Part 7: Chapter 6It's a good thing I set my update schedule as "at least once a week"
"I can't say I know how you're feeling, but I want you to know that you have everybody's sympathy. Ollie and Abbot aren't even mad." Flint said nothing in response, and he made no sudden movements to try to break past him. "Hinawa's funeral ended without incident. Lucas has been crying at her grave ever since." Flint went wide-eyed at the news, and Duster could understand why. Even though he was in jail, he probably didn't expect the village to go ahead with his own wife's funeral without him. The news about Lucas was probably icing on the cake.
Duster leaned back, allowing Flint to pass. "Your kids have lost their mom, you've lost your wife, and the village was robbed of one of their own. I was asked to stand here and make sure you didn't leave until the mayor let you out, but I figure, with everything that's happened, your time has been served."
Flint sauntered by, his head low. He had a lot to think about, and Duster didn't need to know every thought he had. "Duster," he grunted on his way past, stopping to look at the man over his shoulder.
And he was off.
It had been a long, emotional day for Duster, and the whole village. Flint came home alone, after a tough day climbing the mountains, his throat sore from yelling Claus's name over and over. He was a mess, too: his clothes were torn, he had bruises all over his body, and his knees were wobbly with each step. And he would never say just what it was that made him that way in the mountains.
Duster returned to his house, walking through the front door just as his dad Wess was climbing the stairs from the basement. He was bushed; the only thing he had on his mind right now was climbing into a warm bed and sleeping the sadness away. Tomorrow, he would pitch in the effort to find Claus.
Just as the welcoming sight of his bed sheets entered his vision, he heard the raspy voice of his old man just behind him.
"I speak to you not as my son, but as my pupil." Oh boy. Whenever Wess spoke like that, he had some mission for Duster to do, and he always rode him hard for everything, down to the most minute of details. Being a thief, his 'profession' would be best at the dead of night, but...he just wanted to go to bed!
Still, he wasn't about to say no. That would have gotten a much worse reaction. "Listen!" Wess said demandingly. Just like how he always started his instructions - it was practically routine. "The time has come."
"Got something big in mind this time, dad?"
Wess frowned. "You say that like you should be excited. It's a good thing you're not.
He turned back to the fireplace. "I had hoped the time wouldn't come, if at all possible." He sounded a little distraught, which was highly unusual for an all-business guy like him. "But you and I have been constantly preparing for this day, in the event that it did."
This was news to Duster. "You've been training me all my life for an event I was never told about? All this time I thought making ladders out of staples was just cool."
"Of course it was for this!" Wess yelled, turning back to his son. "Teaching you to sneak, to fight, to steal! It was all for tonight! Why else would I have made you do it, even with your bad knee? I'm a father before I'm a teacher, Duster, and someday you'll be saying the same thing to your own kid." Calming himself with a breath, he turned back to the fire, continuing to the matter at hand.
"Forest fires, missing peoples, murders...the enemy's form is still unknown. But we must now change the way we live." Wess had never spoken like this before, and while every mission was serious, Duster became more attentive at the implications Wess was making. "Are you prepared?"
"And if I said no?" Duster said, grinning.
"Then I'd smack you until you changed your mind," Wess laughed back, and became serious again. "Duster. I am now going to give you an order.
"There, you will find a 'certain important item'," he said, emphasising each word with stuttered speech and finger quotes, "and bring it back here."
Duster nodded, but looked perplexed. It was odd for his father to be so vague. "Any idea what this 'important item' is?"
Wess hesitated, looking like he was going to answer, but then changed his mind. "There's no need for me to tell you," he said direly, conveying that Duster shouldn't prod further. Duster got the hint quickly. "If a thief can't determine the value of what he steals, he is a disgrace to the profession." Duster looked straight into Wess's eyes, almost afraid to ask anything else. "Still, any help I give will be useful to you.
I will say no more than that."
Duster raised an eyebrow. "So, I'm looking for a 'shiny, valuable item'," he quoted.
"Like I said, you shouldn't need any more detail than that." He turned his head to face the basement stairs. "In the basement, you'll find some items I've prepared for you. The Seven Mystical Thief Tools." He paused, bringing his hand to stroke his chin. "Were there seven?" He counted silently on his fingers, stopping at six. "Well, whatever. Take them with you. They'll give you the upper hand for any obstacle or opponent you may encounter."
Duster said nothing more; he left Wess, heading into his house's basement to retrieve these items.
Some of them seemed fairly obvious enough. A pendulum, to hypnotize opponents with. A tickle stick, to lower their guard, and a scary mask, to intimidate them. A smoke bomb, to confuse his enemies and hide himself in its spray. And finally, a small cage containing a siren beetle...to make a lot of noise with. Counter-productive as far as being a thief went, but a decent way to surprise and impede a foe. In total, only five items, but perhaps Wess was counting his wall staples as well.
"All set, dad," he said as he climbed back up the stairs. "Before I go, though, got any background on this item I'm trying to find? Any hints at all?"
Wess hummed, thinking about his answer. "Hidden inside the castle is an item with the power to change the fate of the world."
"You mean, the Nowhere Islands?"
"This may come as a surprise to you, Duster, but there's more to the world than just two rocks in the middle of the ocean. But that's a history lesson for another time. Back when the king of Osohe still lived in the castle..." He stuttered again, trying to recollect his thoughts. "Yes, I'm pretty sure that's when it was.
I felt it was too much for even the king of Osohe himself to handle...or so I recall, anyway. But the as-of-yet unknown enemy may be trying to acquire it."
"So, if this item is such a big deal, and you know everything about it, why aren't you coming with me?" Duster asked.
"Under normal circumstances, this would be a job that calls for me, yes. But, Duster, I'm not going to live forever, and today's unfortunate events is a grim reminder of that. I feel confident that I've hammered every technique I know into you. So try to accomplish this mission yourself."
Duster turned to leave, when Wess stopped him again. "Hold on. When you go outside, check behind the house. I've hidden another Mystical Thief Tool-like item back there."
Duster turned back to his father inquisitively. "Why did you hide them in separate places like that?"
"I refill the box every now and again, so if you need any more, be sure to check back. Now go." With that, Duster turned about, and left the house.
As instructed, the first thing he did was check behind the house for an item. It wasn't so difficult to find.
It was a short walk to Osohe castle. It being the middle of the night, there wasn't a whole lot of people still out and about in Tazmily. The day's events had bored into everybody, and they all just wanted to put the day behind them.
Just as he was about to take the north exit from the square, he bumped into somebody. He was in a real hurry, and wasn't watching where he was going.
"Oh, pardon me, I wasn't paying attention," he said, his breath a little ragged. He wasn't anybody that Duster immediately recognized - but since everybody knew everybody in Tazmily, he just assumed that he was having difficulty seeing in the darkness, and the person was just wearing some new, fashionable clothes.
He was very well mannered, although...Duster didn't recall anybody owning a pet monkey in Tazmily. "Come now, little monkey, we must be off," he hummed delightedly, and he strolled his way across the square, towards the Yado Inn.
His pet monkey didn't seem to be nearly as enthusiastic as its master, though. It walked fairly slowly, and its head was hung low. Its bright collar was unlike anything Duster recognized. And just before it rejoined its master, it gave a long look back at Duster, as if it were trying to tell him something.
Duster could hardly take another few steps forward before he found someone else. Maybe some people just couldn't sleep, knowing that Hinawa had passed.
Butch was sitting there, staring at his burlap sack tied neatly around the top. It was clearly full nearly to the point of bursting, and he seemed to enjoy having it with him. When he realized Duster was standing right there, he grabbed the bag in surprise, hiding it behind himself protectively. "Duster!" he squealed.
"Hey, Butch," he replied casually. "What's in the bag? Looks pretty full. Laundry?"
He looked around the area a few times, making sure that he and Duster were alone. He eyed Duster suspiciously before speaking. "If you promise to not tell anyone, I'll tell you." Duster was intrigued, and nodding firmly, agreeing to Butch's terms. Assured, he placed the bag back down next to him, in Duster's view. "Check it out!" he said gleefully. "Can you guess what's inside?"
Duster raised an eyebrow. "...laundry?" he repeated.
"No!" Butch was really excited about his new property.
Duster looked at the bag, his face scrunched in thought. "Mun-ee?" he asked. "I...can't say I ever heard of this thing before."
"Neither have I, actually," Butch replied, his earlier enthusiasm gone in a blink. "This is the first time I've ever seen or heard anything like it. It's never been introduced to Tazmily before." His face began to light up once more. "But that's why it's so awesome it have it! We're going to be entering an 'era of money' any day now, and with this, I'll have a massive head start on everybody!"
"What's an 'era of money'?" Duster asked again. "You're practically talking in tongues, Butch. Where did you even get it?"
"He took a real liking to my pigs. He was practically in tears when he asked me to trade my pigs for all this money. It seemed pretty strange to me at first, but hey, what if I get swindled? There's not a lot of places for him to hide, right? He looked legit, so I decided to trust him. He was definitely a friend worth having."
"So, what does money do? Pigs are good for a lot of things. Does money get you food?" Duster was having a difficult time wrapping his head around this whole concept.
"No, nothing like that, but according to the guy, these things are really valuable. So that's gotta be worth something."
Duster's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh, value!" he said, finally getting it. "Money is valuable, okay, now I get it!"
"Anyway," Butch began, hefting the heavy bag over his shoulders and walking back into the square. "He gave it to me, which means it's mine, right? I don't want any ignorant people taking off with it, so I'm going to hide it in the well." Just as they came upon the well to the city, Butch laid the bag in its bucket and lowered it gently into the darkness below. "I'll be back for it in the morning.
"Yeah, I understand," he said. He better get going to Osohe castle - he had something even more valuable to fetch. "I'll see you tomorrow, Butch."
"Yeah, g'night." They parted without another word, heading in different directions.
As Duster entered the clearing north of town, looking around for anybody who might be watching, he heard a peculiar tune. It was loud, but it sounded far away. The moonlight began to darken in the sky, and he looked up, noticing a weird silhouette cross the moon unlike anything he had ever seen.
He hoped that whatever was dropping from that flying thing wouldn't mean trouble for him in the castle. He hurried on ahead, as quickly as his legs could hobble him there. He reached the cemetery lying just before the castle and continued to rush through; it was like the hundreds of times he walked through the cemetery before...
...with one very decisive difference.
"What the?!" Duster yelped, leaping back. The smell of decaying flesh was pungent off the walking corpse in front of him. Its teeth were all misaligned and its flesh and bones were all jumbled and misshaped. He had no idea what to think or what to do - the living dead rising out of the ground was not a part of his training.
"I'm...alive?" it groaned. Duster had no idea who this person was before he was buried. He made no movement and no reply; he was absolutely paralyzed with fear. Until it made another step towards him, which quickly prompted him to take a step back.
Just as he got far enough from the first one, a second just up and crawled out of the ground to his left, exactly like the first.
And then immediately, one just behind him.
"I want to live mooooOOOOOOOOORE!" it bellowed, its decrepit lungs punching out an incredible volume. Duster, freaked right out and then some, tried backing away from the three. He would run back to Tazmily, back to his house, crawl into his bed, and tell his dad to get his own 'shiny, valuable item'. He was prepared to handle a lot of things, but zombies?
As he turned to begin sprinting back to the village, a fourth came out of the ground in his way. He was boxed in at all sides - missing flesh, rotten smell, and eerie groans surrounded him on all sides.
"Why," she continued, "there's so much of you that I could eat for three days and three nights, and still have leftovers!" She cackled to herself at her comparison; Duster was considerably less entertained by the joke. Although, she was dead serious, and her companions agreed with her through a chorus of spooky moaning. They closed in on Duster in an instant.
As scared as he was, though, he wasn't going to have any of that.
He put all his Thief Tools to the test, to get himself out of this jam. He withheld using the siren beetle right away, since, even though his safety was more important at the moment, his mission was still vital. Kicking one in its ribs (feeling his foot crunch against its bone, uninhibited by skin or muscle) while he reached into his pocket, he pulled out his pendulum first, and swayed it in front of the closest female zombie.
Apparently, they were very susceptible to things like hypnotism, since they had very little willpower or conscience to resist it. The other female zombie was too close, however, and before Duster could react to it, she gave him a hard chomp on his shoulder.
She lacked any power to her bites, though - her jaw was practically falling off her face as it was. Duster responded adequately.
The two male zombies were closing in on him as well. Thinking quickly, he withdrew the smoke bomb from his pocket and threw it straight into the first one's face. It made no sound as the small sphere burst, coating it in a veil of smoke, unable to see anything around it. He dodged a swipe from the second male, and finished off the female zombie he had laid a few kicks into.
With one male blinded and the last female still asleep, he made quick work of the last male zombie, putting a strong kick right into its neck. It recoiled harshly, its brittle bones snapping easily, before it vanished in a puff of dust as well. The others were easy to handle after that.
Rubbing his sore shoulder, he pressed on through the cemetery. It was certainly a shock to encounter zombies in the Sunshine Cemetery, but at least they weren't that difficult to push off. He hurried ahead to Osohe castle, in case he met any other unwelcome surprises and had to beat away something even more horrific.
He got to the castle easily enough - no more intrusions or stops - but unfortunately, the castle's drawbridge had been pulled.
The bridge was usually up during the day, so that visitors could come and go as they pleased, and do whatever they wanted on the castle's front lawn. Nippolyte even had his own personal garden just past the bridge. But the groundskeeper usually pulled the bridge up for the nights, and tonight was no different. He had to find some other way inside.
He decided to backtrack into the cemetery, against his better judgement, to see if there was something in there he could use. Just as he returned to the burial grounds, he clearly saw Nippolyte in the moonlight, apparently having done enough work for the day and deciding to bring it in. Duster must have ran right past him in his haste.
A look over the cemetery says that he should probably join Nippolyte in his shack before things get any worse. He could swear, he saw one of the tombstones just pick up and start walking towards him.
But tombstones can't do that. That's silly.
Inside the shack was not Nippolyte, as he had expected. The shack had all the furnishings of a warm, cozy home: a bed, a dresser, a desk with an ink and quill and dishes, and several lit candles. But unlike most other houses, this one had a massive set of stairs going underground.
Like his own house, Nippolyte's shack had a basement to it. Here Nippolyte apparently kept his tools and his plans for the cemetery, all kept in neat order, although the place was dirty and dark. In the back, there was a massive bookcase with no books on it, and on the wall behind it, there were several large cracks and gouges in the mortar.
For a thief like Duster, this was a pretty lame way to hide a secret tunnel, but, he supposed, Nippolyte was no thief.
The tunnel under the earth seemed to go on forever into the darkness. Duster couldn't see very far into the corridor - light seemed to want to evade its crevasses as far down as it went. But he could hear Nippolyte's tired, heavy footsteps echo down the tunnel and into his ears.
The tunnel went straight under Osohe castle...what did he have to lose?
The tunnel was dank, and he was wet around his ankles. He took that as a good sign, though: the tunnel went right underneath Osohe castle's moat, so it was so far, so good.
The water had some surprises in store for him, though.
The tunnel under the castle seemed to crawl onwards for quite some distance: with so little light to guide him, Duster kept bumping into walls and tripping over rocks trying to find his way to the other end. By the sounds of things, he was at least able to keep up with Nippolyte up ahead, but that wasn't helping him with his navigation through the wet underground.
After some slogging through the moist tunnels, Duster's feet found the dry dirt, and there was a source of light just up ahead. He quickened his pace, eager to get out of the leech-infested waters and back above ground, hopefully on the other side of Osohe castle's bridge. Up ahead was a ladder, with a beam of moonlight shining down from a hole up above; next to the ladder was a pick and a shovel. Nippolyte had to be nearby.
Sure enough, on the other side of the ladder, he was beyond the castle's walls. This was good news for him - now, if he could lower the bridge for himself later, he could begin work on actually finding this thing that his dad wanted. But even if he could get the bridge down, the front gate to the castle was still closed...
Right behind the bridge was Nippolyte, hacking away at the ground with a long hoe, digging trails into the earth and planting seeds. He was caring for his two garden patches just past the bridge. It made sense to do the work on them during the night, when all his chores with the cemetery were done, but it left him very little time to sleep. Which might explain why he was always so exhausted.
Maybe he was growing some hybrids? Duster didn't take Nippolyte to be the type with a green thumb.
Or...maybe Nippolyte was just old.
Nippolyte heard Duster's footsteps as he approached, and turned to look at who might have followed him through his tunnel. "Oh," he said, catching Duster's face in the moonlight. "It's old man Wess's son, Whats-His-Name." It was a joke Nippolyte played on Duster every time they met.
"That's really somethin', especially with your handicap."
"Thanks," he replied. "Do you know how to open the front gate to the castle?"
Nippolyte didn't miss a beat. "I don't know what it is you want in the castle, but I'm afraid you're not going to get in.
Only way to get in, that I know of, is to climb its walls."
Duster smiled and waved to Nippolyte, and turned back to the castle. "Thanks for the tip, Nippolyte." He didn't respond; he just kept going at his crops.
Duster scanned the front walls to the castle quickly, looking for a suitable place to begin using Wall Staple technique. It worked well just the other day, climbing that mountain face with Flint. There was a decent area, just to the east of the main gate.
It went pretty well.
Just above the main gate to the castle was another door, leading deeper into the building.
From here, he was going to be the first person in maybe generations to enter Osohe castle. But he wasn't here to sightsee - it was strictly business. He just hoped he wouldn't be running into any more creepy-crawlies inside its hundred-year-old undisturbed halls.
Here are some more tracks for your listening pleasure. Didn't manage to use a few more this time, but I don't know how often we're going to be fighting zombies and tombstones, so you may as well have them now.
Accelerando, oddly, is the only song I got a 16-hit combo on. Which I think is impressive because the BPM keeps rising, meaning you have to press the button faster and faster
Speaking of hit combos! Have a listen to this song.
This song is the theme song for the Spineless Lobster. You'll note that it sounds exactly like Meddlesome Pest, which is the theme for the Praying Mantis. But there's a difference. In this song, you'll hear the rhythm skip, or repeat, intentionally at places. This seemingly weird aesthetic decision serves one single purpose: to throw off your timing. The game will do this more and more often the farther into the story you get: you might fight a certain enemy (in this case, the Praying Mantis, just for example) enough times to memorize the beat to score higher combos. Then you might run into an enemy with the same theme song. "Awesome," you say. "I can 12 or 14 hit this guy easy."
Not so. When the rhythm skips, so does your timing. It's still entirely possible to hit correctly and keep a high combo going, but, let me just say, good luck. The timing is strict enough as it is, and having to predict or memorize these skips is pretty dastardly.
"This is bullshit!" you cry! "My offense is low; I have no equipment yet! None of my Thief Tools actually cause damage! How am I supposed to slog my way through these fights if I'm not even allowed to combo?"
The designers anticipated your plight, my friend, and they handed you a line as apology. Take a listen to Fate ~ Destiny. The combo beats for this song are not a solid 4/4 time. You can't just metronome your way through this song; you have to go with the beat that you hear. "This does not make me feel better," you say, but keep reading.
Among your Thief Tools was a Hypno-Pendulum, right? It causes enemies to fall asleep, and most non-bosses (and even some bosses) are easily susceptible to sleep. If you cause any opponent to sleep, either by this or by later powers, you'll hear the background tune change:
You can clearly hear exactly when you're supposed to press the attack button to the beat. A successful press will get you an extra hit - rhythm your way to 16 hits easy, just by causing your opponent to fall asleep.
(You're told this just before you enter Osohe castle, but it doesn't fit my narrative, so I'm explaining it here )