A few days ago Al wrote about The Book of the New Sun over on Beyond the Black Gate and how the weird pictures of that universe spring to his mind once in a while. Coincidentally I'm reading the same series at the moment. It is slow going, as I don't really read all that much at the moment, advancing a couple of pages a month or something like that.
But the city of Nessus from the beginning of the series is constantly trying to put its mark on The City. Currently I'm thinking of the city walls of The City as hundreds of meters tall, just like the city walls of Nessus. For a while I considered making The City the center of an interstellar empire, inspired by the hints of a fallen interstellar empire in The Book of the New Sun.
One concept that I really like is the series presentation of the Torturers Guild. I'm very tempted to just outright steal it and dump it into my setting, but each time I come to the conclusion that there isn't any reason to do that, except for the fact that I like that guild. But last night, as I was trying to sleep, I came upon the concept of the Assassin's Guild of The City.
The Assassin's Guild is an imperial institution, a tool of the emperor and his administration. It is an ancient institution, and a very specialized one, dedicated to the removal of single individuals that hamper the smooth functioning of the empire.
The code of the guild focus on professionalism, detachment, and civility. Death at an imperial assassin's hand shall be swift, painless and certain. The assassin's are not tools of terror or mass slaughter. They are precision instruments for removing individuals while causing the least amount of turmoil in society. There are stories of assassin's that has spent hours with their victim, helping them make their last will and testament and bringing their affairs in order, before the final end. Of course, not all are willing to surrender so easily. But the end is always swift and painless, and (at least so the stories say) death is always certain once the emperor has marked you for assassination.
In addition to the common assassin, there are also the undercover assassins. Assassin's that infiltrate the households of the most important nobles and functionaries, gaining positions as captain of the guard, personal butler or trusted advisor. Totally loyal to their employer until the day the guild sends the word, and the assassin kills the man he has served for years or decades.
The assassin's is just one institution among many, and the average lowly citizen is unlikely to ever have heard of them, and even if they have, is likely to view them in the same light as the murderers and cutthroats used by nobles and crime lords in their dealings. The nobles have an ambivalent view on the assassin's. They are civil, courteous, pleasant and are genuinely useful civil servants. On the other hand they are utterly loyal to the emperor, and you may find yourself marked at any time, depending on the emperor's whims. Few nobles welcome the presence of an assassin, except when they know the assassin is targeting a personal enemy. Some nobles live in constant paranoia, fearing the emperor will send an assassin for some slight, real or imagined. Most of the time, most nobles can forget that they even exist, concentrating on the more present threats of political rivals and grand machinations.