More Than Skin Deep- a short story written by me.

I posted this short story over on Movellas for a short story competition and now that the winner has been announced and it’s all over, I thought I’d post it on my blog for the rest of you to have a look and criticise it a bit. Try not to be too harsh, lol. 
This story occurs before my novel in progress, The Guardian Legacy, but it is not a direct prequel because it is from the perspective of a minor character. 
Here you go- Enjoy! 
Fear gripped his heart as Erin bolted upright, finally awake. The scream came out involuntarily, and it was a moment before he realised that it was coming from him. The sorrow of a bereaved father with ink black tears had done much to unnerve him. The dark, shadowy eyes had been a maelstrom of emotions; rage giving into hatred, laced with the bitterness of heartbreak. But it was a dream, and surely nothing more. Yet there was that unmistakeable sense of kinship, as if he had known the man. He had spoken indiscernible words, and roared silent screams: A dream with no sound.
            It was not long before someone knocked on the door and entered to help him. He expected a servant, but instead it was his dearest friend, Stefan. The rays of moonlight that dared enter through the drapes illuminated his stark white hair. His blue eyes twinkled with concern, and he ran to Erin’s bed and held him.
            “Ssh… What is the matter?” he asked.
            Erin was at a loss for words. He shook in Stefan’s embrace, a cold sweat passing through him. He attempted to speak but his words were nonsensical, his breaths sharp and shallow.
            “Okay, you are going to need to breathe. Come on. In. Out.” Stefan aided him in breathing exercises that had him feeling like a silly child afraid of the bogeyman. He could faintly hear the chugging of the train, and he had to remind himself that he was on his way to Stefan’s palace.
            When Erin was calmer he finally spoke. “I had a nightmare.”
            “That much I gathered. This is the second time tonight, Erin. Are you sure you are not being plagued by a Mara?”
            “How did you know it was the second time? I told David—”
            “To keep a secret from his prince?” Stefan asked. “Not a particularly well thought out plan.”
            Erin shrugged his shoulders, embarrassed but hoping to pass for uncaring. “I didn’t want you to worry.”
            “You’re my brother. Of course I’m going to worry, and rightly so.”
            Erin still liked that word. Brother. Not bound by blood, but rather by oath, the two were inseparable. Well, they had been as children. Now, as they were growing into their trades— Stefan, the prince and future king, and Erin, still seeking his trade— things had changed dramatically.
            “Good to know that the Prickly Prince still has emotions,” Erin said.
            “Prickly Prince? I suppose that is better than what the mortals call me.”         The number of mortal slaves in the kingdom of Terrahgonia was starting to exceed the number of Terrahgonians, and needless to say, they were not the prince’s biggest fans. “I would still feel better if you would see someone about this. Perhaps you should see a therapist, or some sort of healer if it is a Mara possession. I don’t think that Aten symbol you have outside your room is a particularly good ward against faeries.” It was no secret that Stefan had a disdain for religion in general.
            “Can I borrow your Dream Catcher?” Erin asked.
            “Of course. Try and get some sleep. I’ll be back in a moment.”
            When Stefan returned, he turned on the light switch and set up the Dream Catcher. He touched the centre with his index finger and black mist encased the dream catcher, and then evaporated.
            “Okay, it’s activated.”
            “You know, your shadow magic will disrupt with the symbol of Aten outside my door,” Erin stated.
            “Do you want the Dream Catcher or not?”
            Erin bit his lip nervously. “Yes. I’ll take down the symbol myself.” Having an argument over their religious differences this late would not do. “Thanks.”
            Erin reached his hand towards Stefan’s, but the prince flinched away before he could reach it.  
            “What’s wrong?”
            “When I held you earlier, I sensed something strange,” Stefan admitted. He let the words hang in the air for a moment until Erin became impatient.
            “Yes, and what was this strangeness?”
            “I’m not sure what it was. I felt an intrusive presence. It was all I could do not to knock you unconscious.” The fact that he could have threatened Stefan was a shock to Erin. Stefan had power most Terrahgonians could dream of. How could Erin have come close to overstepping his magical defences?
                        “That is very strange,” Erin finally agreed.
            “Don’t worry about it. I need to go do some meditation.” Stefan stood up and switched the light off. In the pale moonlight, he was but a darkened figure. A true Guardian of Darkness. “Sweet dreams.”

Erin’s journey had been long, but luxurious. He had been given an entire coach to himself on the train, and although he and Stefan been a little late, it would never have left without them. As ward of the queen, Erin had known extravagance most of his life, and the day they arrived at the Stefan’s palace, he was unsurprised to see a woman in his bed, waiting to give him his heart’s desire. He supposed this was Stefan’s way of helping him forget his nightmares. He would have sweet dreams tonight.
            Erin could barely conceal his devilish smile. Stefan, you dog. His friend had done well this time. Her voluptuous figure was well exhibited in her intricately designed black lace dress. Her tanned skin and raven black hair was a stark contrast to his own pale skin and red hair. They were Yin and Yang.
            He didn’t say a word as he unbuttoned his shirt. He merely gazed into her dark eyes. Dark eyes and black tears. He shook his head. It had been a dream, nothing more. He did not wish to remember it but forgetting was not an easy task. The same nightmare had plagued him, on and off, for the past month— a nightmare of a man sobbing black tears. There had been other dreams too, but those had made more sense. They appeared to be memories of his early childhood. How it was that he could dream of such things remained unknown.
            “Here. Let me.”
            Erin was jarred out of his musings and wondering, as he realised that the woman was now in front of him, pulling on his shirt. He did nothing to resist her, wanting her sun kissed skin to be touching his. His lips met hers and a tremor rippled through his skin as images of a young girl in chains appeared in his mind’s eye, causing him to reel back. Then he saw that same girl looking healthier and a little older, doing target practice with throwing knives. She hit the targets every time: between eyes, the throat, the heart, and stomach. Mila Sharma was a trained assassin. And she was there to kill him.
            In that short kiss, Erin already knew a fair deal about his would-be-killer, but would it be enough to save him? He tried not to tremble at the revelation.
            “Now how is it that my brother was able to acquire such a ravishing beauty?” he asked. He reached out a hand to touch her hair, avoiding skin contact. She didn’t seem to notice.
            “Brother is it? He told me that but I did not understand the endearment.”
            “It is not a mere endearment,” he said. “It is truth.”
            “My humblest apologies. I did not mean to offend.” She lowered her head in suppliance.
            “You need not worry.” Erin lifted her chin and forced himself not to flinch as more memories came flooding. They were memories of vigorous training regimes. Mila had a huge arsenal of skills at her disposal and if the dagger beneath her dress was taken, she was fully capable of killing him with her bare hands.
            “Who said I was worrying?” she asked with a smile. “Come.” She pulled at his arm and he could not help but be drawn to her. There was also the necessity of getting a hold of that dagger before she did.  
            They landed roughly on the bed, with her on top. He cursed himself for allowing her the upper hand. Beautiful and deadly, he thought. What a brilliant combination. Perhaps another kiss… Erin gave into his dark cravings, meanwhile searching beneath her dress, on her right leg with his adventurous hand.
            “You seem rather… ravenous,” she mused.
            “Quite.”
            Her hand tightened on his wrist and he knew the dagger was close.
            “Perhaps something a little bit higher would be more to your liking.” She placed his other hand to her breast, yet still over her dress. His hand yearned to touch flesh but the repercussions of what disturbing knowledge he might gain from further contact made him hesitate. The one thing that spurred him onwards was the need for that dagger.
            How do I reply to such a question? he wondered. Her voice was so soft, so sultry that he might do anything that she asks. Almost as if it is coated in something more sinister. Her voice was charmed. He knew that now. If he remained weak-minded, he would do anything that she asked. Perhaps she will have me slit my own throat. Erin complied and cupped both hands over her breasts.
            No. I must not be weak. I must be strong and fierce. Like Stefan. Sometimes when he found himself in a tough situation, he would ask himself what his friend would do. When he needed strength, Stefan was always there, in one form or another. Right now, he knew the prince and future king would not be so weak as to comply with the demands of a seductress, whose only true promise would be the kiss of a dagger.
            “Perhaps I should be the one telling you what is to my liking.” Erin placed his hand back as it was, now scouring for the weapon, whilst distracting her with a heated kiss of desperation. He seized the dagger and quickly flipped the assassin so she was beneath him. The cold dagger was pressed against her throat within the blink of an eye, but she did not flinch. Instead she laughed.  “Are you seriously laughing at the man with the dagger right now?”
            “You think a little thing like that will keep you safe?” she asked. “It isn’t checkmate until one of us is dead.”
            “Fine. Are you volunteering?”
            “You don’t really want to kill me. I can see it in your eyes. I’m sure you believe that you are already a man, yet you are clearly still so naïve.”
            He pressed the dagger a little further; just enough to draw a few drops of blood.
            “You don’t know me.”
            “I know your kind,” she retorted. “Rich little things that think they own the world. I might have ended up like you myself, had I not ended up in slavery instead.”
            “I don’t care about your sob stories,” he growled. “Who sent you?”
            “Well, I can’t tell you that.”
            “You try my patience.” Erin pulled viciously at her midnight hair but he did not gage much a reaction, save for the clenching of her teeth.
            “Is that so? That can’t be the only thing you are impatient about?” Slowly, she reached out to stroke his face, touching his lips with her thumb. Simultaneously, she somehow managed to massage his most private of parts with her leg.
            “Stop,” he snapped.
            “But you don’t want me to.”
            “No. I don’t…” He could already feel something hazy come over him. There was no doubt about it— she was a Silver Tongue. Well, he was not quite as weak as she thought.
            Erin pulled her head back with her hair. “If you hypnotise me again, so help me, I will cut out your tongue.” She clenched her teeth at the threat, giving him a venomous glare.
            “My, my. Aren’t we assertive?” Erin hated how she taunted him even as he held a dagger at her throat. He knew he should just finish the job and get it done with. “I suppose this is the part where you kill me.”
            Her eyes were remorseless and vacant. Does she want me to kill her?
            “Not if I don’t have to. If I release you, do you swear not to kill me?” Her only response was a cold laughter. “I don’t want to kill you, so you must swear it.”
            “Kill me,” she whispered. “I’d happily embrace death.” This threw him off, and it was just enough time for the woman to grab his hand and shove the dagger through her heart.
            Erin gasped in shock and before he knew it, he was yelling her name. “Mila! Mila!” He shook her even as she lay limp on the blood covered bed. His hands trembled in astonishment. What kind of assassin took her own life like that?
            Just as he was about to get out of the bed, her hand caught his wrist and she whispered, “Boo!”
            Mila was on top of him before he could comprehend what was happening. He landed hard on the marble floor and she pulled the dagger from her chest before making a swipe for his throat. He rolled away just in time and tried to kick her legs from under her as she stood up. Mila jumped at the last moment. Erin attempted to get to his feet but she kicked him in the chest, causing him to stumble back to the ground. She was on top of him in an instant, punching him in the jaw. When she appeared satisfied, she held the dagger at his throat.
            “Checkmate.”
            “Please. You don’t have to do this,” he begged. Her dark eyes were emotionless. “I know you carry a great burden, and I know you’re not as heartless as you believe yourself to be. Please. All I ask for is mercy.”
            “You know nothing of my burden, of my pain.” That is where she was wrong. As she had assaulted him, so too had the memories of her life. Mila was cursed never to die. What had once been a blessing of sorts was now a torment.        “I know that what the kitsune did to you was awful, and that you feel betrayed.” Genuine shock flashed through her face.
            “How could you—?”
            “I don’t know, but I know that killing me will not help you achieve your goal. Please. Let me go, tell me who sent you, and I will owe you a debt.”
            “How will I know that you will not simply betray me?” She asked.
            “I am a man of my word,” he said.
            “Forgive me if I seem hesitant to believe you.” Her voice was slow but pronounced, and the sneer on her face made him believe as though this was the end. She would finish him, here and now. “Still… You might be of some use to me.”
Erin’s heart sweltered at the prospect of being permitted to live. Still, he was not certain why she had had a sudden change of heart.
“I’ll do anything,” he responded quickly.
She nodded her assent. “I shall make a blood oath with you. I will spare you life and tell you who sent me after you, and you shall owe me three favours.”
            “Three?” he asked, astonished.
            “Well, I suppose your life is worth more than one simple favour. You are within your rights to refuse, of course.” Of course, if he did that she would surely kill him.
            “Fine. I will do as you wish.”
            “And if you do not, your life will be forfeit,” she warned. “I advise that you keep this meeting between us a secret.”
            “My brother hired you as a prostitute. How secretive can that be?”
            “You know what I mean. But now that you mention it, I suppose it would be somewhat suspicious if we don’t do the deed.”
            Erin was not certain how she could think of such things so soon. He wanted to be as far away from her possible, yet at the same time, he was strangely aroused. 
            “Would you like to word the oath yourself?” she asked. He nodded in response and spoke the words that would seal his fate.
            “I, Erin of House Arnette swear to pay you three favours in return for my life and the knowledge of whom you were sent by.”
            Mila took his hand and cut his palm with the blade, and did the same to her own.
            “By blood we seal this oath, and by the power of the Shrouded god may this man be cast down if he breaks it.” 
            “I do not believe in the Shrouded god,” he interjected.
            “Yet you believe in Aten. How can there be shadows without light?” There was no answer to that.
            The shadows around them began to move and weave together, slithering in front of them. A dark swirling vortex appeared beneath them and Mila held out her hand so that drops of her blood poured into it. She moved Erin’s hand so that his blood dripped into the menacing funnel.
            Shadows began to coil around each of their hands and pain surged through Erin’s arm. Just as suddenly as the shadows had appeared, the funnel closed and the shadows dispersed back into their respective places. Erin found that his hand was healed, but Mila’s was not. He inspected it more closely.
            “The Shrouded god favours you,” she stated as she gazed at his hand. “He heals you but not me.” She touched her chest where blood still lingered from the self-mutilation. “You have a gift, Erin.”
            “And what might that be?”
            “You know things others cannot. Tell me, what did you see when you touched me?”
            Erin wanted to keep that knowledge to himself. Knowledge was power, after all. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”
            Mila pursed her lips and he was afraid that she might break the oath. Can she die if she did that?
             “In time I am sure you will grow into your power.” She said. “You have more than you know.”
            What could she possibly know about me?
             For many years, Erin had been ridiculed as the powerless boy in a world filled with magic. He had grown up in the shadow of his friend, Stefan. To think that he might be gaining a power of his own, at last, was nothing short of a miracle.
            “You’re playing mind games so I’ll tell you what I saw,” he snapped.
            “So you did see something,” Mila mused. She allowed herself to smile, but it was small and her eyes were still dispassionate. “You could be a Clairvoyant.” She walked closer to him. “A very powerful one indeed. I sense that your ka is strong.” That could not be right. Erin knew he had a weak mystical spirit— far too weak for even the smallest of magicks.
            “Is that why you didn’t kill me? Because I could be useful to you?”
            She closed the gap between them, and then she was stroking his coppery hair with her fingers. “That is perhaps the smartest observation you have made so far.”
            “What do you want from me?”
            “You shall know, in time.” She pushed him back on the bed and he lost his balance, landing on the soft, silken sheets. She removed her dress and beneath it was another laced attire. Black lingerie with various weapons attached to her body. Weapons she could have used but had decided against utilising. “For now, how about we simply enjoy each other’s company?” Before he could protest, her lips were crushed against his and he forgot what there was to complain about.
           

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