Shimmering Claret scanned the horizon, taking in the grey restlessness of the sea. Below, the waves of roiling, grey-foamed peaks crashed against rocks at the base of Drosera Boreas Spire. Abused coastline bore this eternal punishment with the same grimness that it had for centuries. Claret watched the wash burble and foam amongst blunt, lifeless rocks. They felt a curious affinity for the scene. Were they the rocks or the sea? Time would tell. They ruminated on this before they stepped into the pulsing warmth of the Spire’s interior.
Claret’s routine was exhaustive even by the standards of the Directorate’s abused minions, but their quarters, nestled in a cyst on the Spire’s outer wall allowed for a brief respite each morning. They never failed to take advantage and spent this meagre time meditating against the harsh outside climes; away from their fellow pheromancers and Directorate underlings who thought them eccentric at best, insane at worst.
Once, they had been part of a delegation to one of the southernmost Spires, Dionaera. Its undisciplined and unruly nature disgusted them. Spoiled by the gentle, warm sunlight and lush surrounding landscape, that Spire had fallen into lackadaisical routines and neglected their very foundations. Claret had felt no disappointment when a nearby Dweghom had seen fit to burn the structure to the ground. The Spire’s loss was a heavy blow. Biomantic reserves and much of the wealth hard won in the aftermath of the Fall had been swept away; torched into nothing by the unquenchable fires of the Dweghom. But Claret had barely flinched at the news. Instead they had seen opportunity. The local branch of the Directorate had been sent into disarray. Paranoia over activity in nearby Holds drove them wild with fear and suspicion.
It had been the perfect time for Claret to release their experimental pheromantic scent.
Claret had had the idea while on routine inspection with Burgeoning Turquoise. As their most frequent partner, Turquoise was a frequent irritation and a violation of Claret’s deviant desire for solitude. Claret had found drones more responsive, more productive even, when Turquoise was not present. True, Turquoise was a heavy-handed fool of a pheromancer. The thick fumes that emanated from their censer were almost enough to stifle Claret’s autonomy, let alone the drones. But, when Turquoise had been reassigned for a period, Claret used the time to study the drones’ responsiveness. He had even been lucky enough to commission a vivisection on the grounds of underperformance. Turquoise’s frequent complaints to the directorate, demanding a new drone clutch, had worked in Claret’s favour.
During the vivisection, Claret had noticed stimulation of the pensituary gland. Even though the drone was subdued by a powerful pheromone command, something was stimulating what was roughly equivalent to a second brain – its continued presence in menial drones was a matter of ongoing debate. But Claret had noticed the stimulation varied according to their own proximity. This was worth investigating.
It took some time and many surreptitious samples extracted from coerced drones but Claret managed to refine a suitable pheromantic scent.
Thus, during the chaos of the southern Spire’s razing, Claret took the time to release the first sample of their new pheromone batch. The drones had barely reacted at first, Claret had been disappointed at the seemingly wasted opportunity; for the Directorate was soon recovered and demanded hourly reports to recoup days of lost data. Claret, along with their fellow pheromancers, was swept away by a tide of bureaucracy and they had hardly time in the aftermath to consider their experiment’s failure. But it seemed the seed which had been planted was slow to grow. Months after the first pheromantic suggestion, Claret had formulated new recipes, extracting illegal samples from dozens of drone batches. They had a steady accumulation of samples, each carefully hidden within the walls of their cyst. As months passed, they grew frustrated at the lack of response gleaned from the subtle pheromantic releases. During one instance, Claret had thought themselves alone while investigating a Brute Drone clutch. They grew frustrated at trying to coax a response to their pheromone strain and released a strong cloud from their censer. The Brutes went wild and rammed the walls of their corral. But Claret was able to bring them to heel with a single command. They called the Brutes to the corral’s edge, upon which the Brutes climbed atop each other, working together to reach the Pheromancer. Claret felt a strange triumph at this sight. Had they, like the Merchant Princes, spent any time among humans, they might have recognised it as pride which would have been terrifying enough. But they felt it for the Brutes as well as themself. They reached down to make contact with each Brute but Turquoise interrupted and demanded to know what the unauthorised scent was. Claret passed it off as an anomalous reaction to standard command parameters from the Brute clutch. Claret informed Turquoise that the anomaly had already been noted ready for reporting. But Turquoise, the sycophantic turd that they were, watched Claret file the report from start to finish. A week later the Brute clutch was destroyed, and all material recycled. Claret seethed in rage at the news.
But one day Claret had been assigned to a routine inspection of the number 14 nutrient node. Once again paired with Turquoise, their partner had been distracted by a commotion among a group of drones. They raced to head off the disturbance and left Claret to inspect the node. Claret was interrupted by a tapping on their shoulder and turned to see a drone bowing before them and holding out… Something. Claret peered into the outstretched palms and they were both repulsed and fascinated by what they saw. Handfuls of drone nutrients had been mashed together into a crude facsimile of a creature which Claret had often seen outside on the shore. He believed the lesser races called it a ‘starfish’. This drone’s creation was hideous and in no way representative in all but the vaguest manner of the living creature it was meant to be. But it signified the success of their experiment two-fold. Creativity – which Claret had hoped to use to their own ends, and deference, to Claret. Claret rejoiced even as they sent the drone away, ordering it to hide the creation as it went. Turquoise returned and queried the dismissal pheromone still hanging in the air. Claret explained they required an alternative observation of the node. Claret, in Turquoise’s absence, had used a drone to confirm the status of the node. Turquoise nodded but demanded that the node be investigated again in its presence. Turquoise double-checked Claret’s findings and reported on them. Claret watched Turquoise with suspicion and noted that they were being coy with the report’s conclusions. The report was sent before Claret could see the final copy.
Now, Claret paced along the tunnels toward their first assignment of the day when an Executor stepped from the shadows with characteristic ease.
“Shimmering Claret. You are to accompany me to the Director’s office.” they said. Claret’s mind raced, they could not know about the experiments, it was impossible.
“Have I neglected duties?” Claret said with as much authority as possible.
“Negative. A conflict has arisen, and drone reserves are being called to battle. Your assigned clutches have been drawn in the battle lots.” Claret caught movement over the Executor’s shoulder and could have sworn they had seen Turquoise’s robes whipping around a distant corner. Drawn in the battle lots indeed.
Enraged, but forced to contain it, Claret vowed to make good on this betrayal. With their pheromone batch, they and their drones would survive this battle, return to the praises of the Directorate, and rip Turquoise apart.