This is the story of an otter.

It is not like the beavers on Mystix. It does not have a history and a culture, let alone a Great Dam War to mourn over. It is simply an otter. No magical powers, no language.

Its full scientific name is Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Mustelidae Lutrinae Lontra canadensis, but it is more commonly referred to as the North American river otter, or simply the common otter. It is not altogether a special animal, as it is abundant and in no real danger of extinction anytime in the near future.

Otters are a mighty species with few natural predators, at least in their North American variety. In the water, they are nearly invincible; while animals like alligators and orcas can hunt and kill them, they rarely intersect and thus the river otter remains supreme. On land, they are sometimes hunted by wolves, bears, dogs, and even bobcats. But they are crafty and quick creatures that do not easily fall prey to predators.

Except for humanity, of course. Natives living on the land in the past considered otters to be royal creatures in some places, and to be foreboding spectral figures in other places. They were hunted for their meat, or it was a taboo for them to be harmed. It depended on the location. The Cherokee have folktales about the trickster animal named Otter, who often played with fellow trickster Rabbit.

Then… Trappers from France came later on and hunted the otters down for their fur. Humans love fur. Humans can make clothing and fabric out of fur. They do not have much fur themselves, so they need to take from other animals to warm themselves. Trapping and hunting became so common for the otter that their numbers dwindled quickly.

Then came the oil spills, the coal acid, the mercury in the water, the too-warm winters… Otters are sensitive creatures, and what humans have done to this world hurts them every day. But, fortunately, they are also strong creatures. They have powers far beyond what humans can expect, in tenacity and adaptation. They make every effort to survive, every day, and they will fight against the poison and overhunting in the only way they know how—by living their lives.

The otter here knows none of that, though. Otters on Earth are not sapient beings. They cannot perceive of a world beyond their own and do not really care what goes on beyond their sphere of vision. This otter, in particular, is being held in captivity at a zoo. The Santa Barbara Zoo, in particular.

Its entire family has lived in exactly this way going back dozens of generations. In captivity, river otters can live for as many as twenty years, and this otter here has known its current life, with great pleasure, for the past twelve. It has grown fat in its years and loves that it brings more attention to it from zookeepers and parkgoers. People love to feed it even more.

Today, this otter, who has no idea what goes on beyond the walls of its enclosure, is busy basking in the sun to dry off its wet fur. Such fur would have been priceless to a trapper two hundred years ago. Such fur is priceless now to the otter it belongs to now.

When it raises its head to look outside its enclosure, it sees interesting new faces. It is immediately attracted by an unnaturally bright pink color that approaches. Therefore it hops up onto its feet and scampers up to get a better view.

From up above the mighty enclosure walls are three human beings, one of whom is a pink-haired, pink-eyed male with a pleasant face. His name is Eryk Solbourne, and he is absolutely delighted to see an otter here on Earth, especially one so rotund and beautiful. But the otter does not know any of that. It simply thinks that the visual stimuli of this interesting individual is worth checking out.

They stare at each other for some time, as the other two humans say things that the otter cannot comprehend. Pink eyes agains black, meeting each other with intent, intense immensity.

And then, the pink human leaps over the enclosure wall and lands right in front of the otter.

The otter jumps back.

All of the other otters stop what they’re doing and approach the pink human—but not too closely.

This is the first time something like this has ever happened. The otters simply do not understand what to expect.

Even when the zookeepers rush out to contain the situation, shouting words incomprehensible to animal ears, the otters stay interested.

Whoever this pink human is, he is truly a remarkable person. The otters know that extremely well. If the zookeepers cannot see it, that is because they are merely human. The animals of the world who survive and adapt to growing danger and inhospitable conditions—they are the ones who know a hero when they see one.