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Dirty Prince





SKY CORGAN

Text copyright 2017 by Sky Corgan



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Contents





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Epilogue



















CHAPTER ONE

ANYA





War is hell. Especially when you're on the losing side.

I look at the paltry scraps in my worn brown messenger bag and groan internally. Two cans of low sodium refried beans, an open box of expired cheese-flavored popcorn with only two bags left, a can of sardines, and an opened bag of stale expired granola bites. I might have gotten in trouble for pinching from the bag if it wasn't already opened. Then again, I suspect that a lot of us open the bags that can be opened even if they're not already opened to get a little extra nourishment for our efforts. I try not to do it, knowing that I'm not the only one back at camp who is hungry. Knowing that every bite of food I take denies someone else their share of what they need to survive.

For as little as I managed to get my hands on, the sardines will be a prized item. Food is scarce, but protein is even more so. Maybe that alone will keep me from a lecture.

It's not my fault that my sector is mostly wiped clean of resources. We weren't the first people to come through here. I could tell by all the opened cabinets in the houses I went through. Sometimes you just draw a shitty lot when they dish out assignments.

Maybe I'm overreacting, I think with a sigh as I stare into yet another empty pantry. I've returned to camp empty-handed the last two days in a row, and no one has said anything. Still, I feel like I'm not pulling my weight. The other scouts always seem to scrounge up more than me, even if it's just a can or two. I wonder if the camp will eventually think me useless and cast me out. I can't allow that to happen.

Tears prick my eyes as I close the pantry door and lean back against it, taking in the mess around me. This house must have been grand once. The kitchen has marble countertops and a tile backsplash. The appliances are all stainless steel. I shuffle through the cookware and utensils strewn about the floor in the kitchen, then avoid the broken glass in the living room, casting a glance at the illegible graffiti on the walls and the torn furniture before making my way to the front of the house.

I knew there would be nothing in here when I came inside, but I only target houses that are obviously vacant. You never know who is standing on the other side of a locked door. It could be the rebellion, it could be soldiers, it could be someone just trying to stay alive like me. And while I have nothing of physical value, I still have my life. I would like to keep that, if I can, for as long as I can.

That's probably why the other scouts get more food than I do. They understand the severity of our situation. They are...selfless. They're also mostly men, so breaking down doors isn't as big of an issue for them. And they don't have the fear of being raped to contend with.

I stand on the doorstep and gaze up at the sky. The sun is sinking over the horizon, though I still have an hour or two of daylight left. I glance to my left, then to my right. This neighborhood is a wasteland. Most everyone fled when the foreign troops invaded. Those who stayed either joined the rebellion or a displaced persons camp like mine. If there's anyone left in this neighborhood, they're stragglers—loners trying to make it on their own. They're not the type of people you want to run into. Well-versed in survival, they'll kill without a second thought to protect what's theirs. That's why they're still alive.

I need to decide if I'm going to keep searching or if I should give up and return to camp. As I look down the street, I sigh. I've gone through enough houses in this neighborhood to know that there's nothing here. There was one I couldn't get into that was boarded up. That one was two streets back. There were three others that were locked. One, I could hear noise coming from inside. I got away from that one as quickly as possible. The others, there was no sound, but that definitely doesn't mean that there were no people inside. If there's food left in this neighborhood, it will be inside one of those houses. The occupied one is definitely out of the question, but the other three...

I pull the hood of my worn black jacket up to block out the cold and hide my face. Then I readjust the strap of my bag to be more comfortable before I take off down the street, keeping as close to the houses and fenceline as possible. If the military happened to make a pass down here, they'd pick me up for sure.

The last locked house I passed by was at the end of the street. I creep up to the door one more time and test the handle before pressing my ear against the door, listening for sounds of life from within. I checked the back door earlier, so I know that's locked as well. Sometimes if the front door is locked, the back will be unlocked.

I hear nothing.

The pre-war version of me thinks of knocking. What will that do, though, besides alert the people inside to pick up their weapons and prepare to defend their resources? Or maybe if I'm lucky, they would scatter into hiding—run out the backdoor or climb up into the attic and pray they wouldn't be found.

I descend the steps and pick up one of the lawn ornaments adorning the flowerbed. It's a ceramic rock painted with little yellow and pink flowers. On the front of it, it says Bless Our Home. They probably don't feel so blessed after being driven out of their home, I think as I feel the weight of the ornament in my hand. I'm honestly not sure which would shatter first, the fake rock or the window.

I lean forward and try to peek inside the house. The curtains are drawn, so I can't tell who or what's inside. That makes this a bit riskier. My heartbeat races at the thought of confrontation.

I take a few steps away from the house and wind my arm back. If there's anyone around, the noise from the shattering window might draw them. That's also a risk.

My heart drums in my ears. War drum. A rhythmic blast of gunshots. I can feel my blood pumping through every fiber of me. My subconscious mind is telling me that this is a bad idea. Someone will come out of the house and attack me. Or someone will come from around a corner somewhere and capture me. They're wild thoughts brought on by fear. It's not like I haven't done this before. But before, I was with a group being trained on how to scout out an area. Shadowing someone else. I felt more confident with other people around. Now that I'm alone...

The rock won't leave my hand. My arm won't make the snapping motion required to throw it. I stand frozen in time for what feels like five minutes but is probably just a few seconds, and then I lower my arm and concede defeat, glancing down at the phrasing on the ornament a final time before letting it slip from my fingers.

It hits the ground with a thud, and I stare at it in disappointment. Disappointed in myself. I'm a disappointment. Two cans, a box, and a bag of food. Not enough to feed a camp of twenty strong. And we're growing every week.

This won't do. I shake my head at myself. I have to think of something else.

I walk away from the house, though I'm not really sure where I'm going. Not back to camp. Not with this little to show for my efforts.

Maybe I should just run away, take what I have in my bag and try to survive off of it for as long as I can. Be a straggler. Wait out the war.

Who am I kidding? I wouldn't last a week on my own. I may be able to find food, but water is an even scarcer resource. At least we have that at the camp, for now, thanks to one of the guys having the tool needed to open fire hydrants.

No, I have to go back. I don't want to, though.

Determined to do better, I go beyond my assigned sector. Neighborhoods won't do, though. I'm tired of going in and out of houses, walking through broken glass just to see cabinet doors torn open and feeling that sinking pit in my stomach from knowing that the place has already been ransacked. I'll have better luck if I can find a shopping center, a convenience store, anything that carries a large amount of food items. At least, I think I will. I imagine myself returning to camp with a bag full of nonperishables and a report on where we can get enough food to keep us all fed for months. I'd be a hero.

A hero. I snort to myself. Has any hero ever had less direction than I do right now? I'm not very familiar with this area. It's not somewhere I traveled much before the war. But I do know that if I keep walking straight through the neighborhoods, I should eventually come to a main road where there will be stores. I just don't know how long that will take. I don't even know if I would reach them before nightfall. But I do know I wouldn't make it back before then.

I'll have to camp out somewhere in the dark. The thought frightens me. Not so much the dark, but being alone. It's strange when I think about it. Growing up an orphan, I was always alone. Even after I was adopted, I still felt alone. One of a constant rotation of six, I was doted on like a new toy for about a month before I got lost in the fold. I don't blame my adopted parents. Not really. They were trying to be good people. They had already adopted two disabled boys long before me, one with down syndrome, the other a quadriplegic. Why they thought to take on more children with such a load of responsibility on their shoulders, I'll never understand. My adopted mother once told me that it was because they had enough love to go around. Maybe they did, but they certainly didn't have enough time. The rest of us were mostly ignored in favor of our two less fortunate brothers. We were given little more than a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. When one of us turned eighteen and flew the nest, our parents brought in another child. It was a never-ending cycle of social neglect at home. You would think that coming from similar backgrounds, my adopted siblings and I would have formed stronger bonds. That wasn't the case. We were more roommates than anything else, all occupying the same space but not really getting into each other's business. I couldn't even say I was friends with most of them.

I got a job at a local fast food restaurant when I turned sixteen with the plan to save up enough money to move out when I was eighteen. My grades suffered from pouring so much of my energy into work. By my senior year, I spent more time at work than school and eventually dropped out. When I turned eighteen, there were no heartfelt goodbyes as I left my home and siblings behind. Having almost never been home, I was mostly a stranger to my new pack of siblings. My parents smiled, more proud of themselves than of me that they had managed to rear yet another child and send them off into society. They didn't try to stay in touch after I moved out.

I've had roommates for as long as I can remember, so that was the obvious choice when I was finally on my own. I moved into a small two-bedroom apartment with one of my co-workers. When she wasn't at work, she was partying hard with her friends in the living room, so I would lock myself in my room to avoid them. Drugs always seemed like a waste of money to me. I saved most of what I earned, though I was never really sure what I was saving it for.

In hindsight, I was perfectly happy with my shitty little life. Working all the time gave me something to do. I could listen to my roommate and her friends through the walls at night for entertainment. I went to sleep knowing there was a warm body in the room next to mine. I was comfortably alone without being completely alone. My job wasn't great, but I had already received two raises, and I was up for a promotion before the war started and they had to close down.

Things aren't too different now, I try to tell myself as I carefully traverse a gully between two neighborhoods. I'm back to living with a bunch of people I barely know, sharing all my resources. I work as much as I can so I don't have to go back to the place I now call home. My goal is still survival and eventual separation from this life. I want the war to end so that things go back to the way they were before.

A noise in the distance startles me and makes me throw myself against a fence and duck down. A knee-jerk reaction. The voices—men's voices—are far away, but that doesn't mean there's not someone closer in proximity to me.

Alarms go off in my head telling me that I should go back. I've ventured too far. I may be in the territory of another camp, or I could have stumbled upon the military by accident. They still sweep the neighborhoods looking for stragglers every once in a while.

I stand like a statue, waiting for my heart to come down from my throat, listening to find out which direction the men are headed in. They seem stationary. Not moving.

Common sense tells me it's time to return to camp, but curiosity makes me press onward, slowing my pace as I approach the voices. Any information that I can relay back to my fellow camp members will be useful—will draw the attention away from my light haul.

It's not long before I realize that the voices are coming from the other side of the neighborhood. Not inside, but somewhere beyond. I find a two-story house close to where the sound is coming from. The door is already kicked open, so I go inside and ascend the staircase, searching for a good vantage point.

My chest tightens as my eyes land on the scene below. There's a small military encampment several yards beyond the fence. Close to the fenceline—almost so close that I have a balcony view—men are lined up. Two rows. The first row in uniforms with guns in their hands. The second row, prisoners of war—likely from the rebellion.

It's not hard to tell what's going on. There's about to be an execution. My heart aches for the men about to be shot. My countrymen. In a sense. I was imported for my adoption, but that doesn't mean this isn't my home. All that these men are guilty of is trying to protect what is rightfully theirs.

I look beyond them to the men in charge and my eyes burn with hatred. Blue suits, as we've been calling them. Their breasts are adorned with the pins of high ranking. One has short blonde curly hair held down beneath his cap. The other, long dark locks that blow in the breeze. They're both older than me, but not by much. The dark-haired one looks strangely familiar.

I squint at him and find myself disgusted for thinking him handsome. He has a strong jawline covered with a short beard and mustache. His dark hair gives a nice contrast to his sun-kissed skin. There's a heaviness to his expression, as if he understands the weight of what he's about to do. His brown eyes are fixed on the men before him, but there's no malice in his gaze. This is nothing more than a duty to him. He's just standing by while the other man speaks. Like me, just watching.

Except I have no part in this. I'm watching in horror, my heart on the edge as if it might stop with the sound of gunfire. I feel so helpless. Nothing I can do will save these men. It would just get me captured, or worse—put in the lineup beside them.

I should leave, but I can't tear my eyes away. I wait for the long-haired man to say or do something, but he's a sentinel, his broad shoulders held back as he stands at parade rest. The men lift their rifles to their shoulders. I can feel the tension in my jaw, and I worry that my teeth might crack when the guns fire.

And then the curly haired man gives the order. I swear I see a flash of light as the bullets leave their barrels. The sound of bodies dropping is almost as deafening. I suck in a shaky breath, and oxygen burns my lungs. I hadn't realized that I'd been holding my breath the whole time. A tear rolls down my cheek. So many lives snuffed out for the worst of reasons. I can't see the bodies anymore over the fence, but I know that the other side is splattered with blood. I'm glad I can't see it. Just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach. Still, I can't tear my eyes away from the fence. I can't stop thinking about the bodies on the other side. I can't stop picturing my fellow camp members and I standing in the same lineup. The thought absolutely terrifies me.

I need to get out of here. Quickly. I need to tell the rest of my people that the military is near.

I finally tear my eyes away from the fence to glance at the long-haired man one last time before I flee. It's nagging at me that I've seen him before but can't figure out where. It had to have been on television, which means he's someone important.

My mouth falls agape and time stands still as I look down at the uniformed stranger...and he looks right back up at me.













CHAPTER TWO

FYNN





This is the ugliness of war—the price of rebellion. If you've lost, you lay down your weapons. You don't take up arms with your ragtag band and assault foreign troops. That's not courageous; that's a death wish.

Did these men really think that taking out a handful of mine would make a difference in the grand scheme of things? Their army has already pulled out of the area. It's over. It didn't have to be over for them. They didn't have to stay and fight a losing cause. But that's patriotism, I guess.

Killing these men who were desperate to clutch onto their home—it gives me no pleasure. War is not pleasurable business. War is about taking. It's about sending a message. It's about sweat and blood and tears, all for reshaping the world. And it's about believing in the new world that you're trying to create.

I think all these things as I stare at the faces of the men before me. Men of varying ages. Young and old. Fathers and sons. Friends and strangers. Some of them look terrified. Others are stone-faced, clutching onto the belief that they did the right thing to the very end. All of them know they're about to die.

I should be numb to snuffing out life. I've taken so many lives since this war began. Countless is the number of bullets I've gone through. On the battlefield, all you think about is surviving. Each man down is one less that could kill you. But this isn't the battlefield. These men don't have guns in their hands. Their time for defending themselves is over. Now they are powerless. The accused waiting for the guillotine to come down. I bet they all wish they had died fighting. I know I would, in their shoes. Nothing is worse than knowing what's coming and being unable to change your fate.

I wait for my General to give the order, standing by out of respect for the men who were so brazenly willing to give their lives for a lost cause, grateful for not having to be the one to pull the trigger. There's no pride in slaughtering defenseless men, even if not long ago they were anything but.

The sound of gunshots firing echoes across the land. A cool breeze brings with it the smell of blood. Dirt kicks up from the bodies collapsing to the floor. It's done, I think, letting the softest sigh escape my lips.

I cast a glance up at the blue sky that's beginning to turn hues of purple. The sun is half-hidden behind the horizon. I want to think that it's a good day to die. Is any day a good day to die, though? Death is so final.

When my eyes begin to descend, they catch on something in one of the windows in the house adjacent to us. There's a sliver of a body peeking out from behind the curtains. A dark silhouette with a curvy figure. The tendrils of long blonde hair protruding from beneath the black hood are the last clues I need to know it's a woman. Her gaze is fixed on the fence. Her pink lips are set in a line. Her expression is hard. Angry.

A spy, is the first thing that comes to mind. Someone from the rebellion sent to report back on the status of their people. Why else would she look at me with such hatred when our eyes meet? Big blue eyes. I'm afforded only a second to gaze into them before she disappears.

I immediately spring into action, pulling one of the men from the firing squad to follow her. There's not a second to waste. If she is a rebel spy, I'll need to know where their camp is so I can eradicate the threat. Having sent him off, I return to my tent with General Daniel Hansson on my heels.

There's not much left to do here. With the main fighting at its end, I've been mostly busy with stomping out what's left of the resistance and setting up a base of operations. In a few months, I'll leave everything in Daniel's capable hands and return home. Father has been persistent in the issue of me marrying and siring him grandchildren that will one day be heir to the throne. Marrying has never been anywhere near the top of my list of priorities. And the way all the princesses throw themselves at my feet quite honestly makes me sick. It was fun when I was coming into puberty and realized I could have any woman I wanted. But after getting so much of what you want, you don't want it anymore. It becomes mundane. Ordinary. I've become so jaded with women that I've practically lost interest in them.

This is where I belong. Here with my men. Cleaning up the toil and creating a better, bigger dynasty for the heirs that I can't even dream of conceiving right now. I want to live life the way it was meant to be lived, not watch it pass by through the windows of the castle, listening to the deeds of better men. Many would say I'm the better man, at the top of the hierarchy thanks to my royal bloodline. But that doesn't make me better, just privileged. And I don't want what is mine to just be given to me. I want to earn it. This is part of me earning it, and now that I've had a taste of what it's like to actually achieve something, I don't want to go back to the way things were before.

The threat to our forces grows smaller,” Daniel comments, speaking of the men we just executed. If it were anyone else, that comment would have been followed up with Your Highness. I'm glad he drops the honorifics when we're in private.

But there are still some left.” I sit in the uncomfortable wooden chair that's been brought for me, my elbow propped up on the armrest.

You sent Kenny Öberg on a rather urgent errand. Anything I should be concerned about?”

Nothing is lost on him. That's why he's the General. But beyond that, he's also my best friend. We've been friends since childhood, running around the castle together while his mother tended to my family. There's nothing special about his bloodline, but he's a hard worker, and with my support has managed to ascend to a coveted position in our army. When we were deployed, it was only natural that father made sure we were sent together. He knew that Daniel would gladly die for me, not out of a sense of duty but out of love. No one knows me better.

Nothing as of yet.” I give him a look that says he shouldn't be concerned. I'm not. “There was someone watching the execution.”

Oh.” He doesn't sound surprised. Very little surprises him anymore.

It was a woman.” I wave the threat away. “He'll catch up to her soon enough and report back.”

He nods, dropping the subject and redirecting his attention to more pressing matters.

Kenny doesn't return until early the following morning. He has me woken to make his report and informs me that the woman fled to an abandoned building where there were a handful of other people. He didn't see any weapons. I tell him to prepare a map for me of the location, then pat him on the shoulder and praise him for his good work before returning to bed. This isn't particularly important and can be dealt with later.

I wait until I finish my duties the following day before I decide to investigate the situation myself. Normally, I would send out a small scouting party to sweep the area. That would be enough to drive any displaced persons out. Anytime they hear that the opposing military is coming, they scatter like cockroaches exposed to a light source. But something about the way that woman looked at me has me disturbed. To get that close to a military encampment... I'm not 100% convinced she's not an enemy. Maybe I'll see something that Kenny missed if I have a look for myself.

I make the journey on foot as to not arouse any suspicion. For all I know, the camp could have already moved. It's not uncommon for them to relocate if they fear the presence of danger. Our eyes connected, so she knows that I saw her. She knows we could be coming.

I must have arrived in the nick of time, because when I come upon the building marked on Kenny's map, there are people filing out of it with baskets of stuff. Like a line of ants, they carry things to the new location, and I follow silently.

The blonde woman is with them. The sides of her hair are twisted into braids and pinned back away from her face. The rest falls between her slender shoulders. Her blue eyes are larger than life, cast mostly to the floor as she walks. Her expression is that of a kicked puppy. She feels guilty for me having seen her—for them having to move; it's written all over her face. I find myself observing the others in her group less, my gaze mostly fixed on her. What was she doing in that house, I wonder. Maybe she is a type of spy, the kind that checks in and reports on our location to keep her people safe. Perhaps she's been watching me longer than I know. Watching me like I'm now watching her.

She doesn't seem like she belongs with the others. She's too small and frail. Her hair too light. Her skin too dark. Olive and golden and the blue of the sky all rolled into one. She's absolutely stunning. A woman like her shouldn't be walking around in tattered jeans and a dusty black jacket. She should be wearing exquisite gowns fit for a princess.


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