By: Tigeress Khana
Disclaimer: Any character that you come across in this story that you’ve heard of before is the property of its original creator, etc, etc, so forth.
“So just why is this called the Vulpine Forest?” Gabrielle asked more out of a need to make conversation than any burning desire to know.
“Well, Vulpine means fox or fox like, and people used to hunt them a lot around here.”
As if on cue the bay of hounds in the distance caught the pair’s attention. It sounded like there was a large pack of them in hot pursuit straight ahead. Gabrielle thought it was a shame that anyone would hunt such a beautiful creature. Xena on the other hand jumped up on Argo in case the hunt came her way.
“What are you doing, Xena?”
“A nice thick fox tail would be a great up-grade from my present deer hide pillow.”
“Why? I don’t see any diff…”
Xena stopped short as she heard a rustling off to the right. The baying hounds were quickly getting closer. Xena expected to see a russet fox run by at any moment and pulled out her chakrum to get a good shot before the hounds ripped it apart. Suddenly the hound’s quarry surged out of the brush and came running down the path. Despite the ample warring from the dogs the prey was a startling sight.
“It’s not a fox, it’s a woman!” Gabrielle exclaimed stepping forward to help.
The bedraggled woman looked at the party she had come across with a mixture of relief and renewed fear. When one of the sleek hounds burst onto the path she decided to risk Gabrielle’s offer for protection. The dog kept after his prey despite the new arrivals. When he came in range Gabrielle gave him a hard rap on the head with her pole. Yelping the hound backed off with his tail between his legs to warn the others.
Gabrielle turned her attention to the woman who had hidden behind her. The stranger collapsed into Gabrielle’s arms shivering with sobbing and exhaustion. Xena meanwhile nudged Argo forward a bit, the owner of the hound was bound to arrive soon. It didn’t take long for a small band of grungy men on horseback to step onto the path.
The leader on a grotesquely oversize black horse stepped forward with an attitude of challenge written all over his slim face. Xena eyed him coolly with indifferent aqua eyes. She waited patiently for him to speak his peace.
“Hand that woman over.” The man finally said when it was clear that Xena wasn’t about to start the conversation.
“By who’s authority do you ask this?” Xena replied formally.
“By the authority of the Warlord Zandar!”
“And I take it that’s you.”
“Of course it is!” Zandar snapped irritably. “Now hand over that woman.”
Xena looked down at the pathetic mud covered creature trying to hide herself in Gabrielle’s embrace. Gabrielle looked at Xena and shook her head while pulling the woman closer. Xena looked around again as if the whole affair had nothing to do with her. This action made Zandar’s face red with indignant rage.
“She is mine!” He cried. “Hand her over at once or face the consequences!”
“It doesn’t look like she’s too interested in going with you.” Xena replied moving Argo a bit closer to Zandar’s sweating horse. She noted from the perspiration dripping down the animal that it must have been a long chase. “Why don’t you leave you’re address with me, and if she changes her mind later, we’ll deliver her.”
Zandar’s face congested with blood and for a moment he was beyond speech. “Insolent female!” He finally spat. “I will be taking what is mine at once!”
“Come and try.” Xena mocked with a grin. She drew out her sword and pulled Argo’s reins in tight in preparation for battle.
The Warlord was about to rush head first into Xena’s waiting blade when one of his companions hurriedly came up and whispered something in his ear. Zandar’s face went a few shades paler but he kept his disgusted expression.
“Xena, eh?” Zandar mused as he tried to look calm. “I’ve heard of you, vaguely.”
“Heard enough to know you should back off?” Gabrielle interjected.
Zandar stayed quiet for a moment while he thought out his options. “You can’t protect that little vixen forever, she will be mine.”
“We’ll see.” Xena said dismissing Zandar with an impertinent wave of her hand.
Zandar’s face turned red again. He jerked his horse back around. “Come on men, we all ready have the one we need anyway, we can let this one go. For now.”
Xena watched the tails of the fleeting horses with a tiny grin of pride slipping into her otherwise blank expression.
“Xena, I think we should find a place to camp for the night.”
“Preferable near a lake.” Xena said looking down at the soiled huddle that was still shaking violently in her partner’s arms.
A dip in a near by pond did wonders for the woman they had rescued. Her long hair turned out to be a bright red, and her skin was practically the colour of milk once the mud was off. She wore little in the way of clothing, the material of the flowy tattered dress was an odd grayish colour with a silver cast to it. Bright green eyes darted nervously from Xena to Gabrielle. Xena was sure that if the woman had an ounce of strength in her she would use it to bolt. As it was she could hardly sit up let alone run away. So far she hadn’t said a word.
“What’s your name?” Gabrielle asked soothingly trying to drag a few words out of their guest.
The woman hesitated for a second and finally said very quietly “Sylva.”
“Sylva.” Gabrielle repeated. “That’s a very pretty name.”
“Thank you.” Sylva replied, she felt a little braver now that she had said something. “Thank you, for everything.”
“No problem,” Gabrielle replied laughing “it’s what we do.”
“I killed one of the hounds, but there were many more. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found you.”
“You killed one of the dogs?” Xena asked suddenly interested. “How?”
“I bi…, uh beat him,” Sylva hesitated “with a branch. Maybe he didn’t die, I don’t know, I kept running.”
“I’m impressed that you managed to out run the dogs and horses for as long as you must have done.” Xena eyed Sylva with obvious suspicion for a moment. When she didn’t get a resonse she turned to leave. “Well, dinner isn’t going to catch itself.”
Sylva turned to Gabrielle. “I, I didn’t mean to kill a hound, I haven’t done wrong have I?”
“No, no, you were protecting yourself.” Gabrielle assured her. “Don’t mind Xena, she’s like that. Why was that louse after you anyway?”
Sylva’s eyes went wide for a moment. She looked around again as if expecting an escape route to open up at any moment. When no escape presented itself she turned back to Gabrielle, but kept her eyes low.
“I don’t know.” She finally answered weakly. “They, they, took my husband, Dakario, three days ago. They’ve been after me since.”
“What?” Gabrielle was shocked. “Zandar must have a reason for taking your husband, he can’t just be taking people for no reason.”
“I don’t know.” Sylva whimpered. “I just want him back.”
“Xena and I will get him back for you.” Gabrielle stated confidently.
“Really? Why? I already owe you my life.”
“Like I said, it’s what we do.”
Xena came back into the camp an hour later holding a recently slaughtered rabbit by its back legs. Sylva stared at the lifeless creature with bright eyes and a slight quivering of her lower jaw.
“He was fast, but I caught him.” Xena remarked as she handed over the kill to Gabrielle to prepare. “How are you doing now that you’ve had some time to rest?”
“What?” Sylva answered absent mindedly, her whole attention was fixed upon the half skinned rabbit. “Oh, uh, I’m fine, I…” She trailed off.
Xena looked at her thoughtfully and shrugged. “Never mind, it can wait till morning or after dinner at least.”
Sylva just nodded. She kept watching dinner as it was roasted over a small fire. Every once in a while her whole frame would shudder until she visibly took control of herself again. When Gabrielle finally went to hand her a dripping rabbit leg Sylva leapt up and bolted into the dark forest, leaving Gabrielle with a puzzled look on her face.
“I guess she’s vegetarian.” Gabrielle noted as she got up to go after her.
“No, just let her go. She knows where we are. She’ll come back later.”
“Why do I suddenly get the feeling that you’re not telling me something?”
“Are you going to eat that leg or just stand there with it?” Xena asked as she reached out for a bit of rabbit for herself.
Gabrielle just made an indignant noise of frustration, she knew there was no getting Xena to talk when she didn’t want to.
“I hope she’ll be all right out there.”
“She’ll be fine.”
“There are wild animals out there, Xena.”
“More than you might think.”
Dakario sat glumly in the corner of a stereotypically dank cell staring absent mindedly at the guard. He’d never been in captivity before, in fact he’d rarely even went inside houses. His nature lead to a more outdoors kind of lifestyle. He couldn’t even begin to guess how long he’d been here. He did take heart in the fact that Sylva appeared to still be free. He hoped that she had had the sense to relocate to a new territory by now.
Dakario’s dark red hair started to stand up at the back of his neck. He knew this was a sign that Zandar was coming back down for a visit. Dakario was more infuriated at himself for being caught than at Zandar. It was stupid of him to have been caught off guard like that.
Zandar came down the dungeon steps guarded by three men as usual. He walked up to the bars and smiled. His slight figure looked as if it would allow him to step right through the gaps in the bars. In his right hand he held a plain gold necklace that Dakario recognized immediately. He knew full well what Zandar wanted and there was no way he was going to get it.
“Still haven’t changed I see.” Zandar hissed at Dakario. He motioned to one of the men closest to him. A few minutes later the man returned with a covered tray. “I’ve brought only the very best.”
Zandar lifted the cover off the tray and the heavy aroma of braised pheasant filled the cramped quarters. Dakario’s green eyes went bright and he stood up with his attention suddenly captured. He could hardly remember the last time he’d eaten anything. Dakario had to admit that Zandar had done his homework. He knew just what the sight of food like this should do to him.
“You can’t resist forever.” Zandar said mockingly.
Before he lost control Dakario stepped over to the bars that separated them and reaching through he obstinately turned the tray over. The pheasant fell to the grimy floor. Dakario wasn’t going to let Zandar win that easily. Someone younger might have found the offering irresistible. However Dakario had a more self control than most, after all he was over two thousand years old.
Sylva didn’t come back that night, however the next morning they found her down by the pond. For a moment Gabrielle thought that she was washing blood off her face. However, as she got closer she decided that she was mistaken because she couldn’t see any cuts on Sylva that would have produce it.
“Have a good hunt last night?” Xena asked.
“What?” Sylva replied innocently. “I just, just had to get some air last night. I apologize.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Gabrielle went to join Sylva at the edge of the pond when Xena stopped her. “What are you doing, Xena?”
“There is something here that I don’t trust.” Xena said coldly. “What exsactly are you, Sylva?”
“You heard me, what are you?”
“Xena, you’re scaring her, and me for that matter.” Gabrielle protested.
“Answer me Sylva.”
“I don’t understand what you mean.” Sylva replied backing away to the edge of the water. “What are you talking about?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Now, tell me or we won’t help you.”
“I’m, I’m human, just like everyone else.”
“Don’t lie to me!” Xena cried as she drew her sword and advanced on Sylva.
“No! Please, I can explain!” Sylva hurriedly backed into the water instinctively moving away from Xena’s blade.
“Then I suggest you do so quickly.” Xena stood on the shore menacingly.
Standing waist deep in the pond Sylva’s eyes blazed with frustrated fury. After a moment the fire died in her face. “All right.” She sighed.
Gabrielle thought for a second that her eyes were giving out one her when Sylva went a bit fuzzy. She rubbed her eyes to make sure that it wasn’t just sleep affecting them. When she opened them again there was a huge red dog in the pond in front of her. Gabrielle yipped and brought her pole into fighting position.
“It’s okay, Gabrielle.” Xena said sheathing her sword. “Sylva is a Vulapina.”
“A what?” Taking a closer look she found that Sylva wasn’t a dog. She was more like an enormous fox, half the size of a horse, except her tail was tipped with a brilliant metallic silver instead of white.
“A Vulapina.” Sylva answered sadly after reverting to her human form. She came up to the bank of the pond and sat down, weeping pitifully.
“I didn’t think anymore existed.” Xena mused as Gabrielle went to comfort the woman or fox or whatever she was. “I thought they’d been hunted out of existance for their fur long ago.”
“How did you know she was a Vulpa, Vul, whatever you said?” Gabrielle asked as she helped Sylva up away from the water.
“Well, I had an idea something was different after she managed to out run those dogs for so long. And Zandar called he a ‘little vixen’, a vixen is a female fox. Then at dinner she bolted. That’s because a Vulapine will usually be forced to revert to its canine form upon the smell of its favorite foods.”
“You know a lot more about the Vulapine than most, of course most don’t even know we ever existed.” Sylva said now that she’d regained her composure. “However, you don’t seem to understand our nature because if you did you’d know that a Vulapina or Vulapino can be born whenever there is a silver moon and should never be able to go extinct.”
“Silver moon?” Gabrielle questioned. “I’ve never heard of a silver moon.”
“Few have.” Sylva replied. “They are very rare, in fact there hasn’t been one since my birth just over five hundred years ago.”
“You’re five hundred years old!”
“She must be.” Xena interjected. “The Vulapine don’t gain their power to transform into humans until they are five hundred. I’ve heard of the silver moon, it is when the light of the moon is covered by the magnificent silver spun cloak of the Goddess Artemis which used to happen about every thousand years. However, Artemis destroyed her cloak for unknown reasons many years ago. So there will be no more silver moons.”
Sylva was silent for a long time. “I didn’t know that. So Artemis has truly forsaken the Vulapine forever.”
“I don’t understand.” Gabrielle interrupted.
“A Vulapine starts out life as a fox born beneath the silver moon to a mother who only bears one kit, that’s a baby fox, which is in itself very rare.” Sylva explained. “This gives the young fox a silver tipped tail and longevity needed to become a full Vulapine. Another way to create a Vulapine, of course, is to mate two Vulapines together. In either case to become a full fledged Vulapine he or she must then survive to be at least five hundred years old.”
“I see.” Gabrielle was absorbing all of this to write into her scriptures later. “Were your parents Vulapine?”
“No, my mother and father were foxes. I was born under what must have been the last silver moon.”
“And this husband of yours,” Xena added “he is a Vulapino?”
“Yes. Dakario and I are the last now that the silver moon is gone.”
“So Zandar wants you for your fur?” Gabrielle asked.
Sylva hesitated. “Yes, yes I think so. Dakario is much better at holding his human form so just when Zandar caught him he reverted. That’s why I think he is still alive.”
“You can’t get the fur if you kill a Vulapine in the human form.” Gabrielle concluded.
Xena thought about this story for a second. She doubted that Zandar was the kind to go through this much trouble for a couple of fox pelts no matter how large they were. She didn’t know why he wanted the two Vulapine so badly. The fact that he did, however, was reason enough to get Dakario away from him.
“All right,” Xena said at last “let’s go get Dakario and get you two foxes back together again.”
Dakario new in his heart that he couldn’t starve to death. Once a Vulapine lived to be a thousand years old he reached the second stage of the Vulapine. Under this stage he became immortal by the decision of the Goddess Artemis. However his heart was still that of an animal and even when he became immortal he still felt the burning desire to eat and hunt. Artemis was the hunter Goddess and she wanted her prize creation to always have to hunt and kill. She made the Vulapine immortal once they became of age because the mortals killed so many of her regular foxes. She wanted to create a forest animal stronger than the mortals to show her power.
Zandar eventually realized that Dakario could resist being fed. However he was willing to bet that he knew something that Dakario couldn’t resist -hunting. Zandar went to the village flock himself and picked out the plumpest young lamb. He brought back the lamb and placed it in Dakario’s cell.
“You’ve probably tasted these lambs before, the villagers are always complaining of them being taken in the night. So I’m sure you know of their superior quality.”
Dakario wasn’t listening to Zandar. He had his full attention on the young lamb that was innocently walking around its new surroundings on shaky legs. He could feel his teeth growing sharper and his fur taking over his skin. Vulapine never eat in their human form it is one of their greatest weaknesses, it keeps them from ever becoming part of human society. Dakario knew he didn’t need to eat, but at the same time he knew he had to kill.
His heart was still that of an animal no matter what shape he displayed to the world. Human form had its advantages, but he was still a creature of instinct and almost the last of his kind. He had just about resigned to going into immortality alone when Sylva was born. He had taken her from her vulpine mother just as soon as she was weaned and raised her to be his mate in eternity. She was still young, but once she reach immortality age would no longer matter. Sylva was beautiful, she was fast, her animal side was strong, and he loved her. She loved him because he was all she’d ever really known, but it worked out the same as true love.
None of that mattered now. All that mattered, all Dakario could focus on, was the fat lamb at the other end of the cell. The lamb cried out for its ewe with a pitiful strain in its young voice. The vocalization of the animal’s vulnerable position was more than he could take. Dakario’s vulpine heart won over his humanized brain and he leapt.
The teeth that sank into the supple flesh of the lamb belonged to the most magnificent member of the Vulapine race to ever stalk the forest. He was almost as large as a full grown horse. The red blood of the lamb, which had been instantly killed, could not stain his fur for it was a far darker and deeper hue.
Dakario’s muscles visibly shifted under his glossy coat, but it was too late. While he had been distracted by the slaughter Zandar had slipped in a locked the gold necklace around Dakario’s thick neck. The necklace was more popularly known as a Collar of Amundi. They were all thought to have been destroyed by the Gods, however, it seemed as though one remained.
Too late to stop Zandar Dakario reared back and clawed at the new restrain with his black paws. However, the collar was all ready working on him. It wasn’t long before Dakario was sitting calmly yet attentively before Zandar -his new master.
“Ares!” Xena snarled. “What are you doing here?”
“Xena, you have to get out of here!” Ares, God of War, had flashed into view and was now looking over his shoulder nervously.
“Go away, Ares, before I make you.” Xena warned.
Sylva stepped forward. “It’s happened, hasn’t it, Zandar has a Collar of Amundi, doesn’t he?”
Ares looked quizzically at Sylva for a second and then retracted in horror. “You’re another one of them aren’t you!” Ares looked up at the sky. “Artemis! Artemis! Show yourself! This is your mess, you told us they were all dead!”
“Artemis can’t help you now.” Sylva answered quietly.
“What’s going on here?” Gabrielle interrupted.
“Dakario is coming,” Sylva answered “he is coming to kill the Gods.”
“What?!” Xena exclaimed. “How?”
“When a Vulapine turns one thousand they become immortal.” Ares answered. “And when that happens they also have the power to kill an immortal. They are not bound by the restraint of proper Gods not to kill one another.”
“Dakario would never do such a thing, normally.”
“Normally?” Xena echoed.
“Under the spell of a Collar of Amundi he will do whatever Zandar wants and there is only one thing Zandar could want with Dakario. To kill the Gods. Dakario can smell the God blood like he can smell a deer, even if it is diluted with the blood of a mortal.”
“That means he’ll be after you too Xena!” Gabrielle exclaimed putting two and two together.
“What is this Collar of Amundi.” Xena asked undisturbed.
Ares spoke up. “They were originally created to harness the power of animals, any animal wearing one was under the control of the owner of the collar. It was a gift to the mortals from the Gods. But as with everything else we’ve ever given you it was misused and the Gods destroyed the collars. One must have survived.”
“How did Zandar get it, how does he even know about the Vulapine?” Gabrielle mused.
“It doesn’t matter now.” Ares answered. “We need Artemis, only her sliver arrow can kill and immortal Vulapine. Only no one on Olympus can find her!”
“Like I said before,” Sylva said sadly “Artemis can’t help you now. Dakario is over two thousand years old. He has reached the third stage of the Vulapine.”
“What?” Ares asked. “I haven’t heard of any third stage.”
“Once a Vulapine turns two thousand he is beyond the reach of the Gods.”
“Then he will hunt us all into extinction!”
“No, there is one thing that can kill a third stage Vulapine.” Sylva whispered on the brink of tears.
“What is it?” Gabrielle asked softly fearing she didn’t want to know the answer.
Dakario stalked through the underbrush. His mouth burned with thirst, a thirst no water would quench, a thirst for the blood of Gods. He stopped for a moment and raised his sharp muzzle into the wind. His whiskers started to twitch with anticipation. He had picked up a scent. With his silver tipped tail gleaming in the dying light of day Dakario crept up slowly on his victim.
She wasn’t a full God, but she would do. Caught unaware the half God’s throat was quickly torn open. Dakario drank deeply from the ruby flow. A familiar sound pricked at his sensitive ears. The titanic fox looked up straight into a knocked arrow belonging to a frightened young man.
Dakario could smell the half God all over him. Looking down at the red haired maiden he’d just killed he concluded that this gangly boy was her mate. The boy let his arrow fly which struck Dakario’s coat and bounced off harmlessly. Seeing this the man fled.
The boy was allowed to flee unharmed. Dakario hadn’t been given any orders to kill anything but Gods and that’s all he was interested. Leaving the body near the small river where she had been collecting water he moved on to his next kill. He could smell a full God close by. A real God would be a harder kill. And yet it would be a far more satisfying one.
“What?” Gabrielle was horrified. “But you’re the only other one left, and he’s your husband!”
“I know.” Replied Sylva suddenly devoid of emotion. “But, it is the only way.”
“She right.” Ares interjected. “Under the spell the Vulapino will slaughter us all, we can’t stay on our guard forever.”
“Is there a way we can get the collar off.” Xena asked.
“Even if you could somehow get close enough to Dakario, the Collar can only be removed by the one who placed it there.”
“There has to be something we can do.” Gabrielle persisted. “We can’t ju…”
“Quite!” Xena hissed suddenly. “Hear that?”
On cue Dakario stepped out of the growing shadows. His cold green eyes gleamed out of his handsome animal face. He knew he’d been spotted and was actually looking forward to taking chase. Just in case they didn’t know to run he exposed his sharp fangs in a menacing snarl.
“Xena, Ares!” Gabrielle cried. “Get out of here!” But Ares was already gone.
“You’re horse will never out run him, and I can’t fight Dakario in the forest, I need to lure him out in the open. Don’t worry, I’ve always been faster.”
Without waiting for a consensus Sylva altered into her vulpine form. She was visibly smaller than her mate, but she could still carry a person. She slipped under Xena and took off. She knew Dakario would not injure Gabrielle, her blood was not what his teeth desired. She had smelt the God blood in Xena when she’d first been hunted by the hounds, that’s why she trusted her.
Dakario did not seem to recognize his mate. All he saw was an opportunity to truly hunt something worthy. As soon as Sylva and Xena had taken off he lunged after them. Gabrielle did what she could to keep Argo calm as the massive animal ran by. When Dakario was gone Gabrielle left Argo and ran off in the same direction. She knew she couldn’t match or even come close to the fox’s speed, but she couldn’t do nothing with him going after Xena.
Sylva’s blood was pounding in her ears and her breath was starting to burn as she tried to make it to a clearing where she’d have a better chance of defeating her mate. He was stronger, but he had also taught her everything she knew so she would be able to anticipate his every move. Xena held on painfully to the fur on her neck as they leapt over a small river. Sylva screeched to a stop at the foot of the woman Dakario had already killed.
It was all the time he needed to catch up with them. He splashed into the river, his heavier build kept him from jumping like Sylva. He was build for power just as she was built for speed. Looking back she saw him coming out of the river. He was so majestic, the gold collar made him look like the Gods he was out to kill. Sylva wasn’t sure she could go through with this. It wasn’t like Dakario wanted to kill her. Things could be the same again once he’d killed off the Gods. They could go back to the forest. He was her mate, he was all she’d ever known.
Xena saw what was happening and spurred Sylva in the ribs just like she would have done to Argo. Sylva surged forward in pure animal response. Dakario took the time to shake the water from his coat before taking up the pursuit again.
It wasn’t too much longer before Sylva came to the clearing she was looking for. She dashed across it and left Xena at the far end. She doubled back half way and hid in the forest. Dakario would have to cross the clearing to get to Xena so Sylva would gain the element of surprise when she attacked.
Xena was crouched in the wood waiting with her sword drawn when Ares flashed back on the scene with Gabrielle in tow. When Dakario burst into the clearing Ares decided that he’d done all he could and there was no sense in sticking around to get killed.
“Where’s Sylva?” Gabrielle whispered as she got down next to Xena.
Before Xena could answer Sylva exploded from her hiding place. The ambush worked. Dakario had been so set on Xena he hadn’t even noticed Sylva. When she sunk her teeth into his shoulder he quickly took notice. Xena and Gabrielle watched on in shocked horror at the viciousness of the ensuing fight.
Dakario rolled over so Sylva would lose her grip, but before he pined her to the ground she let go and bit into his now exposed back leg. Dakario howled in rage and lashed out at the back of her neck. His teeth were only greeted with a thick layer of skin which kept him from getting a proper hold on her. Sylva put her head down and prepared to roll out of his painful grip. Dakario let go to get a better purchase on a more vulnerable part of his opponent’s body. However Sylva knew he would make this mistake and quickly rolled over on her back. Using this position she dug her fangs deep into his exposed throat.
Sylva’s jaws crunched down on both metal and flesh. The tooth that caught the impenetrable collar broke with a nauseating snap. The other teeth found there mark in Dakario’s rubbery corotid artery. Sylva instantly let go, sickened by the rush of thick hot blood that poured from the wound into her mouth. Dakario staggered back mortally wounded.
Dakario stumbled as the blood loss became critical. Sylva was barking pitifully her eye’s showing her distress. Neither Xena nor Gabrielle could understand her, but they could feel her emotion of regret and loss. When he finally fell on his side Sylva crept up to him and nuzzled his lifeless body.
A few minutes later Sylva turned to look at where Xena and Gabrielle had just emerged from their forest hiding place. She started to walk towards them when a noise off to the side caught both her and Xena’s attention. Before either could take another step a bright silver arrow came flying out of the now dark forest and plunged directly into Sylva’s heaving chest.
“Sylva!” Gabrielle cried as she rushed up to the felled fox’s side.
It was too late. By the time Gabrielle reached her the arrow had accomplished its task. Sylva lay motionless in a mixing pool of her and her mate’s blood. Xena came up behind Gabrielle and put her hand on her shoulder. Gabrielle turned and wept in Xena’s arms. Xena looked up as the hunter Goddess Artemis stepped into the clearing with her silver bow.
“Why?” Xena asked simply. “She had sacrificed her lover to save you, and this is how you repay her?”
“You don’t understand, Xena.” Artemis replied kneeling down next to her once beloved creatures. “I had to. In another fifteen hundred years she too would have been immortal to even my arrow, and since there will be no more Vulapine there will be no one to stop her if she decides to kill the Gods. It was better to end it now than to let her live another thousand years alone.”
“You shouldn’t have given them the power in the first place.” Xena snarled.
“I know. It is hard to believe, Xena, but the Gods make mistakes.”
Xena looked down at the slain Vulapine lovers.
“It is not as hard to believe as you may want to think.”
Later that night a bright full moon rose over the blood soaked clearing. The Vulapines had been left to an honorable above ground funeral to be returned to the earth which is the right of all woodland creatures. The arrow had been left in Sylva’s chest at Gabrielle’s insistence. She wanted everyone to know what had happened here and the silver arrow would be known by all and left alone. No one would dare skin any animals near an arrow of the hunter Goddess so the pair would not be defaced. The pair had then gone off to find Zandar.
As the moon fell behind the clouds a small figure came out of the shadows. It cautiously crept up to the bodies lying peaceful in the field. Dwarfed next to the dead Vulapine the figure sniffed at the stained grass. The creature whimpered and pushed one of the inert bodies with its nose. There was, of course, no reaction from the cold corpse.
The moon came back out from behind the clouds and its muted beam shone down on the lonely figure’s tail which reflected bright silver. The one year old the son of Dakario and Sylva was the true last of his kind. Sylva had defended that secret to the last. Tariko was practically a new born but he was already twice the size of a normal fox. He had the strength and prowess of his farther, the beauty and speed of his mother.
Tariko ripped the silver arrow out of his mother’s chest with his powerful jaws. He would keep this as a reminder, when he could form human hands in five hundred years he planed to fashion the arrowhead into a necklace. It would serve to identify him to the Gods when he came of age. The blood that had been spilt would be avenged. In two thousand years he would pick up where his father had failed. Only this time he would not be acting under any mortal master and there would be no one to stop him.
In two thousand years the world would know no Gods!