Chapter Twenty-Eight

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She ran until her lungs felt like they would burst.

Her heart thudded in time with each step and her leg muscles burned.

The need to turn around and find out if her mother was dead was a physical weight in the pit of her stomach but she resisted. If her mother was dead, the pain would paralyze her and she couldn't put her mother's life over the lives of so many whose fates now lay in her very weak, very incapable hands. She cast her out of her mind and pushed forward.

"Look at you," She gasped to herself. "Sounding just like Abby."

Leaves and twigs crunched underneath her feet but she didn't have the luxury of being quiet. Putting as many feet as possible between her and the poachers was essential to saving her friends, to saving the world, really.

At least she knew where she was going.

The spires of the capital buildings reached into the night sky. The city lights were a pale glow that guided her.

But if she didn't stop soon, she'd pass out. She stumbled to a halt and braced herself against a tree. She ran her fingers over the rough bark and focused on breathing through the pain, glancing over her should to peer into the shadows. There was no sign of her being followed but every snap and groan of the forest made her uneasy.

Something skittered at the corner of her eye. She whipped her head towards the movement and watched a squirrel duck from one bush to the next.

Her brain struggled to put together a plan on how to get into the capital without being captured.

"One step at a time, Rachel." First, she had to make it to the city's entrance.

Deciding that she'd rested long enough, she peeled herself from the tree and took off at a sprint once more. Her lungs ached with every breath. The moon pierced the tree cover every now and then, slicing through the forest and giving boulders a likeness to human forms.

When she reached the outermost trees by the city's edge, she stopped and did a frantic search of the perimeter.

The usual few guards patrolled the grounds.

At this point, she was far too exhausted to form a coherent plan. She pushed her hair out of her face and her fingers came back coated in blood. Between the blood loss and having had nothing to eat or drink for hours, she was unsteady on her feet.

"I don't know what to do." She whispered to the trees.

Her mother wasn't there to guide her, Hector wasn't there to talk reason into her. She was completely and entirely alone.

She stroked the oval disk in her pocket and remember that Ruth had said something very true.

Nicolas did not hate her.

Nicolas loved her.

What if the easiest solution, the simplest one, was to surrender and make him think she had finally given in?

Maybe she'd gone about it wrong this entire time. Maybe instead of fighting him, the solution was in joining him.

Now that she'd stopped moving, the cold began to gnaw at her bones. She drew in a gulp of freezing air, held it for a few seconds and then let it out slowly. That insignificant gesture steadied her heart and calmed her to the point where she could think.

She shivered and placed the oval disc her mother had given her into the lining of her bra. She hoped--she prayed--that no one would strip her bare this time, not if she went willingly.

It was time to surrender.

After years of hiding, running from poachers and fighting for her freedom, it was finally time to give it all up. It was the only way she'd get into the city. She wasn't naïve enough to believe one person alone could orchestrate an entire break in against thousands of mind-controlled poachers let alone overpower them.

But giving up wasn't nearly as easy as she had thought it would be. In fact, it was the hardest thing she'd ever done in her life. She stepped out from the cover of the trees and walked at a slow pace towards the poachers, every muscle in her body fighting to turn back, to fight.

Surrender was, she imagined, a little like being burned alive. Her whole body ached with self-preservation instincts battling her rational mind.

The poachers spotted her almost immediately. She lifted her arms into the air in surrender and continued to practice her steady breathing.

"What is your name? Identify yourself in the name of the capital."

"Rachel. Rachel Nicole Wilson," She announced. "Tell Nicolas that his daughter has come home."

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A/N What do you think of Rachel's surrender? Do you think it's the right call?

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