The narcotic substance known to the public as the "Red Honey" is one of the most common drugs on the streets of Locastus. It is a popular stimulant both in the opulent dens of the very rich, as well as in the squalor of the slums, and is derived from the excretions of the strange, subterranean ochre bees that live on the moors north of Locastus. Besides recreational use, it can also used in surgical anaesthesia and as a painkiller, but then in much lower dosage.
In its most common, refined form, The Red Honey is a viscous liquid the colour of blood that upon close inspection seems to contain minute silvery flecks, and is usually sold in small glass vials or tubes, usually sealed with wax. The Honey has a powerful, pungent smell, reminiscent of fermenting flowers, and a strong, sugary, yet vaguely unpleasant, taste. On the streets, the refined product is often cut with regular honey or syrup. In addition to the strained Honey, street-dealers also sell the compacted residues of the drained honeycombs to the poorer, less discerning customers.
The most common form of ingestion is to place a small drop on the tongue or in the corner of the eye. The more sophisticated users stir a small amount in a cup of fine wine or strong tea, while the poorest, most desperate, street-addicts simply chew the waxy honeycomb pieces for any residue of the Honey. For medical use, such as pain relief, the Honey is sometimes stirred into a bowl of steaming water, so that the fumes can be breathed. The latter method reduces the high, but also the addictive effect.
The Honey is derived from the plundered nest of the ochre honey bee, a tiny, dull-red Aspis species native to the moors north of Locastus. These aggressive, venomous insects build small, subterranean hives in rock crevices and burrows in the thin topsoil, like hornets. The location of an ochre bee hive is marked by the funnel-shaped cloud of angry buzzing hunter bees that circles above it at all times.
Another characteristic the ochre bees share with hornets is that they possess the heavy, rending mouthparts necessary to masticate flesh, and that they actively hunt for prey. The hunter bees have a venomous sting that, while non-lethal, puts the victim (if stung enough times) in a drug-induced coma, thereby providing the hive with food for an extended period of time. Their usual targets include rabbits, foxes and rodents, but will not shy away from human-sized or larger prey.
A usual hunter bee swarm attack will simply be to sting the prey as many times as possible, until it stops moving. Each individual hunter will then tear loose a chunk of flesh small enough to carry and transport it back to the hive, calling upon assistance in the process. Often, one can see the bees establish an air bridge shuttling morsels back to the lair, a behaviour that seems disturbingly intelligent.
The swarm can whittle a human-sized animal down to the bare bones in less than half an hour, or let the victim live to come back to harvest another day. They will, however, not eat carrion.
The hive also has regular worker bees that collect nectar in a regular fashion. It is these that produce, through some weird internal alchemy, the Red Honey. It is thought that the nectar from the poisonous, grey-flowered Clawgrass, processed through the digestive tract of the ochre bee, is what gives the Red Honey its potency.
The harvesting of the honeycombs is dangerous, hard work, since the egg-laying chambers of the hive is always buried deep beneath the rest of the nest, making it necessary to break open the entire hive to get to the Honey. This, by default, means that the prospector, while digging for the Honey, must spend a long time enduring the ferocious attacks of the highly venomous soldier bees.
The Honey gatherers (if well funded) sometimes use an alchemically prepared alarm pheromone to drive the swarm off long enough to dig up and steal the Honey, although even this is not foolproof; the ochre bees seem able to learn and reason to a level unnerving in an insect. The official, state-funded Gatherers usually just use Deaders to dig out and gather the Honey, although some take pride in not having to resort to that undignified measure.
Several attempts have been made to domesticate the ochre bee, with varying results. Despite their ferocity, ochre bees are sensitive, and will quickly perish in the wrong environment. The only truly successful artificial ochre bee hive is kept by Mowar Dusk, crime lord of the Maul, in the extensive gardens of his compound. His success is due to his staff of experienced beekeepers, botanists, alchemists and insect-aspected telepaths, but also to the fact that he has sought help from the enigmatic Broan, masters of bioengineering, to adapt the bees to an urban environment.
Dusk´s hive is contained within a large glass dome, reinforced by structural spells, from which the honey can be extracted mechanically, without having to come into contact with the angry bees. Dusk has been known to throw a few undesirables into the ochre bee dome from time to time, an expedient way of getting rid of his enemies and feeding the hive at the same time.
Once recovered, the honeycombs are spun and strained to extract the pure Honey, and the refined product sealed in glass ampoules for distribution. Some alchemists are able to further refine the Honey through a complex system of fractionation and distillation, in order to increase its potency even more.
In small to moderate doses, the Honey has an effect not unlike opiates, giving a feeling of intense contentment, peace and rapture. The user initially experiences a sense of invincibility, alertness and mania, which gradually slides over into blissful lethargy and, sometimes, vivid sexual dreams. The high lasts for 2-3 hours, followed by equivalent down period of anxiety, apathy and melancholy.
The user will also exude a heavy, cloying smell of flowers for several days after ingestion, an odour hard to conceal by conventional means. Use over an extended period of time will turn the skin darker, redder, together with the whites of the eye. Users will also urinate what looks like arterial blood and their sweat and tears will turn crimson.
The withdrawal syndrome (which becomes apparent as soon as after 2-4 uses, and increases in strength over time) involves high fever, delirium, violent hallucinations, epileptic seizures and, sometimes, death. If Honey ingestion is terminated, the abnormal coloration of skin and bodily fluids will eventually fade, but even a long-time clean Honey addict usually have some kind of permanent effect, such as tremors, disrupted balance, missing motor skills or something similar. Users of the second-grade honey or the honeycomb residue commonly suffer from somatic poisoning from the resins and waxes that forms the comb. In these unfortunates, symptoms like hair loss, blindness, pustules, sores and gangrene is common, usually leading to their early death.
In doses above recreational level, the Red Honey functions as a powerful sedative, effectively putting the patient in a comatose state; a trait exploited by the surgeons and doctors for purposes of anaesthesia. Lethal dose, for the refined product, is less than a teaspoon.
Well, this is what resulted when I needed a heroin-type drug, one that wrecks life and families and that sucks in the weak and the strong, the poor and the rich, all together. The feel I am after is the seedy opium dens in Victorian London, or those in the British colonies, but I also wanted something different, something that would make people wonder how it works and why.
I mainly use it for flavour and to add depth, but the possibilities are many: imagine Dusk´s bees breaking out of their hive in the middle of the densely populated Maul, or that the PC´s has to break into his hive to recover some artefact from the tattered corpse of one of Dusk´s rivals, half-devoured by the ochre bees.
Another possibility is making the Honey the centre piece for a drug-running operation, or for a war between rivalling gangs over a shipment. The PC´s might be hired to collect a wild hive, and to figure out how to make it thrive, or they could be a DEA-analogue, trying to find, infiltrate and bust the Honey cartels.