Chapter IV

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"All the newly Scarred, to me!" The all too familiar voice of Zadar filled the den.

Starr got to her paws to see Ren standing beside her. He watched the other Scarred hesitantly as they made their way to the guard. She felt sympathy for him, she had felt exactly like he did now when she was first Scarred.

Starr nudged him forward. "Go on, you'll do fine."

Ren exchanged a glance with her before following the other Scarred out of the den. Starr watched them leave, hoping for the best. Not long after their departure another guard came to stand at the entrance.

"Meal time!" She dropped small morsels of meat in front of each prisoner, when she came upon one of the Marked, she stopped. The young prisoner -she looked to be almost a year- groveled at the guard's paws, begging for food. Her frame was thin and Starr could see every bone in her small body, the guard watched the prisoner in amusement. She allowed it to go on for a few moments before shoving the coyote's face into the ground. "Where is your pride, Marked? You disappoint me." In the end, the guard left with the thin prisoner's meat.

 Starr did her best to ignore the hungry coyote's whimpers as she scarfed down her own meal. One way or another this unfortunate soul would die, there was no point. This was a mercy compared to the injustice that'd be done to her if she survived. Distracted by her thoughts, Starr didn't notice the same thief who had stolen from Ren until it was too late. 

The half starved prisoner ran to where Starr crouched over her food. He managed to grab a piece of her meat before retreating to the farthest wall. Starr leapt forward, pinning the coyote to the ground. 

"Ren may be soft, but you won't get away with stealing from me!" She reached for the meat, but the male pulled it out of her reach. Enraged, Starr sank her teeth into his neck, she held on until the thief dropped his prize. 

She gave the coyote one good shake before letting go and reclaiming her food. Which she finished in a few swift bites, then she turned on him once more. "If you ever take from that fox again, I will rip you to shreds. Understand?" 

The coyote nodded quickly and Starr let him go. Watching as the prisoner hurried away into the crowd of other captives. Starr returned to her remaining meat, baring her teeth at a few prisoners who had tried their luck at taking advantage of her distraction. They scrambled away, tails between their legs. Satisfied, Starr settled down again and finished eating the precious food.

Time passed as Starr waited for Ren's return, when the guard finally arrived with the Scarred in tow she sought him out. It wasn't hard to find him, his bright ginger fur stuck out in a crowd. Starr pushed down her urge to run to him. She knew that if she did, the guard would punish her. As if to prove it, one of the prisoners -Sandi, she believed her name was- ran forward. She desperately tried to get to her sister who stood with the Scarred, looking miserable. It was obvious what the outcome had been for her.

Starr's heart broke for the young Marked, she hadn't even reached her third year of life. It was a shame that she would be presented to the leader as a nominee for the killing. As she watched the inevitable scene take place, she tried to remain composed. The guard ran forward and collided with Sandi, sending her tumbling backwards. Starr would have expected him to leave it at that, if she didn't know better. After all this was Zadar, it was widely known that he never left his work unfinished. Any prisoner with an ounce of common sense wouldn't dare defy him.

Zadar approached Sandi, his eyes full of malice. The wolf took her neck in his mighty jaws and shook her back and forth. The smaller animal flopped around like a rabbit in his grip, the sudden snap echoed around the den. Starr couldn't help but to flinch when she heard Sandi's sister let out a wail of anguish. 

As Zadar was returning to the group, the newly Marked tried to run to her fallen sibling's side. The coyote beside her had more sense however. He stopped the young prisoner before she got herself killed as well. Zadar glanced back with a smug look before leaving the den.

The coyote who had stopped Sandi's sister stepped aside and she rushed towards her only kin. She collapsed on the ground and dug her face in Sandi's fur. Starr did all she could not to look at the depressing sight. Instead she focused on finding Ren again. All she could do was hope that he hadn't met the same fate.

He came towards her, taking shaky steps. He couldn't pull his gaze away from what had taken place. Starr ran up to meet him, blocking his view of them, she thought she saw a bit of relief come over his face. He slowly lifted his head to look at her, his eyes struggling to focus for a few moments. As expected of someone who had just witnessed a scene as heart wrenching as this. 

"Did you pass? Tell me you passed!" Starr couldn't bring her voice below a shout, as much as she wanted to. She had to know if Ren was marked or not, if he was maybe she could help. Although in the back of her mind she knew that if her fears were confirmed, there was little she could do. Short of covering it with mud.

 Ren tried to appear happy, but Starr could see the torment in his eyes. "Y-yeah, I passed. I-I just can't believe she's dead. How could that guard do this?"

Starr gave him a sympathetic look, given a year or two he would become as numb to the death as she had. "Sandi must have known what would happen if she ran out like that. It was a foolish thing to do." She shrugged as she continued, "But sometimes this life can get to you. Around here we only have each other, and kin is cherished like never before. She let it get the best of her."

Ren's eyes widened in shock. "How can you be so nonchalant? That coyote just died! You said it yourself, all we have is each other. I'd think you'd at least feel a little bit of grief."

She sighed, shaking her head. "You can't allow the pain to get to you, Ren." As if to accentuate her point, another wail came from behind her. "You must learn how to force it down and keep your wits about you."

A deep growl resonated in Ren's throat, "I can't believe you. Do you really feel nothing?"

Starr didn't answer, and he left her standing there. A few moments later she heard his voice again as he soothed Sandi's grieving sister. Starr's shoulders slumped as her thoughts returned to her past years in the Dwelling, when her friend had defended her to his death. She remembered the way her cries of pain had resembled that of the screeching that now echoed behind her. Or when the elderly coyote had risked everything to nurse Starr back to health. She had yowled her anger at the world then too. She had wallowed in her self-pity and grieved for all those she had lost.

In that moment, Starr could think of nothing better than to curl up in a tight ball. To turn her back on this unforgiving world, to grieve for not only their lives, but her own as well. She then remembered how her head had felt, pressed against Ren's chest. The way he had murmured softly into her ear, the rise and fall as he breathed. She wanted to feel that again, she wanted to be comforted and told that everything would be alright. For a moment she could believe that it actually would be, to ignore the lie hiding behind the words.

No, she couldn't let herself lie down and surrender, show her belly to the cruel world. Ren wouldn't always be there to comfort her, no one would. She couldn't form any close bonds, not with anyone, it just brought too much pain and suffering. Now with heavy spirits and a hollow feeling in her heart, Starr trudged to the back corner of the den. She curled herself into a tight ball, turning her back on the world. Not in defeat, but in defiance.

She cursed the world, she cursed the guards, she cursed everything that was wrong in all of their lives. She also crushed all lingering hope of survival and escaping from this place. They would all die in this cave. Be it from the jaws of the guards or old age and sickness. It all ended the same... darkness, nothing but darkness.

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