Chapter Two

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One of the marked ones met Rachel's eyes.

They were two bottomless pits devoid of any emotion.

Their cheers and hollers reached her and she knew she should move, run, do something- but she was frozen still with fear.

It was her mother's harsh grip that finally brought her back to reality.

"We're going to lose them in the river. Just stay close and don't look back." Without wasting so much as a glance towards the poachers, Ruth made a beeline for the forest, pulling Rachel close behind her.

Rachel wanted to turn around and see if Bane was following but her mother was leading too quick- too fast- to even think. Every step sent a shooting impact up her legs and it was all she could do to not trip. Branches slapped her across the face with everything a blur of greens and browns.

Please let the river be enough.

But they had cars-they were faster, stronger and armed and she knew they would stop at nothing to capture them. To the poachers, this was the most wonderful sport in the world-something they enjoyed with sadistic glee.

Rachel cringed as her foot bent over a rock but she pressed on, her breath as wild as her hair which blinded her as she went.

A few yards out, she realized they were going the wrong way. They were headed toward a vast clearing, where the trees had been cut down and the land lay bare.

Without the cover of trees to hide behind, they would be easy targets, couldn't her mother see that?

"Change of plans," Ruth panted. "When I tell you to jump, you jump. You don't hesitate-you don't ask questions, you just jump. Do you understand?" Rachel nodded her head furiously. Behind them, she could hear the whirring of an engine and the delighted shouts of the poachers.

They were steps from the edge of the forest and she didn't see it until they were feet away--a steep slope, jagged and rough, leading down between two plates of land. It must have been a twenty foot drop.

Panic rose in her chest. Were they going to jump down that? They'd die!

"Mom-"

"No! You just do as I say, remember?" The engine was drawing closer. Rachel stole a glimpse behind her and saw the white armor of the truck just visible between the breaks in the trees.

We're going to die- my God we're going to die.

If the Poachers didn't get to them first, surely the jump would kill them.

They reached the end of the clearing, their feet sending rocks skittering down into the abyss.

There wasn't any time to think.

"Now, Rachel!" Her mom shouted but Rachel hesitated and yanked her hand back at the last moment, fear overwhelming the rational part of her brain.

She watched as Ruth threw herself onto the ground, tucking her body into the fetal position and began to roll down the sloped cliff.

The fall must have been excruciating. She was tumbling over sharp rocks and branches and debris and there was nothing to break her fall except for the hard-packed earth at the bottom.

"Look guys, we've got one up ahead!" Someone shouted. Rachel could see the car clearly now. Four men were mounted on it, clinging to the sides as one maneuvered the vehicle towards her.

Rachel tore her eyes from them and saw that her mother had reached the bottom. For a fleeting second, she thought she must be dead- but then Ruth pulled herself up onto her hands and knees and yelled, "Rachel, you stupid, stupid girl! Jump!"

But it was too late. The men were less than ten feet away now and all Rachel could do was stand there like a deer frozen in headlights.

"We can have us some fun with this pretty one!" A poacher cackled, one finger pointed at her."She looks brand new."

"I call it first!" Another chimed.

"Hey, there's plenty to go around. We'll take turns." Rachel held her knife flat against the side of her skirt, hiding it from their sight. Whatever monstrous things they planned to do with her, she would make sure she didn't go down without hurting a few of them in the process.

"Don't be afraid, little beggar." A wide, pudgy man purred.

"Yeah, we'll give you something to beg about," One of the poachers jumped down from the truck and landed on the ground, as the others cackled behind him. He was a broad man with a red beard and he was approaching her as if she were a wounded animal he didn't want to startle.

Her erratic heart beat filled her ears. He just had to get close enough, just close enough for her to sink her knife into him, ridding the world of one less monster.

Yeah, right. You'll hesitate like always, a nasty voice sneered in her head. Who are you kidding? You're afraid. You're weak. You could never survive in this world.

These people had killed her brother- but if she did to them, what they had done to Jed, how would she be any different from them? Would that make her a different kind of monster? A Justified one? But a monster still the same.

She wondered what it would feel like to sink her knife into someone. Would the flesh be soft and yielding, like cutting through butter or would there be resistance? Could she really stand in front of someone and watch the life drain from their eyes?

With a defeated sigh, she lowered her head, realizing she just didn't have the heart to kill anyone-even a beast like the man before her. That didn't mean she couldn't give him a swift kick and then run for her life.

The poacher was before her now and she waited--her nerves pulled taut-- for him to get close enough so that she could kick him. The man lifted his arm slowly and stroked Rachel's face. She could see the  mark over his forehead, a tattoo of consecutive black lines that formed a barcode. Before she had time to react, the man's giant hand pulled her to him and he began kissing her on her face and neck.

The men behind him cheered and she tried to fight him off but it was useless-- he was so much stronger and she had waited too long to run.  She could almost hear Ruth scolding her. Stupid, you're so stupid, Rachel.

Just as the fear of dying began to make her wild and panicked, Rachel saw something the poachers were too distracted to notice.

Bane emerged from the edge of the forest, his hand still firmly pressed against the wound on his stomach. Despite being pale from blood loss, on his face was a look of blind rage and determination.

It all happened so fast.

Bane reached the truck and yanked something cylindrical from the jacket of one of the poachers. They were too slow to pull their guns and Bane threw himself towards Rachel just as an explosion went off, setting the evening sky on fire.

A wave of heat scorched her face as she fell onto the ground, the poacher beside her. "You little-"He lifted his gun and pointed it towards Bane.

"No!" Rachel shouted. She shoved her knife into his arm and he dropped the gun with a scream. Bane grabbed Rachel and then they were both tumbling down the slope, rocks digging deep into their flesh and dirt smearing their faces.

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A/N Phew! That was an intense one! Was your heart racing the whole time? Or do I need to up the drama?

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