Donny exchanged a glance with Mrs. Hamilton. What does Donnyton want to be to the world…? What was Randidly really asking?
“...are you perhaps aware of the push to name a global capital?” Donny said slowly. Randidly’s face didn’t change, but Donny continued to speak with growing surety. “To receive that honor would be ideal, but… we believe that it would be much smarter to support another city and extract concessions for our support.”
“He doesn’t mean that,” Mrs. Hamilton said with a frown. That worried Donny. Before the meeting, he and Mrs. Hamilton discussed many reasons for Randidly returning to Donnyton and wanting to talk.
Of course, the main one was to challenge Donnyton once more. And after hearing Mrs. Hamilton’s arguments, Donny understood the downsides to allowing it. Other reasons were to heighten the training challenges of Donnyton or to teach them some new trick. Both knew that Randidly would likely have information on how Donnyton had to prepare from his time in another world. This meeting was to reassure him that they were on the right path.
Donny, Sam, and Mrs. Hamilton’s plans were enough to keep the ship straight. Randidly had issued a challenge to humanity to grow, and they were doing it.
Yet Mrs. Hamilton was frowning. And she only did that when she was thinking rapidly. Her pile of notes sat forgotten in front of her.
“Then what do you mean?” Donny asked with a frown.
Randidly looked around at the walls of the observatory, and to the cloudy sky above. Waving his hand to indicate the entirety of the building, likely all of Donnyton, Randidly asked “This… gathering all these things… does that have meaning? What does it mean to be Donnyton?”
“...are you saying…” Mrs. Hamilton said slowly. “That… you are asking about… the image of all of Donnyton? The entirety of it”
Sam frowned and rapped his knuckles on the table. “What sort of image could an entire city have anyway?”
Randidly gazed around at every person at the table, as if weighing them with his sharp emerald gaze. Suddenly, Donny thought that without the light of the sun, the observatory was very cold.
“...You are the leaders of Donnyton, so I thought I would ask you personally,” Randidly said slowly. “This is the world we live in now; image matters immensely. First to the individual, but soon to the society. If we are to progress forward to face the Calamities, we need to create a powerful, unified image for our world.”
“But what does that mean?” Sam cut across as he pressed his stomach against the table and stared intently at Randidly. Donny blinked in surprise at the sudden show of emotion; Sam’s voice was incredibly rough. The blacksmith’s rough hands gripped the table. Why was Sam taking this so personally?
“...I second Sam’s thoughts,” Regina added with a frown. “Could you explain?”
Mrs. Hamilton remained silent, her eyes studying Randidly’s movements.
“Well, at some point it becomes an ethos rather than just an image,” Randidly said slowly. “When I was traveling through Orchard, I felt a nascent form of it. When an outlook becomes habit and self-perpetuating… but it was stumbling there as well. And in Donnyton…”
Randidly raised his head and closed his eyes. He breathed in slowly, then breathed out. Then he lowered his gaze to the people around him. “...I can feel something like that here too. Something that defines Donnyton more than anything else. I just wanted to know… if you were aware of what it was. Well no, you must know. It is something I have no doubt that you cultivated carefully. Isn’t that right?”
“Donnyton pursues strength,” Mrs. Hamilton said smoothly.
Donny nodded spread his hand to indicate the table. “This was earned due to strength. That strength created respect and capability. The food on the table? From a Level 71 monster that was killed by the individuals of this town. The materials for the plates and silverware? Probably the best in the world. They would be used as weapons in another Zone.”
“That meat… I brought it.”
Donny froze in confusion. “What…?”
Randidly pointed at the plates. His plate was picked clean… except for the meat. “This Level 71 monster. I killed it and sold it to a butcher. He ultimately was the one who revealed my presence, so I thought you knew. A coincidence then?”
Stunned, Donny leaned back in his seat without answering. Randidly glanced around.
“There is an image here. And you all support this. Consciously too. You are the leaders of Donnyton, it is your prerogative to influence the zeitgeist of the Village. What I am saying, and the reason I am here, is that your image needs to be refined. What will come next will test that image, push it to the brink. It needs to be able to survive that stress.”
“And what’s the image?” Daniel asked hesitantly.
Randidly only smiled. Mrs. Hamilton’s frown deepened.
And then someone spoke up. Ed, who had remained quiet for the entire meeting, looked around at the people at the table as if they were idiots. “Are you daft? If it’s us, the image is obviously ‘Donnyton is the strongest,’ isn’t it?”
There was a strange reverberation at those words that Donny didn’t expect. As soon as the words were spoken, Donny had a warm feeling in his chest. He was the ruler of Donnyton, and possessed the Soulskill that mirrored Donnyton’s growth. Therefore, he could feel how true that statement was. How it defined every aspect of their governance and life in Donnyton.
Even hearing the statement, Donny wanted to nod and agree. That was the point, wasn’t it?
People came here because they were the strongest. People stayed so they could grow stronger. NCCs came because that strength guaranteed safety. And slowly, those within grow strong under the protection of those that came before. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that would continually cause Donnyton to grow.
After that realization hit Donny, there was a strange phenomenon as waves of that image spread outward from his resonating chest. The air began to hum. Everyone around him pushed away from the table, eyes wide.
They felt it, then. The entire town believed in this fundamental truth. There movements and actions seemed to sing it boldly toward the sky. Donny bobbed in the sea of silent voices, creating a symphony that seemed to govern the entirety of the town. Even without knowing it, everyone moved to the beat of this creed.
Donnyton is the strongest.
The humming abruptly stopped, as if cut short. The energy in the air floundered for a second, then collapsed. Randidly smiled pleasantly around at them all. “I was thinking long and hard about this, but considering Donnyton’s image… I don’t think there is any choice. That challenge against Donnyton’s Squads… how about I do it again?”
“Oh come on now,” Ed began. It seemed that finding his voice made it impossible for him to keep his mouth closed. “You are simply one man-”
But Randidly gave Ed a look and he stuttered to a stop and fell silent. Donny wished he knew the trick to that. If he could accomplish that at their weekly dinners, the proceedings would be many times more smooth.
“Have you considered the consequences…” Donny said slowly. “Both of what would happen to your reputation if you failed… and to Donnyton’s reputation if you succeeded? We aren’t an isolated Village anymore. Our actions have repercussions.”
But Randidly simply grinned. At first, Donny thought that Randidly was slightly embarrassed from the amused expression on his face, but then Donny felt something. The same way that the image of Donnyton inside of his chest had reverberated across the room and filled the air, he now felt a slight trace of another image. It was faint but as he reached out…
It was like raising his nose to the sky and sniffing after an unfamiliar scent. His mind meandered around to catch another whiff.
Donny grasped at the air for several seconds, unused to using this strange sensitivity toward images. After a few attempts, he managed to catch hold of the tail of the image that was emanating from Randidly.
Instantly, the scene shifted. Donny’s eyes widened. A pale crown of a light grey metal floated above Randidly’s eyes. Ash, emerald fire, frost, a cowled phantom, and an impossibly tall golden tree filled the air around him. Those images were superimposed upon each other, merging and growing, some in ascendance, some in repose.
More than anything else, however… was the weight that seemed to cling to Randidly. At the moment, the edges of Donny’s vision curled upward as Randidly Ghosthound simply sat and pulled everything toward himself. Even now, billions of small motes of light were fluttering in and out of his chest, flowing in different directions. Each time they passed through Randidly, that terrible sense of weight grew infinitesimally more prominent.
The world warped further. And all the while, Randidly just grinned at the people sitting around the table.
How long has he been enduring this…? Donny was aghast.
Suddenly, that light smile seemed like an impossibly difficult act of rebellion against the weight that threatened to annihilate Randidly.
“It is precisely because of the consequences if I do not act… that I believe the challenge between myself and Donnyton is necessary.” Randidly stated clearly to the room.