Monday, March 26, 2007

The Honeythief: The Story Thus Far

These are excerpts from the pitch document I’m putting together to try to sell The Honeythief to publishers. They may also serve as a quick catch-up for those who came in late.

In a fairy-tale domain of entomomorphic humans, an exiled prince must risk everything to stop his mad sister’s murderous plan to dominate all life.

In A Nutshell
The world of The Honeythief is one where human-like characters play social and biological roles like those of insects. A despot calling herself the Regina has arisen among the powerful Mélif tribe. Using the Influence—a rare inborn ability to bend the will of others—she has subjugated the entire Mélif people, and schemes to conquer all others.

The Regina fears only one man. He is her brother—her twin. Exiled in his youth, branded with the crude nickname Pismire, he has tried to live peacefully as an anonymous laborer. But when the Regina’s greed causes the destruction of his adopted homeland, Pismire knows there can be no peace while his sister rules the Mélif. But Pismire is not without resources—for he, too, is gifted with the Influence.

So begins Pismire’s mission to unseat the Regina. Along the way he will gather allies, face treachery and danger, and enter into a terrifying bargain in his quest to save his people—a quest with a surprising end.

One spring evening, a wayfaring stranger in green comes to a mine on the outskirts of a large settlement. Fiddlin’ Katy is an itinerant musician, living by her wits. She has wandered into the realm of the Emeth, one of the Sharing Peoples — a tribe possessed of a rudimentary hive-mind that expresses itself in tightly proscribed social roles and an ironclad adherence to tradition.

Katy is befriended by a miner who, because the Emeth do not use personal names, introduces himself by his workshift identifier — Black 23. Katy guesses at once that Black 23 is not Emeth-born; he is much taller and darker than the others, and not as rigidly bound by convention. Over the disapproval of the other miners, he escorts Katy into the settlement.

While Katy is giving an impromptu musical performance in the village hall, the settlement is attacked by a legion of armored warriors, all of them tall and dark like Black 23. The Emeth militia takes terrible losses before the enemy’s superior weapons, but Black 23, with Fiddlin’ Katy’s help, turns the tide of the battle; he makes his way to the front lines and faces down the enemy, alone, his very presence somehow putting them into panicked retreat.

It is a disastrous victory. When the Emeth elders learn that the network of caverns beneath the settlement has been infiltrated by the enemy, they elect to collapse the tunnels, killing hundreds of their own people who have taken shelter there. The elders blame Black 23 for bringing the enemy, and banish him from Emeth lands forever.

Katy follows Black 23 into the wilderness, and he tells her his story. He is, he tells her, of the same tribe that attacked the Emeth — the Mélif, another of the Sharing Peoples and the only nation that knows the secret of concocting the healing elixir called metheglin. The Mélif are a matriarchal society; he was born into royalty, twin brother to a lady of high degree — a birth of ill omen, for twins are nearly unknown among the Mélif, and mixed-gender pairs unprecedented.

While he was shunned as an aberration, his sister rose quickly to power, using the Influence — a rare inborn ability to bend the will of others — to ascend to the throne of the Mélif. Upon her installation, the new monarch, calling herself the Regina, banished her brother from Mélif lands — for he, too, is gifted with the Influence, and she fears his power. The young exile settled among the Emeth, who knew him as Black 23; but the Regina brands him with the racial epithet Pismire.

That was ten years ago. Now the Regina’s cruelty and monomania have escalated, as she systematically murders enemies real and imagined. She sent her army to destroy the Emeth settlement simply to kill Pismire, for she will no longer suffer him to live, even in exile.

Friendless, without refuge, and marked for death, Pismire makes for the wild, hoping to outrun his fate. Moved by Pismire’s predicament, Katy agrees to travel with him.

For a time they find safety and work in a port town, but Mélif assassins track them there. Although Pismire is reluctant to attack his own people, he and Katy ambush the Mélif and flee overland, heading to the very frontier of settled lands in hopes of escaping the Regina’s influence.

During their flight across the desert, they are caught in a sandstorm and follow a distant, lantern-bearing figure to shelter — a small cabin protected by a steep-walled pit. They are welcomed by a charming and gracious woman, the Lady of the Dunes, who offers them food and hospitality.

But Pismire and Katy soon recognize the Lady to be a lifeless manikin — a lure used by an immobile subterranean predator to lure unwary travelers into the pit that camouflages its maw. As the creature opens its jaws, they narrowly avoid being devoured. They send a volley of flaming debris down the creature’s gullet, and escape by constructing a makeshift ladder from the bones that litter its lair, ascending even as the pit collapses around them.

Katy and Pismire make their way through the tail end of the storm into a tiny settlement along the lawless Western road. Wandering into a tavern, they find three black-clad warriors harassing the patrons and threatening them with the wrath of the Regina. Pismire identifies them as Darásh — members of a tribe of cowardly opportunists who exploit their chance resemblance to Mélif to intimidate others.

Offended and angry, Pismire attacks the three Darásh. He kills one and subdues another; the third Darásh tries to run, but when he makes it outside, one of the patrons — a burly, armored loner who has been watching the whole affair with apparent disinterest — launches an incendiary bomb at the fleeing Darásh, killing him.

The bombardier is Quiñones. An “unaffiliated legionnaire” — that is, a mercenary — Quiñones is passing through, bound for the holy city of Cathedral in the south, where he hopes to find work among the armies of the Sóf, the warrior tribe who guard the city. Tired of his hand-to-mouth existence m and seeing Pismire as a potential patron, Quiñones offers his services as a bodyguard. Pismire, unwilling to involve another stranger in Mélif affairs, declines Quiñones’s offer.

The violence he has encountered makes plain to Pismire that he cannot simply hide himself. Believing that the suffering of his people may be eased if the Regina no longer feels threatened, he determines to try to make peace with his sister. Pismire Influences the surviving Darásh and sends him on his way to the Apiary as his messenger, bearing word that Pismire formally renounces any ambition to the throne and pledges nevermore to set foot in the Regina’s domain. Pismire and Katy then head south, meaning to claim sanctuary in Cathedral and await word from the Regina there.

Pismire and Katy slip out of town, purposely avoiding the notice of Quiñones, and head into the badlands; by taking this hazardous shortcut and avoiding the roads, they hope to elude the Regina’s agents. But the Mélif are ahead of them. The Regina sends an envoy into the badlands to enlist the brigand Kiszoon as an assassin. Kiszoon is a scavenger; she roams the territory of the badlands predator known as Crazy Eights, taking her prey from among its victims. Crazy Eights ensnares its victims with repetitive, obsessive thoughts. Kiszoon avoids its mind-webs by stealth, using her people’s trick of submerging the conscious mind.

Back at the settlement, Quiñones — who, despite his gruff, swaggering appearance, has grown fond of both Pismire and Katy — broods over his hurt and disappointment at being left behind. He is interrupted in his night-time wanderings by the arrival of a Mélif scouting party. Quiñones tries to bluff the Mélif soldiers. When this fails, he fights them single-handedly, killing them all with the incendiary chemicals he produces from his own body. Leaving the corpses to burn, he takes to the hills in search of Pismire and Katy.

The approach to Cathedral is long and arduous. In a remote location, Pismire and Katy find themselves plagued with maddening thoughts, headache, fatigue. Soon, they find they can longer walk — and before long, they cannot move at all. They have stumbled into the trap of Crazy Eights. Paralyzed, they can only await the arrival of the predator. But Crazy Eights is not alone. Kiszoon has followed their track; using her trick of mindlessness to evade Crazy Eights’ thought-web, and seeing her targets helpless, moves in for the kill.

Katy and Pismire are rescued by Quiñones, who has doubled back to follow them. Quiñones fights off Crazy Eights, but Kiszoon escapes into the wilderness. Quiñones then accompanies Katy and Pismire to Cathedral.

Cathedral, the city of the prophets, is enclosed in a single gigantic superstructure, a mountainous edifice of clay and stone. Its builders, the Sóf, are an apocalyptic sect, known as the People of the Ending. The Sóf conceive of God (whom they call the Imago) as an unfolding process moving towards a single preordained conclusion, what they call the Terminus; the Sófi ideal is to surrender to the flow of that process, and hasten the Terminus if they can.

The company arrive in Cathedral to find the marketplace engulfed in a riot. A procession of Timbaleros, a sect of Dionysian revelers, collides with a party of the Birds of Our Lady, a mendicant sisterhood. The local law joins the fray, deploying primitive firearms, and a bloodbath erupts. Pismire, Katy, and Quiñones help the Sisters to escape. In the aftermath, they are taken before the Nevi’im, the priestly caste of Cathedral. To Pismire’s surprise, the Nevi’im have been awaiting him.

Pismire’s birth is so exceptional, his existence so strange, that it falls outside the usual unfolding of the Terminus. He stands outside of the world’s destiny, an unknown factor, beyond the understanding of the Nevi’im; Pismire is granted an audience with the Gospodarim, the supernatural beings who govern the affairs of this world on behalf of the Imago, and who convey visions of the Imago’s will to the Nevi’im. Pismire experiences the Gospodarim as a storm of butterflies, covering the skies, the beating of their wings moving the world on toward the Terminus, toward the actualization of the Imago in the end of all things. But the rise of the Regina impedes this forward motion. In her drive to dominate all things, she seeks to hold motion itself at bay, to rule a world that is constant and unchanging. She is ultimately a disruptive force, and Pismire is given to understand that only he can act as a counterforce — because he, like the Regina, is an anomaly, standing outside the pattern of destiny.

Pismire is disturbed by the audience. Realizing that there can be no peace between himself and the Regina, knowing that she threatens all life, he faces the prospect of open war against her — and the dilemma of how to recruit and supply the army he will need to wage that war. After consultation with Nevi’im, he comes to a decision, and tells Quiñones and Katy to prepare for a journey to the Paperhouse, domain of the Fatherless Ones. A shadowy cabal of power brokers, the Fatherless Ones are figures of rumor and suspicion. They are said to reproduce by parthenogenesis, to engage in cannibalism and parasitism, to wield great secret influence behind every throne. The prospect of bargaining with the Fatherless Ones is akin to making a deal with the Devil.

The trio undertakes the journey to the Paperhouse in the company of a delegation of Birds of Our Lady, who are bound on a mission of mercy to a war-torn region in the vicinity. The caravan of Sisters is also accompanied by a number of bodyguards and outriders — among them the nefarious Kiszoon, travelling now under the assumed name Bez.

Travelling west into the mountains, the caravan encounters a stream of refugees, fleeing the advancing army of the Hamazakaran. This warrior nation has caused great upheaval in the western lands; they live by violence and plunder, taking slaves to perform all the tasks of society except combat. The Sisters establish a refugee camp and set about making plans to resettle the refugees.

But forces within the camp are plotting its destruction. Kiszoon, in her guise as Bez, seeks out a Hamazakaran scouting party and betrays to them the location of the refugee camp. In exchange for her leading them to the camp, the Hamazakaran agree to help her capture Pismire.

But the caravan’s outriders spot the approaching Hamazakaran force while they are still at a distance. Pismire gathers a small band of fighters and they ride out to engage the enemy and cover the refugees’ escape. They come upon the Hamazakaran by a mountain trail, not far from the pass to the Paperhouse, and set about preparing an ambush of their own…

Nothing here to surprise those who’ve been paying attention, I should think...


KFarmer said...

You would think- its funny but I did not put together the characters as insects even though you mentioned it enough. I just thought they resembled them-

I'm slow Jack and don't read a story to pick it apart, just to enjoy, and enjoy I have. I hope you catch the golden ring- Nothing would make me happier than to see it in print :)

RPI said...

Wow. I, uh, missed this at the time. I'm looking forward to reading from the start.

P.S. Fragments is only as dead as Mr. Cale's release schedule ;)