As you’ve seen from the last five posts, I know a lot about Valdegurd. One reason is…because I’ve actually been there. In Valdegurd I’m known as the Author, which is why the Valdegurdians refer to me as such (notably Eryon in the last post). The story of my first foray into Valdegurd is journaled below.
Matthew (The Author)
I blinked at the cursor. The cursor blinked back from a sea of white. Blank white.
I sighed and rested my face on one hand. My creativity had burned out. Worse, my desire to create hadn’t. I was stuck in the middle of wanting to write and not feeling like writing.
I hit the Tab key with my left pinkie. The cursor jumped three-quarters of a centimetre and kept blinking.
“Oh, forget it.” I hit two keyboard shortcuts in quick succession, save and quit. The blank manuscript vanished. Green rice paddies, chopped into sections by silver roads and bronze pathways, replaced the white pages and the blinking cursor.
I stared at the keyboard, the flat white keys over which my fingers usually danced like a pianist’s. Mum played the piano two rooms away, her notes of worship ringing through the house. Her ability to play, seemingly without effort, grated on me.
The problem wasn’t in my characters. The problem wasn’t in writer’s block. The problem wasn’t for love of the story. The problem was the author.
Simply put, I was the problem.
My gaze drifted from the letters in the typical QWERTY layout—a façade for the real keyboard layout I used—to the number pad. I didn’t use the number pad much. The roughness of the keys testified to that, as did the smudges that seemed to grow on every unused key.
I sighed, returned my gaze to the screen, and double-clicked on the Legends of Valdegurd folder to open it. The manuscript icon of The Teller’s Apprentice glared at me, a baleful eye in the midst of text documents where I stored my worldbuilding and planning for the series.
I moved my mouse to the icon. Clicked once to select the document. My finger hovered over the left mouse button, ready to open the manuscript and try again…maybe?
In the background, Mum finished a song on the second, paused for a few seconds as she flipped pages in the tattered tome of worship songs, and started my favourite song of all time, In Christ Alone.
With another sigh, I closed my eyes and dropped my head. It just wasn’t working. I didn’t feel like writing. Mum might be in the mood for playing the piano, but I wasn’t in the mood to write.
I moved my hand from the mouse to the number pad, felt the rough letters, the bump indicating the 5 in the middle. I stroked the length of the tall Enter key and tapped it, imagining the cursor of my unopened manuscript dropping a line.
The soaring notes of In Christ Alone dropped away, replaced by an unnatural silence.
I opened my eyes and glanced in Mum’s direction. Grazing tunkins not too far away raised their heads to stare at me. My house had vanished with all its familiarity.
I shot to my feet, my heart skipping a beat. I’d felt this sort of shock before—what, once in my life? “Wait, what?”
My chair had become a stone covered in soft delkings, the plants resembling shelf fungi I’d introduced into Valdegurd early on. My desk, a larger delking which would resemble a table except for the spray of smaller red delkings spreading their wings where my computer had once been.
I turned in a circle as a strong wind buffeted my woolly mane in strong need of a haircut. A whiter sun hovered over a range of iron-grey mountains in the west, hotter than it should be in the early evening.
“I’m in Valdegurd,” I said aloud. “I’m in a figment of my own imagination.”
The nearby tunkins snorted and tossed their heads as if disagreeing with my assessment. More likely they were taking offence to my words.
I shook my head, squeezed my eyes closed, and opened them again. The panorama didn’t change, except that the tunkins had lowered their heads again. All except for the watchman, of course, the lookout appointed by the herd to keep watch for a certain time. I knew about tunkins and their habits.
I’d created tunkins.
I wove my fingers into the hair at my temples, made fists, and pulled. “I’m in Valdegurd. I’m really in Valdegurd.”
The tunkins snorted again. I glanced at them, noted their greyish skin that hung in folds like a rhino’s. What had I written about tunkins? I knew there were multiple types, and I remembered making the Rhyo variety different from the Plains and Midlander tunkins, but were there physical differences between the other two?
I shot a look over my shoulder. My computer had gone, indeed. But my keyboard still sat there, white as ever, the cord ending in a loose plug.
I glared at it. A keyboard couldn’t store information, couldn’t help me pull up a worldbuilding document to reference a species I’d created. And I was no eidetic memoriser. The Teller was, and the Teller was in Valdegurd, but I didn’t have that power.
I sank to the rock that my seat had transformed into as the full import of being in Valdegurd began to sink in. I’d established a severe crisis to write Liel’s story. Would the effects of Rhyn reach even me, the author? What paradox would result if the Author died in Valdegurd? The two Shards I’d created had reset Time until the paradox was resolved.
I swallowed. If the Author died in Valdegurd, would the world die as well? Would I die on Earth too?
The tunkin watchman bayed, a loud groan-like sound that rattled my eardrums. Keeping an eye on the pack, I picked up the keyboard—useless or not, it was my only link back to home—and edged around the desk to the opposite side, where I sank to the ground out of sight of the tunkins.
Now that I’d begun to adjust to the shock of being in Valdegurd, my practical side kicked in. I scanned the eastern horizon from my seat on the ground. Far to the southeast, a forest of dark mountains stabbed upwards. Spike Isle. At least I knew where I was.
I envisioned the map of Duerin in my head. With Spike Isle to the southeast and the Forge Mountains behind me, I would be in the Plains of Creation—
I scrambled to my feet and turned a full circle, scanning the grasses made gold with the heat of summer. Waves of wind rippled across the plains, but aside from the tunkins again grazing, no unnatural movement moved the grasses.
Did skall move the grass?
I scratched an itch behind my ear and growled. I hadn’t established much of the necessary information about the skall. I knew they were the monsters of the Plains—they’d been the monsters of the Plains since the early pages of my OYAN workbook—and I had a basic mental picture of them and a bit of information about their habits. But that didn’t tell me if they moved the grass when they hunted.
“Okay,” I said, my voice loud in the tranquility, and laughed nervously under my breath. “This is kinda…scary.”
Weren’t skall nocturnal? But I’d imagined them following Liel and the Teller in the daytime too. Maybe just the evening, though.
Wait a minute.
I spun on my heel toward the sun. The tips of the Forge Mountains barely reached the white orb.
I swallowed. The skall would be hunting.
“North,” I said, clutching my fragment of a hope that the skall wouldn’t be hunting here, not yet. “North. The Duor. I have to get over the Duor.”
Reflexively, my thumbs and first fingers formed the L shapes I used to tell left from right. I didn’t need to look at them any more—the mere action told me. On a map, west was left, east was right. W, then E. We. My grandmother had taught us how to remember west and east with her name and my grandfather’s name. Wayne and Edna.
I pointed north with all five fingers like a signpost. A blanket of purple discoloured the Black Shard Mountains in the distance. I had always explained the purple colour of distant mountains as coming from the packed blue of the air that also coloured the sky. Perhaps it wasn’t scientific, but it made sense to me.
My keyboard under one arm, I set off through the grass that reached above my knees. Strange. Hadn’t I established it as longer in my notes? Perhaps this wasn’t the time period in which The Teller’s Apprentice was set.
I stopped in mid-stride and stared at the Black Shard Mountains. It was after the Scattering, at least. Probably in the Age of Tellers, too, and definitely not after the Age of Wandering. There would be planetary rings if it were after the Age of Wandering.
Who would I meet? I ran my hand through my hair and set off again with the skall still in the back of my mind. How old would Liel be? Fifteen, as he was in The Teller’s Apprentice? Younger? Older?
How had I even gotten here?
A long, low groan startled me. I spun toward the tunkins as heads raised around the herd. Would they charge? I didn’t stand a chance against a charge.
But for some reason, they weren’t looking toward me.
My skin prickled. I’d read enough books to know that when a group of animals displayed a tendency toward fear, danger was on its way.
Then I saw it. The flurry in the grass, a swift snakelike trail of movement through the golden blanket.
Baying broke out among the herd. The tunkins scattered in all directions, some bounding my way with a surprising amount of agility for their heavyset forms. I turned and ran, drawing every fragment of strength and breath I could muster for the sprint.
My feet pounded the ground as I settled into a rhythm. It wouldn’t last long—I was a sprinter, not a long-distance runner. With that in mind, I slowed my pace and chanced a look over my shoulder.
Blazing white eyes erupted from the grass, a flash of bruised skin, claws and fangs and spikes like malformed bones. The skall hit me with a strength beyond human ability, sent me cartwheeling through the air. I had a brief glimpse of the world turning upside down before the ground collided with me.
Precious seconds ticked away as I fought to breathe. A humanoid form loomed among me. The skall’s skullish face twisted in a brutal expression, a ghastly visage with burning eyes in dark sockets. Had I created these—these monsters? What was I thinking?
The skall opened its mouth, baring long, thin fangs like rows of needles. I’d taken those directly from a picture on the cover of a book and implanted them into the skall. Strange how I remembered these things. Liel wouldn’t have imagined his spirit strand was being woven by an Author. At least, not an Author beyond Maker.
The skall’s mouth worked. A reedy whistle emerged. The muscles in its chest and arms bobbed beneath its perpetually bruised skin.
I stared at it, noting the vestigial clothing, the similarities to both human and beast, the twisting mouth of needles. I was helpless before it, yet the skall—for all its bestiality—had chosen not to attack, not to move in for the kill. Here in Valdegurd, I was no longer the Author—I couldn’t save myself through a plot twist.
Then again, I had an Author too.
The skall hissed, then opened its mouth wide in a breathy whisper. “Saaaay…” It touched its upper lip with the fangs of its lower jaw and buzzed a drawn-out sound. “Vvvv…”
A hard edge pushed into my back. My keyboard! I worked one hand under my side and found the keyboard. Slowly, to avoid alerting the skall, I drew it out. A pitiful weapon, but I’d created most of Valdegurd on this keyboard.
The skall closed its lips and hummed, then bent its lips in a gruesome smile. “Mmeee…”
My fingers slipped, brushing against several keys in sequence. The skall screamed, a high-pitched shriek of rage, as invisible fingers wrapped around its body and dragged it away.
I scrambled to my feet, shaken, my mind reeling. My keyboard had power.
In Valdegurd, my keyboard had power.
The skall shook off its unseen bonds and snarled. Whatever mercy it had shown before was no longer evident.
I tapped the Delete key.
A crushing feeling wrapped around my chest and dragged me downwards to the same position I’d been in. The skall snarled again, then screamed, and reappeared above me.
That didn’t work! I scanned the keyboard for another appropriate command that would get me out of here. Command? Control? Option?
I needed options. I pressed the Option key.
The unseen force dragged my fingers onto two different keys. The skall lunged, claws grasping. I squeezed my eyes closed and hit both keys at the same time.
The ending chords of In Christ Alone filled the room. I breathed a long sigh of relief and opened my eyes to find the reality of my desk and computer once again.
Someone charged through the door to the work room. I whirled around before realising it wouldn’t be the skall.
My youngest sister crossed the room with hands on her hips, trying to look angry but being very cute in the process. She took my elbow. “Mum wants you to put me to bed. I was looking for you.”
I smiled to myself. “I wasn’t here. I was…in another world.”
I glanced at the Legends of Valdegurd folder as I put the computer on Sleep. My smile widened into a grin. The journey to Valdegurd had changed one thing here on earth.
Simply put, I wasn’t the problem any more.