referred to as traditions.
The first set of traditions govern who is an acceptable person to place a bounty on. Bounties are almost never placed on Dynasts, Exalted or not. Regardless of their crimes, those of the Empress’ blood are simply not targeted in this fashion, with a couple of exceptions.
First, an elder of a House may place a bounty for one her own House. This is more common than many would expect. Bringing in a rogue family member alive but humiliated is a good way to reinforce control and loyalty, when used sparingly. Second, the head of a House may “sign” the bounty issued by another, allowing another House to hunt their own member. This only occurs when the crimes of the target are so heinous that allowing another to exact revenge is the only way to exculpate the House as a whole. These occasions are so rare that they can be numbered, and bounty hunters know these stories like an Immaculate knows their catechism.
Anyone directly in the Empress’ service is also explicitly out of bounds. This means prefects, member of the Thousand Scales, and Magistrates. Violating this provision is a great way to end up tortured and publicly executed.
The second set of traditions governs who is allowed to place a bounty. Generally, only Patricians and Dynasts are granted access to the underground networks and contacts to facilitate such a transaction. This also extends to high-ranking government officials, such as prefects. Exceptions may be made for very rich citizens, though they are expected to pay a premium.
The third set of traditions govern how bounties are set. Each prefecture has only one bounty broker, but may appoint assistants as necessary. The broker is generally a citizen or neutral Patrician that is tolerated by all Houses who have large presences in the area. The broker facilitates all bounty transactions. This means a multitude of responsibilities.
First, the broker must verify that the first two traditions are maintained. While forgiveness is possible in cases of extreme deception or coercion, a broker who allows a commoner to issue a bounty on a well-known Dynast will be replaced, at the least. Second, the broker is expected to keep track of all the bounty hunters in their area, and to act as a reference for brokers in different regions. Finally, the broker must keep in contact with the local authorities as necessary. Generally, this means leaving a few obols of jade on the right tables. However, it is assumed that the broker has contact with the All-Seeing Eye, and at least one Magistrate. If a bounty goes awry and the consequences bring the law down, the broker is to blame.
The fourth and final set of traditions govern hunters themselves. A hunter may not be a commoner, or a freed slave. They also may not be foreign to the Realm. There are also a few privileges the hunters have arranged for themselves over time.
- No hunter may be compelled to hunt.
- A hunter may abandon pursuing an order at any time.
- A hunter may not be punished for failing to fill an order properly. (They can simply expect to not see many more opportunities on those kind of contracts.)
Additionally, hunters have their own set of rules.
- Hunters may not directly interfere with each other while hunting. This is to reduce mayhem and blood in the streets. Indirect interference is acceptable.
- Once a target is captured, another hunter may not attempt to fill the order by taking the target, freeing the target to hunt them later, etc.
- Hunters may never reveal their targets to anyone not fit to submit a contract.
Mechanics of a Bounty
The mechanics of a bounty are simple. The person who wishes to place a bounty (called the client) places an order with the broker. This includes an identity, a description, last known location, and a payment amount. The client also specifies the condition of the target upon delivery. While dead is acceptable, is it more expensive. Murder is still a crime, and most bounty hunters charge a premium to act as assassins, if they do it at all.
The broker verifies the target, and the client. Then they disseminate the information. The method depends on the region. Some tell certain bartenders, teahouse servers, or courtesans. Others use code and broadcast it in a public square. A few are so paranoid they make all hunters visit them personally.
Alternately, the broker might directly contact one or more hunters and offer them the job. He might do this to ensure only professionals with a given skill set pursue the target. He might o it as a favor the a certain hunter, who may accept a smaller cut for an exclusive lead on the target. Finally, the broker might decide he wants to eliminate a hunter, an give him a target he feels confident will kill the hunter. This is a dangerous game, as the hunter may catch on, or the client may become irritated.
From there, the hunter(s) pursue the target, and attempt to fill the “order.”
At some point, one or more hunters apprehend the target, and bring him to a location arranged by the broker. The broker takes possession of the target, and pays the hunter. The broker then arranges to meet the client separately, ensuring total anonymity.
Going In House
Most of the time, anonymity is a bonus of the arrangement for all parties. However, in some cases, a House might decide it wants a full-time hunter. This individual is almost always a Patrician. Generally, once a hunter goes “in House,” he works exclusively for that House, filling no general orders. Additionally, the traditions assume less importance. The actions of the hunter are born by the House. This gives a House hunter both more and less flexibility.
At this point, most Houses haven’t taken the step of hiring dedicated bounty hunters. All have hired hunters, but usually for their skill at arms, tracking, etc, rather than the simple act of finding a person and bringing them to heel….or so the Houses claim.