Thank you everyone for all the nice reviews! I decided to take your advice, Mystic Fayth, and added a bit more on the Dragonflame/Deilia conflict:) To all--enjoy!


Deilia gave a small little gasp at the sight of the boat, but Sparit blinked at it for a few seconds, and then burst into laughter.

"You're kidding, right? This whole fiasco is some stupid birthday joke on me, isn't it?" he demanded.

Chawna looked at her son, frowning. "This is not a joke, Sparit Flaizclaw. This is a life and death issue we're discussing here."

"Life and death issue? Well, first of all, Deilia and I don't even know what this issue is!" snarled Sparit, losing his temper. "You've dragged us down here through the dark, expecting us to go sailing away on a little boat without even knowing why!"

"I'll tell you why," snapped Chawna, annoyed at Sparit's disrespectful rage. "It's because Deilia's not really my daughter or your sister!"

Sparit was stunned, as was Deilia. "She's not my sister?" repeated Sparit fiercely. "Then who in Hellsteeth is she?"

Deilia herself was taken aback. "I'm…not your daughter?" she said slowly.

Chawna shook her head. "You are the daughter of Blana Goldblade, a very good friend of mine. She was slain only a few days after giving birth to you."

Deilia was dumbstruck, so Sparit spoke instead. "Killed?" exclaimed Sparit. "Her parents were killed? How?"

"Not just killed—murdered. By Tazicale, Mirage, and a few of their friends. Your mother and father were ordered to be killed because they refused to take part in the torture and slaying of two young squirrelkits. Not only did they refuse to take part, they slew Mirage's father, who had already slain one of the kits. Mirage and her gang received permission to wipe out your entire family, and they did…or at least, they thought they did," sighed Chawna. "Only, your mother was able to bring you to my house before they caught up with her. I agreed to take you in as my own kit, because my own daughter, Sparit's real twin sister, died a few days after birth. When Mirage came to find you, I dyed a little birthmark onto my dead kit's paw, and presented her dead body as yours. They believed me."

Both Deilia and Sparit goggled at Chawna in disbelief. "I don't believe this," whispered Deilia. "I'm not even who I think I am, am I? I'm not the daughter of Chawna and sister to Sparit!"

"And I've been living with the prettiest vixen in the area while thinking she was my sister the whole time!""said Sparit, impressed.

Deilia ignored this statement. "Is my name even Deilia? I would think you'd have changed it…. so that Mirage would never know that I wasn't really your daughter."

Chawna nodded. "Your name is Tyleeria…a pretty name, don't you think? I hated changing your name, but I had to, as you understand. I suppose you know why you had to keep that birthmark hidden now, don't you?" she asked.

Deilia said nothing for a few seconds, then, sitting down next to the boat, she inclined her head. "Mirage must have known that the daughter of Blana had a funny birthmark on one of her paws. You had to keep mine hidden because the moment Mirage saw it, she would put two and two together. Like she will when Dragonflame tells her."

"Who said Dragonflame will tell her?" retorted Sparit unhappily. "I don't fancy sailing away, leaving all my friends and possessions here…"

"You're the one that said we couldn't trust Dragonflame!" snapped Deilia furiously. "Or did you already forget?"

"I know I did, but listen here!" retorted Sparit. "Let's all go home, and you and mum can go to bed. I'll go off to the barracks and find Dragonflame. Then, I'll take him to the woods, beat the stuffing out of him, and make him promise that he won't tell anyone about our little secret, with punishment of death if he does tell. Besides," added Sparit, "Dragonflame and I have been best friends for seasons…I might not even have to threaten him that badly after all."

"We could try that," said Deilia softly. "Because I don't really want to leave home either, mum. I wouldn't want to leave you alone…and I wouldn't want to leave the place where I've spent my entire life."

Chawna bit her lip. "I only want you two to be safe," she said finally. "If you think that you could somehow force Dragonflame to keep his mouth shut, then I suppose I'd like it if you stayed with me too."

When Chawna continued to look worried, Sparit patted his mother's back reassuringly. "If you haven't noticed, mum, Deilia—er, Tyleeria and I barely know how to sail a boat anyways. We'd be in more danger at sea than at home. Besides, I promise I'll have a talking to with Dragonflame the minute we get back…he'll listen to me, one way or another. Trust me."

"And what if he doesn't?" said Chawna, pressing a paw to her lips. "What then?"

"Then Dei—Tyleeria and I will beat back down here and sail off as fast as we can, won't we?" he said, winking at Tyleeria. "Of course, we'll probably drown before making it out into open waters, but I suppose we'll have to risk it."

Chawna nodded finally. "Let's go home then," she said, "But leave those sacks of food and your supplies in the boat. That way, you'll be ready to leave at the shortest notice. And one last thing, Sparit."

Sparit threw his sack into the boat and looked up. "What is it?"

"If Dragonflame doesn't agree to keep his mouth shut, just slay him. It doesn't matter if you slay him in front of a whole crowd of beasts either…you can just tell them that Dragonflame stole something of yours. The law of Tazzur states that if a beast steals anything of yours, you can slay him without penalty."

"Convenient," said Sparit, grinning, but inside, he wasn't sure if he had the guts to murder his best friend.

Chawna got up wearily and motioned to Tyleeria and Sparit. "Let's go home then. Never get off your guard though, and always be ready to leave at a moment's noticed. You know the reason for my jumpiness and suspicions now, and I hope you understand why I act so protective. I don't want to lose you two," she said, her voice catching in her throat in a half-sob.

Tyleeria put a paw around her adoptive mother, smiling gently. "You'll always be my mother, Chawna. Don't worry, Sparit and I know now to play this sort of game—we'll be safe, believe me. I don't know about Dragonflame though…Sparit gets out of hand when he's mad sometimes," she joked, in an attempt to cheer Chawna up.

Chawna managed a weak smile before beginning the trek back home. Sparit nodded at both before sprinting off ahead of them, in the direction of the barracks.

Sparit was panting when he reached the barracks, but with one quick scan over the many heads, he knew Dragonflame wasn't there. Some of Sparit's friends waved him over hopefully, knowing that Sparit was always generous with lending money, but he shook his head and jogged out of the rowdy area, back onto the street.

Wiping his sweaty paws on his handsome belt, he quickly summed up where to look for his friend next—at Madame Urga's bar. Fishing his pocket for some change, he quickly found two coins and entered the bar. Spying Dragonflame, who was sitting in the corner looking very sullen and very drunk, he ordered a small cherry mint fizz and took a seat next to his friend.

"Ahoy, Dragonflame, what's the problem with yore mug?" he asked, flicking Dragonflame's ear playfully.

Dragonflame didn't smile. "Yore cat of a sister is my problem, Spar. She was playin' me for a fool!" he hissed. "And what's with that birthmark o' hers, anyways?" he demanded furiously. "Why's she so touchy 'bout it?" he asked loudly.

"Shhh!" snapped Sparit, trying to keep the smile on his face. "Keep yore voice down, will yer?" he said, his tongue rolling easily in corsair slang. "About that birthmark, yeah. You promised 'er you wouldn't mention it, dincher?"

"Yeah, but I'm in 'alf a mind not to keep tha' promise!" snarled Dragonflame angrily. "If she's so touchy with it, it'd be nice to make 'er nice 'n mad by telling e'vry one 'bout 'er stinkin' birthmark!"

"Don't do it!" said Sparit coolly, dropping his corsair's tongue. "I'm asking as a friend, Dragonflame-please, don't do it. Don't tell anyone."

"Now, wot's this?" yelled Dragonflame in his drunken anger. "Why're yew sidin' with 'er? Did I tell yew wot she did to me? She pretended she liked me, an' she really didn't! She made me look like a fool, even got me to give 'er flowers and harp about givin' 'er sweets as well! I thought she liked me, but she was o'ly fakin'! Now why shouldn't I punish 'er a bit? Tell me why she don't want anyone to know about tha' birthmark, Spar!" he demanded, shoving his friend against the wall of the bar.

Urga's eyes had snapped to the potential fistfight—she hated fights in her bars and often told her customers to save the fighting for outside. However, Sparit shook his head at Urga in a reassuring way and pried Dragonflame's paw from his throat.

"Yore drunk as Hellsteeth, Dragonflame. Let me go, an' let's go outside and talk, eh?" he said dangerously.

"Yeah, let's go out!" replied Dragonflame darkly. "I'll give you a message to give to yore dear sister!"

Sparit swilled down his drink quickly and dragged Dragonflame out of the bar. When they were outside, Sparit let Dragonflame go and spun him around to face him.

"How many drink have you had, Dragon?" he asked quietly.

"Six—Seven, I don't know!" Dragonflame answered angrily. "Wot's it to you? Not enough to drown my sorrows—that's a fact!"

"Enough to drown your senses, then?" said Sparit, his eyes flashing.

"You callin' me a fool?" roared Dragonflame, staggering. "You stupid Mother's whelp!" he snapped, and with that, hit Sparit hard in the chest.

Sparit stumbled, not expecting an attack, but reacted just as quickly. He pulled out his sword just in time to see Dragonflame swing his own sword at his head. Sparit deflected the blade and swung his hard against Dragonflame's, hoping the force of the blow would be hard enough to knock the sword out of Dragonflame's paw. Dragonflame, however, hung on to his weapon doggedly, although he staggered and stepped backward slightly.

"I thought you were my friend, Spar! I thought you'd be on my side!" raged Dragonflame. "Taste my knife, traitor!" he screamed.

Sparit narrowed his eyes, swinging his blade experimentally. "I don't want to kill you, Dragonflame. I just want to talk."

"Talk? Talk to the worms that'll be crawlin' over yore dead body soon, Mother's whelp of a traitor!" he hissed, jabbing his sword at Sparit wildly.

Sparit deflected the attack easily, and nicked his blade against Dragonflame's paw, hard enough to draw blood, but not hard enough to cause lasting damage. Dragonflame dropped his sword at once, clutching his injured paw, which began bleeding. "You cut me, stupidface!" he slurred drunkenly. "I'll cut off yore mother's tail for this, Sparit!"

Sparit never knew his friend to say such ugly things, but it didn't surprise him too much. Picking up Dragonflame's blade, he stuck it through a loop in his belt and menaced Dragonflame with his own sword. Seizing Dragonflame's tunic collar, he hefted him up and pinned him against a wooden fence none too gently.

"Now, Dragonflame, let us talk," he said cajolingly. "You aren't going to tell anyone about that birthmark, are you?" he said, tickling the sword at his friend's throat. "Repeat after me—'I'm not going to tell anyone about Deilia's birthmark.'"

"And who's gonna make me—you? Wotcher going to do if tell, Sparit? Yew gonna kill me? Why not do it now?" he challenged, ripping open his tunic to reveal his bare chest. "I'll make it easy for you, all you have to do is stab the blade in!"

Sparit faltered, and Dragonflame smiled. "Yore too soft-hearted to kill anyone in cold blood, Spar. Yore weak!" he taunted.

Sparit's face contorted furiously, and he swung the butt of his sword at Dragonflame, catching him hard in the nose. Dragonflame clutched his snout, which was spurting blood, as Sparit shoved him hard in the chest once more. "If you tell anyone about that birthmark, I'll be mad enough to slay anybeast, you hear?" When Dragonflame remained quiet once more, Sparit flared. "Do you understand?" he roared, shaking Dragonflame's limp body. "I'll torture you so bad that you'll be screaming for it to end! Do you understand, you stupid excuse for a fox!"

Dragonflame's eyes widened for the first time—Sparit had never looked so angry. He seemed to regain a bit of his senses as he said weakly, "Sparit, you don't have the guts to kill me, or you'd have killed me already."

Sparit flung Dragonflame to the ground and kicked him violently, swearing. "What do I have to do to make you keep quiet about this?" he said darkly. "Yore damned right I don't want to kill you, but you're not cooperating! If you ever tell, Dragonflame, I'll hunt you down myself and throw you into a nest of vipers…I have the guts to do that, I know! That way, it'd be the snakes killing you, not me!"

"Yore dagger, Sparit. The one you showed me today—the one your mother gave you for yore birthday. Give that to me, and I won't tell nobeast about that birthmark—I promise!" said Dragonflame quickly, deciding that any gain was better than none.

Sparit looked at Dragonflame and kicked him again. "How will I know you're going to keep to that promise, Dragonflame? You're a born liar!"

"If I tell, you can always kill me and get your dagger back!" he said hastily. "And you can kill my mother and father too, to satisfy your revenge. No one will be able to protect them, and they're no longer strong or fleet of paw."

"I'm not that dirty, like you are—I wouldn't want to hurt innocent beasts. It's not their fault they had a son like you!" spat Sparit angrily. Unbuckling the fancy new dagger from his belt, he tossed it to Dragonflame, who looked at it in awe. "If you tell, I will kill you, Dragonflame. You know that, right?"

Dragonflame nodded. "I know, you'll kill me," he said meekly, but there was a ghost of a smile lingering on his lips.

"Then keep that mouth shut!" warned Sparit finally. "Keep it shut, or I'll close it for you—permanently!"

With those parting words, Sparit melted into the darkness. Dragonflame sat on the hard dirt floor, clutching Sparit's dagger and looking to the spot where Sparit had disappeared, his face a mixture of fear and anger. Then, he looked to at his new dagger, and a slow smile crept to his face. "Who knows how many other gifts Sparit will give me in exchange for my silence?" he mused. "All I have to do is to keep my mouth shut about some secret that I don't really understand anyways…. Sparit's fighting a losing battle," he snickered, his eyes feeding on the shine of the handsome dagger greedily. "Soon I'll own every nice thing Sparit's got, and when he has nothing left to give me…" his face lighted up into a cruel smile, "…I'll tell someone about that stupid birthmark, and watch the drama unfold. I won't be stupid enough to hang around, anyhow. Sparit will never know where to find me once I flee, and he'll never get any of his fancy trinkets back either!"


Sparit hurried home, berating himself inwardly. He had let Dragonflame get the better of him, and he knew it. "I can't believe I didn't have the guts to just kill him and get it over with," he muttered to himself furiously. "Just one thrust, and our family's worries would be gone!" he seethed. "Instead, Dragonflame's got himself a new dagger, and I'm left feeling stupid. Life's not fair."

When he reached his doorstep, the door swung open to admit him immediately. "Well?" asked Chawna anxiously. "Did you scare Dragonflame into keeping his trap shut?"

Sparit squirmed with discomfort. "Well, maybe. He was drunk too badly to be afraid, and he even tried to fight me. But I bribed him, really. He wanted the dagger you gave me today, mother, and I gave it to him. It was the only thing he wanted enough to promise me that he'd keep his mouth shut. I'm sorry I had to give it away," he added hopelessly. "I know it was my father's and everything, but it was the only thing…"

Chawna's lip twitched and her eyes began to shine wetly again, but she smiled. "Well, as long as he keeps quiet, it doesn't matter. We're safe then."

"And if he does tell," snarled Sparit. "I will kill him."

"No," reproved Chawna, "You and your sister will be running away, while I'll be the one killing him."

Both her offspring looked at her incredulously, and she grinned mischievously. "You think I'm incapable of slaying a mediocre little foxwhelp?" she said, shaking her head. "Just because I'm an old vixen now? Well, you'd be in for a surprise then!"

Deilia, finally getting accustomed to the name Tyleeria, giggled for the first time that night. "Spar, can't you just see our mum, dishing out the slashes and bruises?"

Sparit smiled also, but he was still writhing with disappointment. He found it hard to believe that he couldn't deliver one final thrust to end Dragonflame's life. Just one stab and everything would be normal again.

"What's wrong with me? Why couldn't I kill him? I'm a just a big chicken," muttered Sparit, rubbing his eyes furiously. "A big chicken, that's what I am!"

"What's that?" asked Tyleeria curiously. "Something about a chicken?"

Sparit shrugged it off. "Tis nothing…nothing at all. And definitely nothing about a chicken. You must be hearing things."

Chawna, however, had heard everything her son had muttered to himself. Smiling comfortingly, she squeezed his paw and raised his chin. "You couldn't kill him because you're better than that, Sparit. You couldn't bring yourself to kill him when you knew he was too drunk to think straight. You knew the battle would be one-sided in your favor, so you let him go. I don't blame you at all, Sparit. In fact, that's what makes you such a fine fox. You have a heart."

Sparit smiled bitterly. "Oh, yes, a heart. What I would give to not have one…things would be so much easier!"

Tyleeria surveyed Sparit with a thin-lipped smile. "Too true, Sparit, too true!"