The Rule of Many Page 2

The door opens, and a young woman who looks a few years over twenty strides with pure confidence into the room. She stands a short distance from the group, unchallenged by Barend. She must be a new recruit, and an important one if she’s included in Emery’s close circle. The young woman’s jet-black hair is pulled back tightly into two French braids, highlighting her dark eyes with their long, intense lashes. If the eyes truly are a window to the soul, hers has taken more than a few beatings.

Mira clasps Emery’s shoulder in welcome before asking, “Did you find him this time? You’re back early—did something go wrong?”

Countless missions to rescue my father have led to nothing but disappointment. Wherever Roth is hiding his former Family Planning Director, he’s making damn sure he’ll never be found.

All four Common Elders lower their heads. Something did go wrong. Horribly wrong.

My stomach drops like a heavy anchor cut loose into the sea.

“What happened?” I demand, stepping forward. His execution date has been moved up. The Guard caught wind of our extraction plans and changed his location . . .

Emery raises her head, biting the inside of her cheeks, hard. “It’s with great sorrow that I have to inform you of your father’s murder,” she tells us straight. “I am sorry that we could not get to Darren in time.”

He’s dead. My father’s dead. I’ve learned to always prepare for bad news, but I wasn’t prepared for this.

Through a haze of salted tears, I lurch backward. Mira catches me, and I hold on to my sister tight—our combined strength the only thing that keeps me from shattering against the floor.

“No, no, no . . . you said Roth wouldn’t kill him!” I cry. “You said he wouldn’t risk turning the people to our side!”

“What about the stay of execution!” Mira says in disbelief.

“The official statement from the Governor’s Mansion is that it was a suicide,” Emery says. “Roth made a speech, weaving a story that Darren hanged himself with his bedsheets during the night, leaving behind a note detailing his great regret for his traitorous crimes against his country and its people.”

A cold panic rushes through my body, and I feel faint. Mira shakes uncontrollably beside me. I turn to my sister, and both our green eyes scream, Lies!

Father would never, never take his own life. He would fight until the bitter end to get back to us.

“The note said his greatest shame of all was raising illegal twin daughters who turned into dangerous traitors themselves.”

Roth is using our own father against us. Bile rises to my throat, and my knees falter.

Emery seizes both our shoulders, pulling us close, making sure we listen.

“We know both the suicide and the note are bullshit. We know just before sunrise, Roth entered Darren’s cell and shot your father in cold blood.”

I try to break free of Emery and my sister. I can’t breathe. I need space for my heartache, but Emery grips my shoulder harder.

“Listen to me. We have the surveillance video. Your father’s killing will not be buried. Roth’s corruption will be exposed—another link in his chain of lies. Your father will continue to help the cause even in death, as your mother did.”

“The video could be fake, too, just like the suicide note. He could still be alive!” I find myself pleading.

The new recruit with the French braids steps forward, shaking her head. Her eyes soften with sympathy. “I wish that were true.”

She pulls something from her jacket’s inner pocket and carefully opens her palm: a metal capsule the size of my fingernail.

Father’s microchip.

“I was held in the same prison as your father,” the young woman explains, her steady voice struggling to break through the fog of despair that separates me from everything else in the room. “While the Common arrived too late to rescue your father, they were able to rescue me.”

Who is this person? Why was she imprisoned, and how did she gain access to my father’s chip? It’s always a never-ending maze of questions.

“Scan the chip,” Mira says, her voice hollow.

Barend produces a microchip scanner from his duty belt—he always seems to have the necessary tool or weapon—and hands the device to Emery to scan.


A death record pops up on the chip scanner’s screen:



Cause of death: SUICIDE

Burial location: UNKNOWN

The only thing I have left of my father is this tiny scrap of metal with his blood still on it. Where is his body?

I want to scream.

“It’s Darren’s chip. It has been authenticated,” Emery declares with full conviction. “Skye Lin has been fighting for the Common’s cause for half her life. She turned a Guard at the prison, who gave her the chip and surveillance video in the midst of our rescue mission.”

Skye Lin. The assassin who poisoned two states’ Family Planning Directors and made an unsuccessful attempt on my own father’s life. I’ve never seen her face; after she was arrested in Dallas five years ago, Roth banned images of the teenage murderer across all media outlets. The governor made sure criminals in Texas never became famous—they were simply thrown in dark cells and never heard from again.

“I didn’t know your dad was a member of the Common,” Skye insists. “I wasn’t trying to kill him. I was trying to kill his office.” The Family Planning Division.

With that, she turns and walks out, leaving Mira and me drowning in confusion.

“I want to see the surveillance video,” Mira says from beside me.

Taken aback, I turn to face my sister. “You want to watch our father’s murder?”

“I have to see it for myself.” She looks up at me, her eyes red and glassy with anguish. “We were raised on so many secrets, Ava. I just have to see.”

I shake my head. “I can’t.”

As I move to leave the room—I need the open air; the hurt inside me suddenly seems too large for this crowded space—Emery holds up her hand to stop me.

“We leave for the Common’s headquarters in the morning—Paramount Point Lodge. You both are needed there. I can explain more tomorrow, but for now take the time to grieve.” She lowers her head in a respectful bow. “Your father was a brave man.”

Chills run through my body. Rayla had said those same words.

He wants a better future for you both.

I close my eyes and remember one of Father’s greatest lessons: it takes iron to sharpen iron. Metal bullets forged my father’s death into a cast-iron weight that sits at the bottom of my heart. To be brave like my father, I must endure the painful process of honing. I must become so sharp that no one can touch me or mine again.

“Show me the surveillance video,” Mira demands once more.

“It will not be easy to watch, but the choice is yours to make,” Emery says.

Visions of my father tied helplessly to a chair, Roth standing over him with a gun, a smug smile on his lips . . .

No! I rip open my eyes and push past Emery, away from my sister. Barend gets out of my path, allowing me to throw open the door, and I stumble into the hall alone. Without any clear direction in mind, I head toward the stairwell. Anger clouds my vision; my knees are shaky, and I lean on the wall to stay standing as I move. My entire world feels upside down, spinning out of control.

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