I woke up in my non-descript slate room as I had every other day for all 18 years of my life. I slumped my legs off of my stone bed and sat up. I looked down at my grey legs and noticed that my carapace looked like it had grown a bit harder. Maybe I really was growing up. I had spent so long as a changeling youth that it hardly seemed possible. But today was the day I would get my first job from The Sovereign.
It felt strange to be getting a job by myself. My entire life I hadn’t thought much about myself as an individual. After a changeling baby is born, they are immediately placed in the nursery. There every child is treated as a collective unit. Every changeling is the same, we are all part of the collective. Even during our training, we are all taught to perform at the peak level expected of us. Creative thought is discouraged. Missions must be completed in a very specific way and none of us are allowed to stray from the method.
You may be wondering what kind of missions we do. You would be forgiven if you had never heard of the Changeling Collective before. There was a time when the collective was a major player in Galvyn politics, but the collective learned that we are better served operating in the shadows. We provide an important service to the people of Galvyn. We keep power in check. We are assassins.
I left my room and walked down the long hallway. Every changeling is housed in this large dormitory. The only reason we are given our own space once we come of age is to become accustomed to living on our own. It is important that we are able to function independently when we are on our missions. We need to be able to fully become our cover identity.
Once I reached the end of the hallway, I started heading to the throne room of The Sovereign. The skies above were the same grey as my carapace. This was a good sign. The Sovereign is only known through their title. Whenever The Sovereign dies, a new Sovereign is chosen from the oldest changeling operatives. They are not considered better than us, the collective simply requires a leader and The Sovereign serves that function.
Once I reached the gates of The Sovereign throne room, I presented myself to the guards.
“I am here to receive my first assignment,” I explained to the guards.
“What is your name?” The guard asked.
“I have no name. I am of the collective. We are the collective,” I recited from my training.
“We are the collective,” the guard said, pushing the gate open behind him. “You may proceed.”
The throne room was as I had learned it would look in my training. The ceilings were higher than any I had ever seen. The room was the same grey slate that I had become accustomed to, but the path to the throne was lined with pillars on either side. Elaborate carvings of daggers, crossbows and poison vials, traditional changeling weaponry, adorned the pillars. The Sovereign sat upon their throne at the end of the walkway. They wore no jewelry or fancy clothing. They were simply sitting upon the grey throne, naked as any other changeling within the walls of Aristogen. The Sovereign truly was no different than the rest of us.
“What brings you here, child,” The Sovereign asked as I reached the base of the throne. I knelt down to show respect.
“I have come of age,” I replied. “I am here to accept my first mission.”
“Stand, child, you owe me no more respect than you owe any other of the collective,” The Sovereign commanded. I stood up.
“Of course, Sovereign,” I replied.
“From this day forth, you will be given Designation 27. If you would allow me a moment of sentimentality, that was my number when I was an operative. It is a pleasure to meet my successor,” The Sovereign stated.
This startled me. Changelings were not meant to feel attached to any identity. It seemed as though The Sovereign was giving me permission to form a personal identity around my designation. This was a more exciting day than I realized. I tried not to let the emotion show on my face.
“It is an honor to serve in this position,” I commented.
“It is not,” The Sovereign stated. “Serving is a part of life for members of the collective. But I do understand the intent behind your words and I do appreciate it.”
The Sovereign stood up and picked up a leather satchel from a table beside the throne. They walked down and handed it to me.
“This is your assignment dossier,” The Sovereign explained. “Study it. This will be everything you need to know about your identity for this job and what needs to be accomplished.”
“I will,” I assured them. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
“There is not. A changeling operative is never curious. They only follow orders,” The Sovereign reminded me.
“We are the collective,” I replied.
“We are the collective,” The Sovereign repeated. “Now go back to your room and study your dossier. Head to the docks at first light tomorrow as your new identity. You have been trained for this. You will know what to do.”
I bowed my head slightly and turned to leave. I did not look back, because I knew The Sovereign would not want to me think of anything other than the mission ahead of me. Although, I had trouble not thinking about my new identity. I am part of the collective, but I am also Designation 27. I have a name.
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!