#21: I am Kaoli

The journey to Daragon felt little different than the rest of the time I had spent among the Changling Collective. The ship was a large grey carapace. It is made to appear to be a rock when it must be within sight of other creatures. The interior that I saw consisted entirely of built-in seats. Every seat was filled by another Changeling assassin. We were all on our way to completing a job. I noticed that the others were looking through their dossiers and reviewing what they would be doing. This was my first job, so I decided to follow their lead.

I opened up the tan envelope and pulled out the papers. The first was a map with exact locations to the workplace of my target from the drop-off location. The next was extensive background information about the city. My target was located in a city called Bultine. It was primarily populated with Dragonkin and dark-skinned humans. Their major export is handmade material goods, such as textiles and rugs. Bultine is a coastal city and therefore a major shipping port in Daragon. It was hot and sunny most of the year, except for the rainy season. The collective had scheduled this job during the sunny season to ensure it could be completed easily.

The next page includes information about my target. I would be killing a man named Tate Cardiff. He was a light-skinned man, with medium height and heavy build. He was balding with a ring of brown hair remaining around the top of his head. Cardiff was the owner and head manager of Saltenate Materials. His hit was ordered by the long-standing and powerful textile laborer’s union that operated across Daragon. 

The Collective is very secretive and only known by a select few leaders across planet Galevyn. I had been taught in training that many people believe that to mean that only the richest royalty knows about The Collective. However, the truth is that The Collective was established as a way to keep power in check. It has been said that when the first changeling was created, Quietus, the God of Death themself, spoke to them. Quietus explained that no changeling shall ever be an individual and that they would all be trained to be elite assassins. Then he provided a list of names to that first Changeling. That was the first list of targets. Since that time, obviously, not all of the jobs can be literally ordered from the heavens, but The Collective has made an effort to build connections with those that looked out for the oppressed. The current client list consists of worker’s unions, such as this job, but also in a number of career government offices that can keep the royalty or elected officials of their country in check.

I looked up from the dossier and was surprised to see that about half of the changelings in the ship had shifted into other humanoid forms, presumably their aliases for their respective jobs.

“Daragon,” a monotone voice called over a loudspeaker. “All headed for Daragon please prepare to disembark.”

It was already time for my stop. I quickly flipped through the pages of the dossier until I found my alias. Dragonkin man, 7′ 2”, Forest Green scales, Lavender hair, Name: Kaoli. I shifted into the description. I could feel my body rearrange inside and out to fully become a Dragonkin. My carapace split apart into individual scales, my body grew a little over a foot taller and clothes appropriate for Bultine formed around my new body. The clothes were loose, but finely made wraps of maroon and gold. Strapped sandals sprouted out from the bottom of my feet.

“It is now time to exit for Daragon,” the loudspeaker announced.

The already transformed Changelings all stood in unison. I tried to join them, but I was still finding my footing and was a bit late. They each filed out of the ship one by one. The drop-off location was a remote beach due south of Bultine. As each changeling walked off of the ship they assumed their new identity and began walking in the direction of their target. Everyone split off in a different direction. I noticed how each changeling had adopted a different gait and walking style. They each fully became their new identity. I needed to do the same.

I looked up at the sun and found my bearings. I began walking north, thinking about who Kaoli, the green-scaled Dragonkin was. Changelings didn’t have identities, but Dragonkin did. Before I could forget, I pulled out the dossier to see if there was anything I had missed.

The last page was a list of rules for every assassin once they take on their new identities:

  1. You do not know anything about The Collective.
  2. You become exactly the person described and sketched on the dossier. No deviations.
  3. The Collective does not ask questions. Complete the job. Get out.
  4. Do not stay in the location any longer than required. The collective handles all the backend.

I placed the dossier on my chest and used the Changeling shifting ability to fuse it into my body. This was the best way to ensure that no one would find out about The Collective. If I happened to die on the job, the only thing anyone would find is a dead Dragonkin. My body would retain the form and the dossier would simply have become part of the form.

Now I needed to figure out who Kaoli was before I made it to the city. I don’t think he has family, at least not in the city. So maybe Kaoli moved to the city to get away from his family. But why would he want to get away? His father could be a prominent business owner in his hometown and Kaoli wants to find success on his own. That makes sense. I tried to add this sense of self-determination into my stride.

He had to go to Saltenate Materials, why would he go there? Maybe he works for the Daragon government as an inspector? I knew from my training that Daragon was a republic and even though it seems to be mostly ruled by corrupt oligarchs, they liked to maintain the illusion of being representative of the population. There almost certainly would be a department that checks in on labor-intensive businesses. I think it was called the Department of Labor. It would be easy for someone like Kaoli to get a job there because his father is a prominent businessman and likely knows at least one of the oligarchs.

However, I don’t think Kaoli has an easy life. I think that he is principled and tries to do his job effectively, which is a challenge because of all the corruption. He is constantly fighting with his superiors to try to hold abusive bosses accountable. This means that Kaoli would also likely be a kind person. I shifted my countenance to fit that of a kind, gentle man. Now that I had all of that lined up, I needed to fully embrace Kaoli. I could see Bultine appear on the horizon.

For the good of the job, at this moment I am no longer 27, a member of The Collective. I am Kaoli. It felt oddly comforting to have an identity. I did not expect that.


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!


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