Donny breathed in and out, looking out over the sea of faces packed into the quarry. He didn’t know Donnyton had this many people. Hell, in some part of his mind, he probably didn’t even know that this many people were still alive, after the System arrived. It was strangely reassuring, in a way, to see them all arrayed there, looking up at him with serious expressions.
Next to him came Dozer, Mrs. Hamilton, Regina, Sam, Glendel, Daniel, and Clarissa. Their expressions had varying degrees of nervousness, from Daniel’s white-eyed terror, to Mrs. Hamilton, Regina, and Glendel who appeared completely unphased beneath all of the scrutiny.
Donny had noticed how he was changing, but standing here, with these people, this counsel, he realized it was more than that. They were all changing. Slowly warping and shifting, becoming… almost caricatures of themselves. Emphasized expressions of their most poignant qualities.
Backed with the power of the System.
Donny shivered, and began to speak.
“Donnyton is changing.” He said. Then he took a breath. “In some good ways… in some inevitable ways… and in some bad ways. Today, we are going to announce some systemic changes to Donnyton, that will hopefully keep us changing in the good ways, make the best of the inevitable changes, and… curb some of the negative side effects of our new world.”
In his head, Donny heard his voice speaking, slowly and confidently, from very far away. He was 17. Before the System came, he was a punk asshole, with no spine. And now… and now he found himself moving methodically through a prepared speech, revealing things that would affect thousands of lives.
Again, Donny shivered. But this shiver was tinged with something much darker and more sinister than fear.
“There are three big announcements tonight, and I’m in charge of the first and second one. The first one is policy. The big thing is that Donnyton is gonna start to make its own currency. It’s a hybrid of gold and steel at the high end, and paper currency to serve as small bills. We will be buying back all System produced money, and standardizing everything. We have a very large backstock, so don’t worry about us running out. Mrs. Hamilton has assured me that this change will help… alleviate some of our economic concerns.”
Mrs. Hamilton nodded serenely, while Donny felt very cold inside. This was perhaps the most innocuous change, on the service, but it left him with the most foreboding feeling. For no sooner had they agreed to the idea, and experimented with the formula, that Donny received a notification from the System, asking if he would like to allow the “Donnyton Dollar” to be given as payment in System stores in the Village.
He had quickly said no, but he still had the ability to transform the currency. Which effectively eliminated all of the logistical issues they had with this plan. But to know that the System was watching to that degree…
If it turned against them at the wrong time…
But Mrs. Hamilton’s discussions with the Ghosthound had led her to believe that it wouldn’t work like that; the System was primarily that, just a system. It would not turn against them, it wasn’t intelligent. It just responded to inputs.
Still, Donnyton couldn’t shake the bad feeling in his heart. To dispel his rising doubts, and also the whispers in the crowd, Donny continued to speak. “In a similar vein, over the next few weeks we will be delivering a certain amount of gold to all landowners, which is Donnyton effectively buying all the land from people. Of course, you are free to buy it back within a week, at the exact same rate, but if you wish to… diversify your assets, or hold onto some of the gold, you can leave the land in the hands of Donnyton.”
Louder, and more suspicious whispers at that, but Donny ignored them. “There are other small economic changes, for which Mrs. Hamilton has prepared a pamphlet. Grab one at the exit, if you are interested. Mostly it involves new construction, loans, and expansions for Donnyton. If you don’t plan on owning a business… it isn’t necessary you read it line by line.”
Which wasn’t exactly true. There were some very firm resolutions in there regarding tourism, and how it was to be handled. But moving towards that would be a slow process, and everyone thought it best to leave that for later. So for now, it remained unspoken. But it was definitely an emphasis for some of the changes.
“Second… there will be some changes to the Squads of Donnyton. The amount of people allowed in each will be increased to 20, plus the Captain. In addition, all members of my own, Dozer’s, and Decklan’s groups will be freed from the restriction of not joining Squads. The limit on Squads will also increase to 60 active Squads at one time. Demands on the individual Squad member will decrease, but we want to have more individuals in fighting shape for the expansion we plan for Donnyton.”
Everyone took this neww stoically, most trying to figure out what it really meant. The only people against it would be those in the higher tiered Squads already, who would need to recruit new members. A lot of mid tier Squads would likely be cannibalized in the process, but that was acceptable. Also, there would be more individuals flowing from the pool of hopefuls into the Squads, which would mean they would probably retain more of the people who had wandered in from Franksburg, or from the North.
Of course, this would mean a dilution in their Squads’ strength, but better to happen now, than later, when they would be forced to fight in larger scale battles…
Nobody had said anything, but everyone on the counsel was clear that the threat of war was the reason for a lot of these changes. And after the Ghosthound had returned, Mrs. Hamilton’s certainty only increased. That made Donny shiver too, with a perverse joy. It had been too long since he had been allowed to fight at the front, despite his constant training…
But that was for another time.
“Finally… to make the final announcement, I would like to bring our founder, Randidly Ghosthound to the stage.”
There was silence for several seconds, a stunned one, where the only noise was the slow, even slap of the Ghosthound’s bare feet against the wood of the stage. For most of these people, this was probably the first time they had seen him, in person, or at all. Although some had argued for it, no one had ever made a portrait of him, or a statue. Mostly through the interference of the counsel, who knew he wouldn’t like it.
Now, they saw him. And then they began to clap.
In came in waves, thunderous, echoing waves that filled the quarry, reverberating off the walls, smashing back and forth wildly, full of energy, the people’s eyes burning with a strange fervor. Donny felt… strange watching it, watching the Ghosthound walk towards him and take the mic.
Of them all, this man changed the most. But at the same time… Donny could tell that at his core, he was the one who most stubbornly refused to let go of who he had been. It was almost… tragic, to see the hardness in his eyes, but to know that if he wasn’t a person built on kindness, none of this would have happened.
Sighing, Donny stepped back. The Ghosthound looked out over the crowd, and from his vantage point of behind him, Donny couldn’t see what expression he made, but the crowd instantly fell silent. Then, he began to speak.
“…I’ll be brief. At my request, Donnyton is creating a semi-annual Assessment, one every six months. The first one will be in 10 days. It is voluntary, but I recommend participating. Right now there are thousands of you, and you are different types of people. When you look at each other, and when new arrivals come to the city, you can’t tell, unless you recognize a person, how long they’ve been here, or what they’ve done.
“This is supposed to change that. The Assessment will be done in 4 portions over 2 days, in the mornings and afternoons. Right now we have the Squads, which will continue to be an important part, but this will give recognition to other people, who contribute a lot, but don’t get recognized.
“The first test will be combat, a duel. Everyone is welcome to participate, aside from myself and members of the counsel. There are a variety of rewards we have prepared, mostly gold and weapons, but the winner of this will get one weapon made by request from Sam… and they will also be able to challenge any individual to a duel, if they wish. Even me.
“The second test will be for production. It is not limited to weapons and armor, but also includes cooking, brewing, weaving… basically, anything that will become an export of Donnyton. We want to know who is creative and productive, and what we will be offering the Zone. There will be a panel of judges for this, and the winner will receive very generous support from Donnyton to get their production an order of magnitude higher.
“The third test will be one of System Knowledge. Daniel insists, and I agree, that we take this System too much for granted. For those of you who have attended some of the talks hosted by the library, you have an advantage. But those of you who haven’t, practical experience matters too. For this, the reward for the winner is a Stone of Genesis… a reward I received from killing a Raid Boss. It will let you create your own Skill.”
“The final test is one of tactics. We need leaders for larger than 20 person skirmishes. Mrs. Hamilton has designed a basic wargame. Over the next 10 days, those of you who are interested, learn it. The winner of this will receive a position as vice-head of our First War Battalion of Donnyton, and also…”
The Ghosthound paused. Even Donny couldn’t help leaning forward, feeling the tension in the man. There was not a peep from the crowd.
“And also… I will change that person’s fate.”