The sun’s heat made the air quiver. Underneath its unyielding gaze lay a wide canyon, riddled with holes and caves. A silent shuffling noise constantly echoed back and forth, betraying signs of life in this forsaken place. Pitch black chitin bodies moved in the darkness, accompanied by snickering and sickly buggish cackling. As wide and long the canyon was, it was home to one of the most terrifying creatures in the lands – the Changelings.
As large as a regular pony, these creatures were covered head to hoof in a thick chitin plate; with a twisted horn and insectoid wings to complete the picture, they were a horror to look at. Their pale blue eyes always darted about, looking for food and victims to take advantage of. All of a single mind, controlled by the ominous presence of their Queen, the changelings inhabited the northern lands where nopony dared to venture. It was a hot climate, with barely any water to go by, which was perfectly fine for the monsters. They didn’t feel or want, think or need. They served their Queen without question, as they knew nothing else. In their natural state, they were nothing more than mere animals, acting on instinct. Well, at least most of them.
In one of the many caves in the canyon side there lived a changeling like no other. Its hooves tucked beneath it, it stared down into an item resembling… A book. In fact, it was a book. Changelings didn’t understand words or concepts, but this particular creature tried anyway. The pretty symbols it saw meant nothing to it, but it somehow felt compelled to stare down the book, gently flipping pages with its magic from time to time. That compelling feeling was one of the many strange changes the changeling underwent just a few days ago.
When a changeling is born, it has to mature really fast. The hostile environment and ever-present will of the Queen quickly turns the new-born into an adult, a deadly servant to her powerful mind. The changeling occupied with reading the book was no different. The thing setting it apart from his brothers and sisters was… Hard to describe. The young one didn’t know many words yet (having learned what a word is not that long ago, and having understood what learning is, and having grasped what understanding is… You get the idea), so it could only feel it as a … a spark. Or a cold pebble, lodged somewhere in the back of its head. That tiny thing stood apart from the changeling hive mind – it felt as if a single body housed two different worlds. One, in which only the will of the queen was known and the senses of his siblings were around and within him, and another, which was… Empty. The concept of solitude or individualism was unimaginable to any changeling, should they have the capacity to imagine. But it was real, and somehow it felt good. The whole idea of feeling anything that wasn’t felt by each and every of its brothers and sisters was fascinating. So many words and concepts!
The book was a phenomenon in itself for the changeling. Under normal circumstances, it would have already been torn to pieces. But that spark, that cold pebble that seemed to have a mind of its own compelled the beast to put it down, open, and stare. Against all odds, the meaning of words and illustrations seeped through to the mind of the changeling. It understood it was reading, but it didn’t know what was in the text. Fortunately, the creature didn’t yet have the capacity to grasp this unworldly paradox that would put many ponies into a dazzle. It was reading. It was learning. And it “felt” good.
Many a time the changeling tried to share his experience with the hive. It soon discovered that there was no way to do so – the rest of the hive did not operate on images or sounds or anything else. There was a single mind, which he knew and was part of, and that mind was in no way similar to his unique spark. A kind of fear prevented the changeling from being too intrusive into his sibling’s thoughts – the looming presence of the queen wasn’t threatening, but it wasn’t kind either. Once the changeling understood what an “idea” was, it found it a good one not to be overly visible or out and about its special, um, situation.
The book closed with a snap and the changeling stood up. Physically it didn’t differ from the millions of its brothers and sisters (gender being hardly distinguishable anyway), but there was something about the way the changeling looked at things that hinted it was more than just a mindless drone. Maybe, somehow, that spark reflected in the beast’s eyes? The hive mind was buzzing as always, and the changeling found it desirable to step out – as he did so, he saw others do the same. A subtle suggestion from their queen pushed the species into stretching their wings and exercising outside. Some of the creatures started rolling down, fighting each other for practice; others darted around, chasing some invisible foe. The spark bearer felt conflicted. It was always like that when the Queen “spoke” – on one side, he obeyed, while on the other, his mind wanted to do something else. It was a miracle the conflict didn’t hurt the changeling – in the end, the stronger suggestion prevailed, and in this case the Queen didn’t exert her power forcefully enough. So the changeling went on a stroll… And thought.
Thinking was a magnificent thing to experience. It felt like reading, but there were no silly symbols – at least not in plain sight. The words and images were inside. The changeling felt that if it closed its eyes, it could see them as plain as day. That never really worked, and many times made it bump into other angry changelings. During one such thinking session, the changeling decided to give itself a title – each book he mowed down had one, etched in all sorts of colors on the spine. He gave himself the title of Chip, thus probably being the very first changeling minion to be creative. And have a title.
Chip walked slowly, trying to find a sweet spot of focus between the hive mind and his “personality”, if that was the proper word for it. He was aware just enough not to bump into anything, but far enough gone in his “thoughts” to feel pleasure. It wasn’t the kind of pleasure the changelings liked to consume – it didn’t have a taste or smell. It just was, inside him. Many times he wondered if that is how emotions are felt within their victims. If so, taking it away left… Nothing. Chip knew he would have his hive mind to retreat to, should his spark ever fade… But the thought of losing it felt non-pleasurable. He grew accustomed to his gift, having grown out of trying and banging it out of his head against a wall.
The contemplation of his existence – the second, independent one – was brought to a closure by a wall applied to his face. Chip got too consumed by his spark (one would say, as always) and didn’t see where he went. As he focused back to the senses of his body and the bodies of others, a terrible realization came upon him – he somehow managed to venture to the far north corner of the canyon. This part was shaded from the sun, and green goo covered the walls. It was the one place where changelings did not venture unless summoned. For in the dark depths lay the lair of their Queen – Chrysalis.