“We Who Steal Faces” isn’t the first story I’ve written with the Elect, near-immortals who name themselves after insects and use amber and silk to change shapes. Two other stories star Flea and are set in the modern day (“Metamorphoses in Amber” and “The Paragon Lure”). But the trouble with long-lived shapeshifters is, their past lives are as intriguing as their current life, and feuds among them could last centuries.
In exploring Flea’s past, I decided to write a story wherein he pitted his thieving skills against the greatest trapmaker among his kind. His foe would have been both Daedalus and Da Vinci, with the temperament of the former, the quirks of the latter, and the genius of both. And what better name than Antlion for a maker of traps?
In the earliest draft, it was hubris versus hubris: Antlion smug in the belief that his vault was unbreachable, and Flea eager to prove him wrong. I knew the story would be set in Venice, where the Silk Road met the Amber Road. But as a labyrinth under Venice wouldn’t exactly work, I looked to Padua on the mainland and started researching the locations and time period, picking out fascinating tidbits I learned to build the plot.
However, the initial idea of a wager between Flea and Antlion didn’t work. Flea’s motive came across as too self-serving. That’s where another nugget of research I saved came into play: the mithridate. Adding the poisoning, as well as a good dose of espionage, upped the stakes and gave Flea a more noble reason to challenge Antlion’s Labyrinth.