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The Keeper

by natasha 

Posted: 07 October 2003
Word Count: 1602
Summary: This children's fantasy is the first part of a trilogy aimed at children 12+. It's quite long (120,000 words) and this is the first chapter. I'm about to send it out to agents so any comments and feedback are welcome.

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The brawny boy’s boot found the edge of the bucket, spilling its contents in a messy clutter. She had tried to move it out of the way as the roguish group of cackling boys approached menacingly, but she wasn’t swift enough.
Velma swallowed her rage and pressed her lips tight as the boys bolted off, laughing wickedly.
If only she could use her power, she would have done them a turn. But she thought it wiser not to let emotion interfere with her business. The fact that the boys had so easily thought her as no more than a cleaning lady mopping the floor, was actually encouraging, it fit right in with her plans.
Her strong body and lean, well-defined muscles were convincingly concealed under the colorless rags she had layered over her real clothes. Her mane of blonde hair was hidden under the soiled head wrap which conveniently covered the better part of her face. But she still had to walk in a stoop for fear of disclosing too much of her youthful features and beaming blue eyes, something that was frankly giving her a bad back.
In the guise of a cleaning lady, Velma was easily able to move about inside the hotel, seeking out the boy. She had been at it for nearly two hours and she was growing weary and impatient. But more importantly, she was starting to get a very bad feeling in the pit of her stomach, an unmisteakable sign which had not failed her once in her hundred and thirty four years of life, a dark foreboding of something amiss that sent chills up and down her tired spine. She could almost smell the vile presence of something ghastly which only reminded her that she had to quickly finish what she had come here for and get out as soon as she could.
She sighed in exasperation as she encountered yet another row of rooms. None of them was the right one. Things would be much easier if she could use her power to find the boy’s room. But using her power in this world would be like a beacon. She would draw the other side to her as a moth is drawn to a flame. They would instantly know where she was, but more importantly, they would know where to find the unsuspecting boy upon whom so much depended. So instead she tried to prod at each room with the tips of her instinct, using her naturally developed sense of intuition.
Abruptly, Velma stopped dead in her tracks. This was it. The room in front of her was the one she was looking for.
Tentatively, she nudged the door open. She could sense that the boy wasn’t here right now. She sailed through the doorway, glancing around apprehensively and let the door slide closed in its frame. As she had expected, there were two beds, one on each side of the room, but there was no question as to which was the boy’s- the pictures on the wall above were a clear mark of the interests of that age- so she headed directly for it. She only needed a second and she would take no more. She was running out of time and the dark foreboding was closing in agonizingly fast. Her temples were throbbing with the anguish of it and her concentration on the task was waning.
In her confusion, she knocked over a stool and toppled to the parquet floor along with it, scolding herself for being so foolishly clumsy. Taking a moment to compose herself, she dabbed at her face with her sleeve and shot determinedly to her feet. With calculated grace and swiftness, she chucked the medallion and the note on the boy’s pillow and wrenching the door open, she bolted out of the room. She could stay no longer. Her chest constricted painfully as she felt a pang of impending danger. Her eyes watered with the intensity of it. Right then she knew without doubt. They were here.
But this is impossible, her mind reeled frenziedly. The location of the boy was probably the very best kept secret in existence and only two people besides herself knew about it.The only way the other side could know....... Velma shut her eyes in sickened disbelief. Treason!, the thought slammed uninvited into her head. Corrupt, despicable treason!
All her thoughts shut down in panic and the numbness of realisation descended upon her mind. She lunged away from the room and into the adjoining dimly-lit corridor. She raced across the carpeted floor only to get as far from the room as possible. She didn’t care about herself. She knew she was probably done for. She should at least try and lead them away from the boy.
Sprinting through an empty hall, she darted into a door on the other side, swerving right to head for the staircase. The head wrap flew off her head and her fount of shiny hair gushed out in a golden flow but she had no time to stop and pick it up. When it was a question of life and death, things like appearances didn’t matter anymore. Reaching the edge of the stairs, she glanced around to see if she was being pursued but the narrow gallery behind her was empty. For the fraction of an instant she felt a glimmer of relief, but almost instantly a violent jolt of terror shook her to her very core and she shot forward with renewed verve.
She flew down steps, falling more than running. Steps, railing, pictures on the walls- everything flashed by her in a smear of light and dark. At the end of the staircase Velma glanced up just as a cloak of darkness lifted and a pool of amber light silhouetted him.
Fear gripped her wayworn heart and she stumbled backwards.
Though the cloaked figure stood directly in front of her, she could not see his face in the gloom. Backlit by a wall-light, standing tall and motionless, the figure made a queer, low growl, almost like a cold sneer. Its slitted eyes, fixed on her, shone in the darkness, like those of an animal revealed in headlight beams. She could have known those cold, yellow eyes anywhere.
Velma backtracked until her back collided with the wall behind her. Even attempting to use her power now was useless- she was sure he had already binded it and trying to access it would cause her great harm.
“Have you found what you came looking for?” he leered, his voice sounding warningly final, as he lunged for her with deadly intent.
Velma sidestepped, avoiding the trap of his arms, hoping that he was using his whole power to keep her power binded, that he couldn’t use it to do other things.
His frustration at her narrow escape proved that it was so. At least now, they were going to fight on equal terms, without the aid of the One Source.
She swung around before he had time to catch his breath, delivering a heavy blow to the side of his head. He staggered back a little but then came at her with renewed force. Even though he was much bigger and heavier than her, her training had taught her that she could defeat an opponent 10 times stronger, using methodically calculated moves and moving with the cold grace of a mind that was allowed to rest in the void of stillness. She held on to that stillness, knowing that any slight surrender to emotion would mean her instant death. Still, it was hard to remain in that state of mind when she had to worry about the boy. She knew her opponent well, and now that he was here he would not leave before he had him.
Velma tried to curve to get the dark figure from the side, but he surged at her, taking a swing with his fist that hit her square on the bridge of the nose. Her vision prickled with dark dots and she staggered unsteadily which gave him the chance to sweep her up and heave her with impossible strength through the air. Her back found forcefully the rough stone wall and a protuberance sliced through her shoulder, sending warm blood soaking down her sleeve. Her vision grew blurry and her head swam but she shook it off and sprang with firm resolution to her feet, fury erupting through her.
The cloaked figure suddenly stepped back and raised his hands to seek the One Source. Velma’s heart throbbed with fear. Her mind raced in an agony of uncontrolled emotions. Even as she realised that it was a bluff, Velma saw the figure pounce with deadly speed at her. She had no chance, not the slightest twinkle.
In what seemed like the tenth of a heartbeat, in the calm spark of an instant, the cloaked nightmare seized her by the throat, raising her resolutely from the ground.
Velma stared into his eyes proudly. Now she knew there was no salvation for her, her fear had abandoned her. She was going to protect the information she carried with her life. It was well worth it. She pressed her lips together and spat defiantly in his face.
She couldn’t breathe, but she never flinched an inch. She kept staring back at him with the unwavering gaze of the warrior that she was.
The cords in his arm strained. Velma’s eyes widened as his grip tightened. She struggled to get air, but everything around her was getting darker.
Her last thought was a blessing for the boy.

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Comments by other Members

bluesky3d at 18:26 on 07 October 2003  Report this post
Natasha - this is fun... yes i think it works well so far, least it did for me.

Some things that I noted...

unmisteakable is unmistakable

you say -
'She could have known those cold, yellow eyes anywhere.'
but after this you choose to continue to describe him as the 'cloaked figure' etc which although makes him sound mysterious, if she knew his name in her mind - then, perhaps the reader should be let in on his name if not his full identity a little earlier - if indeed he is already known to Velma... if his name isn't known, then I guess that's ok.

'frienziedly' is a difficult word doesnt feel quite right.

Would she spit in his face? this sounds a bit crass and a touch unsubtle, unless she were a metamorphosed snake or something? Maybe she is, in which case that's ok.

Also you might look at repeated words in close proximity.

But is an interesting start - hope you load up more soon - great stuff.

Andrew :o)

natasha at 10:22 on 08 October 2003  Report this post
thanks for taking the time to comment.

The cloaked figure isn't given a name deliberately. It's going to reappear throughout the book but only in the second half will we find out its identity. Velma knows who the figure is but the reader needs to remain in the dark for now.

"Would she spit in his face??" I realise that it might sound a bit crass but think of this: If you were fighting for a noble cause, and the enemy was an evil, relentless creature who had no morals and would stop at nothing, and if that enemy had you by the throat and was about to kill you to achieve its despicable aims, and there was nothing you could do about it, wouldn't you spit in his face? Well, maybe you wouldn't, but spitting in someone's face is regarded as an act of utter contempt and Velma, in the last seconds of her life, has no other means to show her total contempt for the evil being that is going to take her life.

"Frenziedly": yes, i do get a little carried away with words. 0)

Anyway, thanks. I will load up some more soon. Hope to hear from you.



Terry Edge at 10:41 on 08 October 2003  Report this post

This is a good, powerful start. We’re straight into the action and there’s plenty of intrigue to keep us guessing. We see that Velma is on a mission, possibly in enemy territory and running out of time. Great stuff!

One problem I had from the beginning, however, and throughout, was picturing the surroundings. Your use of the word ‘hotel’ early on was confusing. Other indications you give are that this is a pre-industrial world, common in fantasies. If that’s the case, it would be better to use the word ‘inn’. Even so, I think you need a little more physical description of the building. Whether or not it’s an inn or hotel, there are some images that appear to contradict this: the boys kicking over her bucket – this is more what you’d expect in, say, a royal household where class differences show. Later, you describe pictures on the wall of the boy’s room: again, this would be unlikely in a fantasy world inn.

(Actually, having just read through it again, I can see now that there are quite a few modern references, e.g. ‘carpeted floor’ and ‘parquet floor’. So this may be me not reading properly, or, if others find they’re confused too, perhaps you need to put in a direct marker or two at the beginning to tell us whether or not we’re in the modern world.)

At the end of the piece, Velma appears to have died. If this is so, then I think it’s a mistake to start the book with her. We will inevitably care about the first character we meet. A way round this might be to not refer to her personally – call her something like ‘the agent’ and make us realise that she is serving only to get us into the main storyline.

The fight is very good, tense and fatal.

I’m not sure about her ‘power’ or ‘the One Source’ at present. Assuming you have worked out the system behind these, I think you need to be a little more specific for us, even this early in the story. Why can’t she use the power – what is its nature and what will happen if she does use it in the hotel? Also, I think ‘One Source’ was used by Robert Jordan in his Wheel of Time books (or it might have been Stephen Donaldson in the Thomas Covenant books) – so it might be an idea to try for a more original name.

The main point I want to make is about style. The style of your writing here is very much adult fantasy, and I think you may have trouble trying to sell it as children’s fantasy. Adult fantasy allows for more words, basically, and quite a bit of exposition (which you have here), but children’s fantasy tends to follow writing rules more tightly, e.g. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books.

It’s only my view, but I think that if you go for children’s fantasy – which means submitting this to a UK children’s publisher or agent – you will need to do quite a bit of cutting. For a start, the story would race along much quicker and with more excitement if you cut most of your descriptions around the action. For example, this sentence could be cut completely:
‘All her thoughts shut down in panic and the numbness of realisation descended upon her mind.’
Her actions already tell us how she’s feeling – to spell it out for us is to slow down the pace and irritate. Again, this is more or less acceptable in adult fantasy. Another example: ‘“Have you found what you came looking for?” he leered, his voice sounding warningly final, as he lunged for her with deadly intent’ would sound more powerful as ‘Have you found what you came looking for?’ he said, then lunged at her. ‘Warningly final’ doesn’t really mean anything; ‘he leered’ adds a touch of pantomime and ‘deadly intent’ is self-evident.

Similarly, ‘The only way the other side could know....... Velma shut her eyes in sickened disbelief. Treason!, the thought slammed uninvited into her head. Corrupt, despicable treason!’ You really don’t need much more than ‘treason!’ after the first part of this sentence.

There are some odd words, too. I’m not sure what ‘the cords in his arms’ are.

To sum up, this is an exciting and action-packed start to a story. We definitely want to know what’s going to happen next. Personally, I believe your main decision has to be whether this is children’s or adult fantasy. At present, it uses the tone and wordage of the latter.

I look forward to reading some more.

All the best,


natasha at 10:48 on 08 October 2003  Report this post

In fact, the hotel is a modern day hotel (or resort, if you like, because it's pretty isolated as i'm going to explain in the second or third chapter). But although the time is now and the place is in our world (later this will change), Velma is not a creature of this world so that's what might have confused you.

But i actually do see why you had difficulty getting a sense of the surroundings, i might have to put some markers as you say to give a clearer indication that we are in the modern world.

As for whether or not i should start the book with Velma dying, i'll have to disagree, because if we will inevitably care about the first character we meet, we will also develop strong feelings of dislike about the person who has killed that character (the cloaked figure who will be an important part of the book). The first chapter serves to show how relentless the enemy is and plant unertainty into the reader's mind: if the first character we've met and liked dies, then no one is safe...

Admittedly, you are right about the "One Source". I'm a fan of the Wheel of Time books and i might have got a little carried away. I was eventually meaning to change that.

As for the style, that was my main concern, too. I do recognise that wordage is not your average children's book stuff (it more resembles adult fantasy), but i was kind of hoping that i could get away with it if i found an agent or publisher who liked the plot enough and thought that the book could sell to older children (12+) who wanted a more challenging read.

I feel very strongly against pruning and cutting stuff out of my work. Taking out some unnecessary things is okay, unless it interferes with your writing style. In my case, i think that it will take out the "essence" of my book. But you might be right in saying that it will be difficult to sell it to a children's publisher.

I'm actually thinking of trying my hand at adult fiction because writing style comes natural to me and trying to prune it down takes out some of the pleasure i get out of writing. At least there, you can let some things fly instead of always trying to "tune down" your words.

"Cords in his arms" are his tendons- "cords of tissue attaching the muscle to the bone".

Anyway, i'm going to upload some more and if you have time, do let me know what you think.

Thanks again,


Terry Edge at 11:25 on 08 October 2003  Report this post

I do think you'd be better off taking the adult fantasy route. However, I'm not sure you should see that as a way of avoiding pruning. I do feel that Robert Jordan is in many ways an example of how bad writing can sell. His books have become progressively full of padding, too much exposition and over-explaining. I gave up around book 9 or so, and was very angry that I'd wasted so much reading time on the previous 3 or 4. If I recall, book 9 opens with a 150-page passage that does nothing more than describe a group of women passing through a portal. Every expression on every face is not only described, the reason for it is also explained in great detail.

Natasha, it doesn't really wash to say you are resistant to cutting because it will interfere with your writing style. All of us tend to over-write when we start, and part of the process of improving as a writer is being able to cut and edit until we are delivering the maximum meaning with the minimum words. I know fantasty writers tend to ignore this rule; however, the very best of them don't. And surely the point is to be able to write well first, then if necessary you can choose to over-write second.

I still don't agree with you about Velma. More importantly, I don't think an agent will either. If you want to kill her off so soon, I really think you should flag up somehow that she is not going to be the main character in the book. You could do it by having the first part called Prologue, or something. And/or, why not re-write the scene so the POV is the bad guy's? I'm sure you've read plenty of fantasy books, so you must have noticed that the majority start with the main character. Even Rober Jordan did this, if I recall, in the first Wheel of Time book. It looks as if he's heavily broken this rule with the latest book, but then just look on Amazon at the very many negative reviews about this approach.

All the best,


natasha at 12:14 on 08 October 2003  Report this post
i have nothing against pruning, but i do feel that it should be kept in control. Modifying your whole book for the sake of making it "more accessible" or over-editing with the result that your book is barely recognisable anymore is what bothers me at the end of the day.

Too much padding and over-explaining is surely something that irritates me as a reader. But i think that a work stripped down to the bare essentials is also tasteless and unstimulating (that's the main reason i didn't particularly care for Artemis Fowl and couldn't get through the first book). But both kinds of writing seem to sell so perhaps it all comes down to taste? (or maybe the right advertising campaign?)

Also, although the last couple of the Robert Jordan books are admittedly not his best work in terms of plot (he seemed to have ran out of ideas and the main character started to really get on my nerves), i personally wouldn't go so far as to call them "bad writing" just because he tends to over-explain. I would just call them "bad books". Just out of curiosity, who would you call a good fantasy writer?

I do agree that perhaps it would be better to call the first part "Prologue". Yes, i'm sure that you have a point there (in fact i'm going to change it right now). But i still believe that it's not inappropriate to start with that.

It's surely a pleasure to hear from you and i do value your opinions.



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