The Carraig Man

Earlier this year, I entered the Fearie Tales competition for “Winter Words” at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. The brief was to write a short horror story of between 2250 and 3250 words. The story also had to have roots in Scotland.

I was really pleased to find out that I had won, and that my story was to be read out at the theatre, which my wife and I went to hear. Now that the competition is over, I can publish that short story here for everyone to read (though Word to WordPress has ruined the formatting and I’ve spent an hour trying to make it look only marginally better…).

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The Carraig Man

A winter’s evening, perhaps in the Highlands, or perhaps in the Lowlands. You’re in the grassy fields with the standing stones, nearby the village. Just before the sun becomes dull enough to look at, a flash of light on the horizon makes you blink. As you clear away the spots in your vision, you’ll swear that the old man standing by the stones wasn’t there a second ago. After all, that’s just ridiculous: old men don’t just appear out of thin air.

Only that is what just happened.

The Carraig Man is here.

The Carraig Man isn’t a person, like you, or like me. The Carraig Man is something different. The Carraig Man is something else.

The night begins to fall, and you soon forget the sudden appearance of the old man in the field with the standing stones. Much like the many others who behold the Carraig Man, you return to your business and make your way home before the night blankets the village.

The night is dark. The night is cold. Most importantly, the night is long. The Carraig Man has work to do, and it doesn’t like to be rushed.

The Carraig Man makes its way through the village, noting its route as it stops to rest on all of the benches positioned away from the streetlights. The Carraig Man doesn’t visit the same village every night, but that’s not to say that it hasn’t visited yours recently, or that it won’t visit yours again. The Carraig Man has been around for a very long time. Streetlights are something that the Carraig Man is still getting used to.

The Carraig Man finds a place that folk like to gather, hiding in plain sight. A place with low light and secluded corners. A place that the Carraig Man can watch you all, undisturbed.

~

The Carraig Man finds a pub. A gathering where folk can join in with one another, or spend some time alone. The Carraig Man always manages to find a dark corner by itself. The Carraig Man isn’t particularly fond of the light we insist on placing everywhere. The Carraig Man may look like an old fellow at a glance, but if you chance upon spending any amount of time really looking at it, you’ll see that not everything is what you might expect. The Carraig Man’s lips are too thin and too wide, housing a mouth that is larger than you or I would need. Its ears are ever-so-slightly pointed at the top, and the lobes dangle like jelly. The Carraig Man smiles, but it never reveals its teeth, or licks its lips. At least not where everyone can see. The Carraig Man has no eyebrows, but it does have a wiry mass of thick, grey hair, with a double crown. The Carraig Man cannot stand straight, but this is not a frailty.

These are all the features that you should be looking out for on strangers you might meet on the winter nights, but these aren’t features that you’ll be able to see as the Carraig Man watches you from its dimly-lit spot in the hum of the pub at night. If you find yourself in the company of an old man that matches this description, you have met the Carraig Man. It is probably already too late for you.

The Carraig Man nurses a single drink for the entire time it watches you all. The Carraig Man doesn’t much care for alcohol, for it gives him nothing desirable. It drinks only water, and will only begin to sip it when it has thoroughly warmed up from the chill of the tap. The Carraig Man may appear to be nothing more than a lonely old man that drinks alone, but you won’t feel sorry for it unless it wants you to. The Carraig Man works slowly, and it may have been among you all for several hours before it decides which of you it wants.

Eventually, the Carraig Man strikes.

The Carraig Man doesn’t rush in like some ferocious beast or starved animal. The Carraig Man can go for weeks without feeding. The Carraig Man is slow. The Carraig Man is careful. It fixes its gaze upon the one or two of you that it wants. It is never clear what causes the Carraig Man to make its decision, but its decision is always correct. The Carraig Man always gets what it chooses.

It casts quick glances at you with sad-looking eyes. At first they drop away, whenever you happen to meet them. You will feel its eyes on you. It isn’t altogether unpleasant, but it isn’t altogether nice. If you ever happen to notice an old man watching you, face hidden mostly by shadow, circling its long fingers around the rim of a half-full glass of water, as a winter’s night wears on outside, know now that this is the time you should leave, should you wish to avoid meeting with the Carraig Man.

But…

You don’t leave. The old man may be strange, but he is just an old man, and old men aren’t anything to be worried about. Certainly not a decrepit and lonely man, such as the one that sits and drinks alone in a pub. You look back at it, and this time, it meets your gaze. The Carraig Man smiles. The Carraig Man gently waves.

The Carraig Man ignores you for the rest of your evening. Whether you are alone or with friends, the Carraig Man has marked you, and you are now his.

For you, the night begins to draw to an end. For the Carraig Man, its work is just beginning.

As the patrons order their last drinks, and others head off out into the night, the Carraig Man gulps down the last mouthful of its water. For some reason, you notice this act specifically, and you feel that it too, is time for you to leave. As you finish your own drink and begin to say goodbye to those you know, you realise that the old man is no longer sat in the corner. Only an empty glass remains on the table or windowsill. As an inexplicable wave of relief washes over your tired body, a thin but strong hand grabs you by the elbow. Others around you smile and laugh as you realise the old man from the corner has come to see you. The Carraig Man is about to begin its work.

The Carraig Man beckons with a finger that seems to be one knuckle too long, inviting you to step closer. The Carraig Man’s wide lips barely move, but the corners of its eyes curl in a manner that makes you instinctively draw in to listen. You feel its lips brush the edge of your ear. You can’t remember the words that the Carraig Man whispers, but you know that the Carraig Man is old and far from home.

You know that the Carraig Man wants help.

You’re not quite sure where the Carraig Man wants you to take it, but you don’t feel worried and you don’t feel scared. After all, you’re only being asked to get an old man to his home, and good deeds never go unrewarded. Friends might raise their eyebrows, and you might think of your warm, cosy bed. It seems so easy to say no and let the old man find somebody else to take him home. But you don’t say no. You nod your head and agree to help. Everybody does after the Carraig Man whispers to them.

The Carraig Man leads you outside.

The night is dark, and the night is cold. Most importantly for the Carraig Man, the night is long, and it has work to do. Your breath mists around your face, and your journey begins.

The Carraig Man takes your hand. It doesn’t feel strange that you are the one following and it is the one leading. Despite the chill of the night, you feel warmth as the ancient figure leads you by the hand. The Carraig Man takes you through the darkest streets and along the narrowest of alleys. Away from the buzz and glow of the bustling areas of the village. The Carraig Man prefers the shadow. The Carraig Man doesn’t want to be seen. Yet.

You begin to leave the houses behind, via paths you probably never knew existed. The Carraig Man comes to know all of the available routes before he chooses you. The night loses the artificial glow from the windows, replaced with the cold light of the moon and stars. The dark shadows of munros loom to your sides as the Carraig Man carries you away from any house you may have thought it was heading to. It picks up speed. It knows where it is going, and you’re happy to follow along. You think of that warm bed waiting for you after you reach the old man’s destination.

After all, it is just an old man.

The Carraig Man leads you into the field with the standing stones. There is nobody around. There is never anybody around when the Carraig Man is ready to do what he came to do.

You find yourself standing between the stones. You notice the small, circular holes in the top of the stones as the Carraig Man begins to dance around you, all gangly limbs and strands of hair bouncing as they catch the moonlight. He moves slowly, like in a dream.

The Carraig Man stops and looks directly into your eyes.

And the spell is broken.

Fear drenches you. The night feels colder, and that fuzzy kindliness you felt on your walk from the pub vanishes. You are frozen to the spot as the Carraig Man stares. You try to think, but you can’t work out where you are. You don’t remember how to call out, or get attention. You are silent. This is how all of the Carraig Man’s victims behave as its eyes bore into yours.

The Carraig Man shows its teeth.

It lets its tongue slither out of its cavern. The tongue is so long that it makes you shiver, but that tongue is the least of your worries now.

The Carraig Man draws in. You are so terrified that you feel like your heart will explode in your chest. But you don’t run. You can’t run. The Carraig Man has you transfixed.

The Carraig Man drapes a long and slender arm around your neck, fingers brushing the edges of your ears. Its legs straddle yours, and its waist closes in to touch against your belly. The Carraig Man sighs, revelling in the moment, delighted in its success.

For a moment, there is only silence, and depths of the black, liquid eyes that drill into the back of your mind.

The Carraig Man no longer looks like an old man. The Carraig Man looks like what it is. Something different. Something else.

You feel it first in the pit of your stomach. A gentle sucking, of your insides moving upwards. Your stomach is drawn inwards, and the back of your throat tightens. The fingers around the back of your head slide down and grip more firmly around your neck. The other hand caresses gently up and down the length of your spine. Its misshapen face is the single most terrifying and beautiful thing you have ever seen, or will see ever again. The pain begins, but the fingers on your back somehow calm you. They stop you from screaming out. The air disappears from your lungs and won’t return. You see your hands pushing against the chest of the Carraig Man. They appear pale and thin. Veins protrude. Your legs begin to shake, and you start to feel less… there, than you were a moment ago. Your head falls back into the Carraig Man’s hands as it draws out the very essence of your being. Your eyes slide back and stare up into the night sky above. You watch the moon as it charts its long journey across the night sky.

The Carraig Man doesn’t like to be rushed.

You feel smaller. Lower. The Carraig Man towers over you. The pain is gone. You are almost gone. You linger on the cold precipice of nothingness. You think of your nice, warm bed. It is still there, whether or not you will be joining it.

You realise that you are looking up at the blades of grass, at the underside of the Carraig Man’s chin as it stares out into the remainder of the night. You feel a momentary pang of sadness and loss as you realise that this is the end and you were powerless to stop it. You close your eyes for the last time as the red light of the morning creeps over.

~

The Carraig Man stands between the standing stones in the field and looks down at the empty pile of clothes its victim once wore. As it stares at them, the grass and dirt claim them, dragging them below and out of sight.

The Carraig Man places a hand on one of the standing stones. Two fingers, one knuckle too long on each, push through the hole in the stone as the two either side press up against the lichen-covered roughness. The tip of the orb that is the sun crests the horizon, and for the briefest of moments there is a flash. As the flash fades, and early passers-by rub their eyes, they wonder where the old man has gone that they saw in the field, among the standing stones. After all, that’s just ridiculous: old men don’t just vanish out of thin air.

Only that is what just happened.

The Carraig Man was here.

The Carraig Man isn’t a person, like you, or like me. The Carraig Man is something different. The Carraig Man is something else.

The Carraig Man will appear again. Perhaps in the Highlands, or perhaps in the Lowlands. The Carraig Man will return. There is always work to be done.

Cold Call is now available!

I’ve finally published my first story!

Cold Call is now available on the Amazon Kindle Store and will be free between October 14th and 16th to celebrate the release of my first novella (price after offer is just 99p). Perfect for a Halloween!

Cold calls. Private numbers. Incessant ringing…

They’re not going to stop, so when are you going to answer?

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To find out more about Cold Call and the upcoming Havelock’s Path, visit my facebook page.

Cold Call

Although it’s a been a long time since I last wrote anything here, it’s largely been down to having no free time to get on here. I’ve watched my daughter swiftly grow from a one-month-old to a five-month-old, worked on the last parts of the wedding (and by worked, I mean sold much of my stuff in order to pay for the day – who ever said videogames wouldn’t get me anywhere?), moved house, worked a huge amount, and written a first and second draft of a short horror story that I’m hoping to get up for sale some time very soon.

Cold Call charts the swift collapse of the world as you and I know it, brought about when all of the world’s phones begin to ring in unison. It’s just weird at first, but then it happens again, and again, and people begin to realise what is happening to those that have answered…

If it sounds interesting, keep an eye out for it! I’m hoping to publish it as an e-book, and for free as well to begin with.

Hey, it made me think twice about answering the phone when it rang at 10:30pm recently 🙂

The Wheel of Time – Channelling A Magical Weave

The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In 2016, an Age of Kindles and long train journeys, this reader finally finished the epic fifteen-book series through the Westlands. The fate of future story enjoyment hangs in the balance. What was, what is, and what will be may never compare to the journey I went on in Robert Jordan’s epic collection.

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There are many, many, fantasy series out there, and one of greatest (first world) troubles a reader of fantasy might have is picking a series to read. If you only have limited time to read each day, then you’ll want to make sure you lock yourself into something good! I don’t know about you, but if I start something, I damn well finish it. Even if it turns sour before the end. The Wheel of Time was an enormous series to get stuck into, and while we had our ups and downs, our slow times and our fast, I regret none of the time I spent with Rand Al’Thor and the hundreds of characters he meets.

It all starts innocently enough. Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers region is a sleepy farming village that is cut off from much of the developing world. The people live a simple life and keep very much to themselves, so much so that even the Monarch has nothing to do with the place, and few are sure whether or not they even have a King or Queen. Emond’s Field is home to three very important young men (among other characters who form a large part of the story!); Rand Al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara. All three of them catch glimpses of an evil presence close to home, prior to the arrival of a fabled Aes Sedai and her Warder, Moiriane Sedai and Lan Al’Mandragoran. Within a few chapters, the three boys are whisked off out of the village on a journey to the Northern reaches of the known world. From there, the story spreads out across the world, with our characters splitting up and having their own adventures with a grand cast of characters. The whole set up is remarkably similar to my favourite genre of videogame, the JRPG. It was easy to get caught up in the unfolding adventure told in The Eye of the World, and it was no time at all before I’d tapped right on the side of my Kindle Paperwhite for the last time, and was prompted to purchase The Great Hunt for £6.99 (if you’re interested, the whole Kindle series set me back £104.85).

Throughout the first couple of novels, I found Rand Al’Thor to be a great main character; a man struggling to come to terms with unwanted nightmares, unknown enemies, and the small matter of being able to wield the tainted male half of the One Power, Saidin. For obvious reasons, the man who would end up becoming the Dragon Reborn was the focal point at the beginning of the series, but it wasn’t long before the sheer number of characters in the book left poor old Rand Al’Thor being swept somewhat by the wayside, and putting in minimal appearances for much of the story, and many of those did little to forward his story until late in each entry.

Now, I really did enjoy the overall story of The Wheel of Time, but it was frustrating to come to terms with reading so little about the character that the whole story was originally focused on. Fortunately, the vast majority of the players in this story were all interesting in their own way, and the annoyance of losing Rand’s journey was often diminished by discovering more on how Perrin had become able to talk with the wolves, and watching how Mat managed to come out on top again and again, no matter the dire situations he found himself in. And Jordan doesn’t just limit us to the three boys, he opens up the story to the point of view of characters from around the world and from all walks of life. Chief among these characters are the Aes Sedai – women who can channel Saidar, the untainted, female half of the One Power – and the women who would eventually become them. Egwene Al’Vere and Nynaeve Al’Meara from Emond’s Field play a huge role in the story, The Amyrlin Seat Siuan Sanche (chief among the Aes Sedai) follows a tragic tale that would have been a great story told alone. Countless women from the seven Ajahs (factions) of the White Tower (headquarters of the Aes Sedai) take the reigns at various points and give us new insights into the workings of the Tower, and we also get to find out how three women in love with Rand Al’Thor overcome the difficulties of all wanting to be with the same man (spoiler alert – Rand just gets to be with three women…). We even get to spend a good deal of time with several unsavoury characters that are acting in the interests of the Dark One.

It is always refreshing to see how the evil characters view the unfolding story, and it also means we get to spend more time with Jordan’s excellent horde of vicious monsters and terrifying beings. Jordan’s Trollocs form the footsoldiers to rival Tolkien’s Orcs, huge creatures formed of an unnatural mixture of human and animal. More chilling are the Myrddraal, evil creatures that drive the Trollocs and form the basis of tales told to scare children around the world. Similar in build to men, Myrddraal have no eyes yet no disability when it comes to locating their prey. They can move on shadows and disappear when escape seems possible. They move with horrifying speed and an attack from their blade nearly always proves fatal. Elsewhere are the vampire-like Draghkar, Seanchan monstrosities from across the ocean that resemble great lizards and dragons, and the nightmares that inhabit the dead Blight to the north. Everything on offer feels very much a part of the world they inhabit, and are a change to oft-used goblins that are seen in many a fantasy tale. With these creatures, the story can often become quite violent, with many a ruined throat and charred corpse to be found. However, the writing itself remains largely clean throughout (assuming you aren’t offended by “bloody” and “flaming”, otherwise this will be the most foul-mouthed story you’ve ever read).

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One of the most interesting aspects of The Wheel of Time is the One Power. Split into two halves of Saidin and Saidar, that can be used exclusively by men and women with the talent, the magic of the story is ubiquitous enough that it can be used in almost any situation without feeling forced, or simply a means to an end. Certain characters have greater abilities with different aspects of the power, such as fire and earth magic, healing, or controlling the weather. The One Power allows us to see the usual range of magical abilities we expect to see in fantasy, and still manages to feel very much a product of the story itself, and not something borrowed from other stories you may have read.

With the One Power being such an important force in the world of The Wheel of Time, the taint-free female half of the power has caused the world to develop into a very women-oriented place. Men who can channel are reviled, doomed to go mad and threaten the very fabric of the world, capable of bringing dark forces that everyone should rightly be terrified of. As such, the rare men who can channel are hunted by the Aes Sedai, and elsewhere around the world are simply exiled or sent to their deaths by various forms of execution. That the Dragon Reborn – the man destined to battle the Dark One and bring peace to the world – is a man that can channel, there are mixed feelings throughout the world debating whether or not such a man should be allowed to thrive or be neutered. After all, without a Dragon for the prophecies, the fated end times cannot come without him there.

A frenzied reaction from the Aes Sedai takes place whenever a man pipes up that he is the said saviour of the world. Rand Al’Thor is one of several men who end up proclaiming themselves as the Dragon Reborn around the beginnings of the story (very rarely can four novels be classed as the beginnings, but they certainly are in this case). Of all of the men, Rand is the most reluctant, terrified of going mad and rotting away, unable to accept that friends and family will come to revile him for the power he holds and the destiny he faces, and very uneasy of the prospects of fulfilling the prophecies he is bound to carry out. Yet despite his reluctance, Rand finds himself ticking off the boxes one by one, locating the Eye of the World and the Horn of Valere, dispatching the first of the awakened Forsaken, agents of the Dark Lord, and eventually proclaiming himself the Dragon Reborn itself. Rand’s rise to the Dragon is very well done, and his struggles with the torrent of pure power that is Saidin had me believing he would be ruined long before the climax of the story.

It is at around the point of Rand accepting his status at the Dragon Reborn that the story begins to slow down and lose momentum. Rather than pushing on full steam ahead towards the destined Last Battle, books five to ten begin to spend more time with many different characters as they spread out around the world, seeking out the tools needed for Rand and hunting down the secretive members of the Dark One’s forces. At the time, reading these books wasn’t so much of a chore as it was just mildly frustrating. All the places that Jordan takes us are interesting, and I don’t care how many times Nynaeve tugged her braid, or an Aes Sedai smoothed her skirt, each character felt unique and interesting, especially as we get to see the story from several very different points of view. It’s just that… well, we know that Rand’s nemeses, the Forsaken, are out there and gaining power. I wanted to see him deal with them more regularly, and the snippets we see of Rand edging ever closer to each one made it a huge tease when it seemed a huge chapter was on the horizon, only to be diverted away by another day spent with a travelling circus.

As the story begins to draw to a close (and by close, I mean the final ~4000 pages), big things begin to happen with the male half of the One Power, and it finally feels like the story is picking up again. Unfortunately, it was at around this point in 2007 that Robert Jordan sadly died, unable to finish his story within his lifetime after releasing 11 releases in the main story, and one prequel book. Back in 2007, I was already reading The Wheel of Time but was only at the fifth book, The Fires of Heaven, and perhaps misguidedly decided to give up on a story that I doubted would ever see an end. In a somewhat surprising turn, the series was picked up by renowned fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, and wrapped up in a further three entries.

Now, I have no idea what Jordan’s intentions were for the remainder of the story. I mean, everyone that has finished the series will have the gist of it, but was this exactly what had originally been planned? My personal opinion is that Brandon Sanderson was the best thing to happen to the series, and I mean this with no disrespect to Robert Jordan himself (after all, he created this amazing world that so many have become lost in), but I can’t help but think that had Jordan carried on, the Wheel of Time would have ended up as twenty books, and probably wouldn’t have been finished even now. The Gathering Storm was the twelfth book in the series, and from the first pages it becomes apparent that the pace of the story has finally kicked into high gear, with developments coming thick and fast and a tangible sense of foreboding growing throughout the final three novels. It really feels as though the world is coming to an end, hope is sparse and death is ubiquitous. With each book, the Dark One and his minions inch closer and closer to their goal of annihilating the world of light, and by the time the last battle came around (which is largely the entirety of the final book, A Memory of Light), I was tearing through pages, desperate to find out how everyone fared. I even had re-read a few pages several times just so that I could take in what was happening to these people I had been reading about for fourteen books. With so many people dropping with each page, I began feeling quite shell-shocked by how sudden each loss was, and how the characters had no time to mourn in face of the disasters around them.

One might think that changing authors would derail and ruin a story, and anybody would have been forgiven for being wary of seeing what was about to become of their favourite characters. By and large, Sanderson did an excellent job of maintaining the essence of the characters we all know and love. In fact, out of the hundreds of characters he had to deal with, only Mat Cauthon felt a little off. And that isn’t to say that he was badly written – some of my favourite chapters of the final three books focused on Mat – he just felt slightly different, as though we were picking up the story in an alternate dimension where the only difference was Mat was a bit… funnier. Given all of the dimensions that Rand witnesses early on in the story, this is probably a fairly acceptable way to look at the last three books.

Thanks to the urgency and horror contained with the final novels, the slower books in the middle of series take on a new life. We are able to look back on a time where the world wasn’t on the brink of disaster, and the forces of good were still able to keep the situation in hand. Had the whole series run at the same pace, then the Last Battle wouldn’t have had the impact it now does.

The Wheel of Time is a huge commitment. Fourteen main books and a shorter prequel. Each book is somewhere between 600 and 1200 pages, and they more commonly lean toward the larger number. Reading the series took me eleven months, and as I closed the final book I was met with an emptiness that I have never felt from a story before. It is always sad to say goodbye to any great characters from a book, but I spent a lot of time with Rand Al’Thor and company. The story was wrapped up well, and in my mind the characters still live on in the their world, enjoying new adventures that we’ll never read about. Turning the final pages didn’t feel like reaching the ending of The Wheel of Time. There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of The Wheel of Time. But it was an ending.

Book Cover Art!

Two excellent artists, Kenny Creanor and Nick Dablin, have done me a solid and created some truly atmospheric artwork based on the locales of my novel, Havelock’s Path.

A Tall Order

Something ominous stalks the streets of Bleaken

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A dream-like rendition of the King’s Tower in the city of Bleaken, overlooking the Columns

The plan is to use these images as cover art for two of the books in the series. I have an idea in mind for the third book cover design, but… Well, I really ought to get the first one out before I start thinking about that!

Mór Reodh Pub Song – They Come

The men they come,
The men they come.
They shape our streets,
And they build our homes.
The men they come,
The men they come.
Cover all the land before they’re done.

And if you should live while they provide,
Then a prosperous life you’re sure to find.
With a wooden door to close at night,
And a solid wall to soothe your mind.

The Wee Men come,
The Wee Men come.
They flood our streets,
And they burn our homes.
The Wee Men come,
The Wee Men come.
Take you underground before they’re done.

And if they should come while you’re alive,
Then you’d better be sure that you can hide.
If they drag you off into the night,
Then they’ll take your soul before your life.

The Tall Men come,
The Tall Men come.
They take our folk,
And they eat our young.
The Tall Men come,
The Tall Men come.
Turn us all to stone before they’re done.

And if they should come while you’re alive,
Then you’d better be sure that you can hide.
For they’ll catch you out with their great strides,
And a long-lived life you’ll be denied.

The screams they come,
The screams they come.
They rend our ears,
And they burn our lungs.
The screams they come,
The screams they come.
And they’ll bleed us hoarse until they’re done.

And if they should come while you’re alive,
Then you’d better be sure that you can hide.
But don’t let yours out while they’re outside,
Or you’ll join your kin on the underside.

The Travellers come,
The Travellers come.
They clear our streets,
As they have their fun.
The Travellers come,
The Travellers come.
Silence all our lands before they’re done.

And if they should come while you’re alive,
Then you’ll thank the walls that you survived.
Now the Tall Men fall and Wee Men die,
And a stillness comes to our fair isle.

 

From Havelock’s Path: A Stone King Slumbers

Contemporary SaGa – The Legend of Legacy

I’ve been shirking my game-playing duties recently. This time last year I had six finished games under my belt, and none of them were short. I suppose I thought that the older I got, the more refined my interests would become and with that the more time I would have for them. Well, that is clearly not the case; between planning for the arrival of our baby, writing what is now a trilogy of books, photography, reading (and, of course, work), there has been little time to spare for playing games.

So, despite my backlog of games that seems to be forever growing in size, I thought I’d take a chance on The Legend of Legacy. The game is a continuation of the SaGa series of games in all but name. If you’ve never played (or even heard of) the SaGa games, then just know that they tend to be slightly more experimental takes on the tried and tested JRPG gameplay styles. When Final Fantasy was originally leading players down a relatively straight path to the end boss, The Final Fantasy Legend (or Makai Toushi Sa-Ga, as it was known in its native Japan) provided an almost open world and a certain degree of decision making on the player’s behalf when it came to developing characters. While Final Fantasy continued to enjoy the limelight for major JRPG release, the SaGa series became a more left-field series, with fewer releases and definitely a greater sense of a cult following. They’re all good experiences in their own way (in my experience), though I imagine most players will find Unlimited SaGa something of a tough nut to crack. In a pleasing turn of events, The Legend of Legacy manages to emulate the classic formula of the SaGa games, and only really presents any difficulties once it well and truly has you locked in.

Arrival

As if to prove just how big a presence this game would become in my gaming time, The Legend of Legacy arrived in a box roughly one foot by two (Creme Egg for scale). After going on my own mini-quest to retrieve the item that clearly wouldn’t fit through a letterbox, I began playing immediately. In the beginning, I had the impression that this might be one of those games that I buy, play five minutes of, then shut away in a cupboard until it becomes worth something (a fate that far too many of my games have met), and all because it looked and felt considerably like Bravely Default, and I’ve already played Bravely Default. But as soon as I found myself exploring the starting location of the Forest Ruins, trees and rocks and mysteries began popping up all around me as I navigated the top screen, all while my map was filled in on the lower: I already had the sense that this would be a game persevered with. My first few battles saw my characters learning a few new skills, improving existing ones, and having their own personal stances and stats improved with pleasing regularity.

You see, The Legend of Legacy is almost perfectly designed for portable play. Even if you only get to play for the duration of a short tea break, the way in which the world is presented means that you are almost always making progress. With so many different attack styles and magics on offer, focusing on one over a short period of time will undoubtedly see them improve. Your hit points are always on a steady rise. It is really quite difficult to play this game without making some sort of headway, and to cap it off you can quick save at any time out of battle or cutscenes.

Initium

The Legend of Legacy takes place on a mysterious island known as Avalon, and the character that you pick to begin your quest (from a selection of seven, though you’ll be playing with three of them no matter who you pick) is tasked with exploring the island and uncovering its secrets. You’ll begin with only one area to explore, but that soon expands as you push the boundaries of that location and find pathways to entirely new places that run the usual JRPG locations of forests, deserts, caves, and ancient villages. You can even buy maps to new locations, though expect these to set you back a bit financially. There are also plenty of unique locations that are better left hidden until you discover them yourself. Each area is formed of at least one map, but usually many more. As you explore deeper and deeper, you’ll see your maps creep their way to 100%. None of the individual maps are particularly huge, but the sheer number of them means that for at twenty hours you’ll be contented with a 100% here, and a 100% there. At any point, you can choose to sell your maps for a sum that depends on the level of completion you are offering. I’m not sure why anybody would choose to sell an incomplete map, but it is an option available to you. A word of warning comes when selling maps though! You can only sell a map once, and once done, you might find that the challenge in that area is reduced somewhat. This might seem preferable in the short-term, but if you need a place to beef up your characters late in the game, you’ll curse yourself for selling maps early.

With such a variety of locations available to you, you might wonder which map you should explore first. The Legend of Legacy encourages you to work this out for yourself, which is a refreshing change in games that funnel you along a path, and it also reinforces the sense of exploration as you come across new areas individually without any prompt the game to direct you there beyond the location icon on the world map. Sure enough, you’ll run into one or two areas that sees you kicked out with a sound beating in seconds, but this only made me more determined to see what those maps were hiding.

beginning

Well, if you want to uncover all of Avalon’s secrets, you’re going to have to fight, and fight a lot. The Legend of Legacy plays with JRPG tradition by providing you with a turn-based battle system with a few twists that make it a uniquely enjoyable system. You’ll have three characters in your party (and after playing other JRPGs that give you four or five characters to play with, this did feel restrictive), and unless you’re fighting an oft-beaten foe, you’ll soon discover that each character has to perform very specific functions. My party consisted of mercenary Owen, holy knight Garnet, and frog dude Filmia (and what fan of Chrono Trigger wouldn’t want a frog in their party?). Owen was the resident death-dealer throughout, wielding a huge Buster Sword of a weapon, and a more modest long sword. Garnet was the very definition of a Shield Maiden, blocking hundreds of incoming attacks, and eventually learning to deflect those attacks back at the enemy. Filmia became a Spellsword with a variety of magical attack and defence spells, and was also pretty handy with a spear. Although players are 100% free to mix up how they use their characters (you can equip different characters with different weapons and spell stones and take them in a direction you wish), I stuck to the aforementioned roles for my crew, and was rather pleased with how they looked when the end-game came along. Owen had come to learn not only hugely powerful attacks on one enemy, he was also pretty handy at taking on groups of seven or eight foes alone. Garnet rarely let an attack past her, and Filmia became invaluable for buffing and healing when magical attacks on my group became too much. However, so fixed were my characters in their positions, that if one happened to fall, the battles would tend to go south fast. As you are completely free to build your gang up, it would have been entirely possible for me to have each character learn all of the skills that were spread across my party. However, I didn’t particularly want to spend sixty or so hours to do this…

Level

Although battles tended to be more on the physical side during my playthrough, The Legend of Legacy houses an interesting magic system that relies on the player finding magical shards that offer up a skill (or skills), and utilising them in battle by calling over the requisite elemental to your side of the fight. There are four elementals to be aware of, and very predictably they are fire, water, air, and shadow. Your characters will learn spells in all but the shadow element, which is very useful as there are only three of you… Aside from the spell-providing Whispering Shards, there are three Singing Shards that allow a character to call their requisite elemental over in battle if equipped. If there are any general frustrations to be had in this game, they largely lie with the magic system. Each character has two item slots with which to equip various items and shards. If you want to go down the route of learning spells, then you must use both of those slots to equip a Singing and a Whispering Shard. Even after this, you still have your work cut out. Firstly, you’ll be best off finding a location where the enemies you face don’t prefer use of the elemental you are trying to learn spells from. There is little more annoying than setting your party to cast spells throughout a turn, only to have the bastards standing opposite you steal your elementals to their side, resulting in a crushing failure to cast a spell when it comes to your character’s turn. Things can be improved by learning various stances that will let your chosen character recklessly beat out a spell before the enemy can take their turn, but whatever setup you use, you will still need a sizeable dose of luck when it comes learning spells. Fortunately, once you have learned a spell (achieved through continued use of your Whispering Shard), the spell becomes a permanent part of your repertoire, and you are then free to unequip the Whispering Shard if you wish (in favour of an item or another shard). You will, however, still need to hold onto that Singing Shard if you wish to continue using your learned spells, as they’ll still require you to possess the element in battle if you wish to cast them.

Ravine

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that The Legend of Legacy was almost perfectly designed for portable play. If I’ve done things correctly, you’ll likely agree with this until perhaps the twenty-hour mark of your first playthrough. However, The Legend of Legacy did not take me twenty hours to complete. It took me thirty-seven.

At twenty hours, I had filled in all of the maps, located all of the available Whispering Shards, and killed all of the optional bosses. Fair enough, I sold my complete maps without knowing that it would remove higher level enemies from the maps, but the game never explains this to you anyway (I only discovered this from the Japanese wiki!). The last location in the game was open to me, and I eagerly ran along its pathways expecting the boss to a tough but fair battle. Not so. Within one turn I had been wiped out by a devastating area-of-effect attack. Well, this is turn-based game and the attacks are somewhat random. I’ll try again, I thought.

Third turn, same attack, party wiped out.

Okay, I thought, I’ll go and learn some more shield-based spells. Over the next couple of hours, I did just that and made my my way back to the boss again. Turn one, I had all my characters pull the elementals over to my side of the battlefield. Turn two, I had my characters all prepped to cast their shielding spells, and used my “Haste” setup that should have allowed them to go first. What did the boss do? The big attack, right before I could even cast a spell. The third game over. The whole setup felt very much like a boss battle at the beginning of an old anime series called Jungle Wa Itsumo Hale Nochi Guu (click the link and skip to 2:13 to see what I mean).

archwing

I’m all for tough battles in my JRPGs, but being wiped out repeatedly before I could even get a hit in seemed more than a little unfair. Still, I did my due diligence and scoured the land for foes that would see me level up enough to take this guy on. However, given that I had had no trouble throughout the game until this point, it felt especially bad as I no longer had any new areas to have fun in while I developed my team. Eventually, I went back and slaughtered the git – he barely even got a hit off on my – but as this is a JRPG, I was under no impressions that this guy was the real final boss. Without wanting to spoil the game too much, there was something after that treated me in much the same way as the previous guy had. More levelling.

All told, I spent nearly as much time grinding to fight the end boss as I did fighting to get to it in the first place. It was annoying, but not hateful. I’ve played so many JRPGs where this kind of thing happens that I pretty much accepted it as par for the course. If you’re not the type that relishes these difficulty spikes, then I would have to say that you would be better off looking elsewhere for your role-playing fun.

Personally, I don’t believe that this bump ruined the game. It added challenge that perhaps could have been better distributed throughout the game, but when I actually managed to defeat the final challenge of the game, the sense of satisfaction was incredible. For fans of post-game content, you’ll not find much in the way of new stuff here, but instead the game asks that you play the game again with a different character as your main. Subsequent playthroughs are bolstered by increased drop rates and better items, so you will see your playthroughs hitting completion in shorter and shorter times. There is a special surprise for those that finish the game with all seven characters, but that isn’t a challenge I think I can deal with right now. The story, often shared focus with battle systems in JRPGs, is much of an aside in The Legend of Legacy. Your chosen character will have a scene at the beginning and end of their run, and a few choice lines here and there at major battles, but completing the game with each character really does amount to completing the same game seven times, with perhaps a variation on battle setup.

The Legend of Legacy is a fun game, marred by an uneven challenge. For fans of the SaGa series, it is a nice return to the types of games you might have played back in day, but much as the SaGa series sat on the sidelines while the heavy hitters put out release after release on the SNES, PS1 and PS2, this contemporary saga feels like it may go the same way. After seeing it through once, the game holds a special place in my heart for being the first game finished in 2016, and for rekindling a love for the more old-school style of JRPG. But for many others, in a year when Bravely Second and Fire Emblem Fates are released, who wouldn’t go for the heavy hitters first?

clowns

Art is never finished, only abandoned…

First things: very pretentious to call my story “art”, but Da Vinci’s words ring true when it comes to writing for me (and anyone else, I imagine).

Might not have written anything here for a while, but the editing and writing has been continuing strong with A Stone King Slumbers and the as-yet-unnamed second book.

My first book has seen the word/page count shrink and grow with edits. I’ve never really tackled anything of this size before, and while I would think that editing would refine and reduce the general-word count, the increase of around 15,000 words has (I think) been for the better (a chapter cut and a new chapter added). A couple of characters have had their roles fleshed out a little more, and have greater roles in the upcoming story.

In the second book, I have written the prologue (which ended up approaching novella length, introduced two new characters of great importance, and nicely refreshed the reader of the events of the first book through the perspective of the two entirely new characters), and the first couple of chapters. I’ve been waiting to write a chapter from the chief antagonist’s point of view for such a long time, and I was pleased with the detachment this non-human character has from Wil.

I’m about to introduce a titanic creature named the Gargunnoch, which will push Wil into the most difficult leg of his journey, while forcing his father and friends into a situation that will bring them to the edge of ruin.

 

I’ve got a Fallout 4 review to post some time soon. A bit late considering the release of the game was November, but I’ve been so busy writing and playing that time has been short. Well, writing and playing when I’ve not been building nursery furniture for my first child, arriving in April!