Daniel was a Dik-Dik.
Francois was a Friendly Fennec Fox.
Wollunqua was a Big, Bad Python.
Otterdammerung was a Clever, Tricky Otter.
And here they were, in the land that Butterflies called Arali and Man called Eden. A dead, decayed ruin of a place, a morbid shade of the paradise that once it had been. Somewhere, perhaps nearby, perhaps very far, was Cain, the wicked, immortal emissary of that most destructive race of beings: Man. Behind them, the ragtag group of creatures dragged a Fallen Star, a shard of the crumbling cosmos. Ahead of them was their new friend – or perhaps hostage would be a more fitting term – they simply called Little Fellow. Little Fellow was tiny, and furry, and he hated being surrounded by these creatures. Yet, on pain of pain, he lead the motley quaternity to find the tree of Life and Death; for there would they find Beshekee, the mightiest, whom was feared by even Man.
“I do not like to leave my burrow,” said Little Fellow, “For outside and everywhere there is death, and there is pain.”
“Ssssilence, diminutive one!” the Python hissed, “I will teach you death and pain unless you cease your infernal complaints immediately!”
Little Fellow shut up; looking terrified.
“It will be all right,” said Daniel the Dik-Dik, “We must simply bring this star to Beshekee. Then he will deal with Cain, and you will be free to return home. Perhaps you will even be a hero to your people for the great help you have provided to them!”
“Now, I do not wish to be negative,” said Francois, “But we must still consider the notion that Beshekee does not exist. He may yet prove to be a myth.”
“Beshekee may not be real,” Otterdammerung chimed in, “Yet we know now, with absolute certainty, that the Worst Man is indeed real: Cain walks these unhallowed grounds.”
“Perhaps,” said Francois, “And yet we have only Little Fellow’s word that Cain is immortal; yet I have never seen an immortal creature before, not even a Man. Likely whatever that creature was that attacked Daniel has died since you set its body aflame.”
Otterdammerung did not look convinced. “Your skepticism is admirable, Fox. And yet while I have never seen an immortal creature before, neither have I seen any reason to believe that there might not be one somewhere, perhaps even roaming this evil wood.”
Francois merely gave an apathetic shrug, and the group continued to follow Little Fellow. Across dried streams they crawled; over dead trees they hopped; past the skeletal remains of once-living explorers they slithered. Arali was as big as it was dead. Daniel pondered how wondrous it must have been many years in the past, long before Man came from the Darkness and brought Death with him into the world. And yet, despite the Otter and the Fox arguing, and despite Daniel’s speculation, they all know that it would do no good to wonder what if, for now they had a quest true and clear, and there could be no straying from their path. And so they marched onward; on and on towards the Tree of Life and Death.
Over rocks they scampered; through dried brambles they shimmied; under the bright Moon and Stars they marched. The bitter dark was as a thing corporeal, its terrifying body seeming to stare down upon them with disapproval. And yet they continued. It seemed so very long, and so very far, and yet perhaps it was only because they were so very small and so very scared.
And yet, after what seemed an eternity, there they were. “This is it!” said Little Fellow, excitedly pointing to the greatest and mightiest tree Daniel had ever seen. Its great, thick trunk was bigger than the biggest elephant; its dead and gnarled branches reached so high they seemed to claw Heaven, and at the tips of each of its twigs far above, there shined a star. The crooked and contorted roots of this giant tree seemed to spread endlessly in every direction. This great, cadaverous tree encompassed the World ahead of them. There could be no mistake: this was the Tree of Life and Death.
“This is it!” said Little Fellow once again, continuing to point in his excitement as if it were possible any of the group had missed seeing the tree. But in front of them, the Tree was everywhere and it was everything. There was no missing it. Each one of them, from the skeptical Fennec Fox to the mighty Python were awed by its greatness. But the question loomed: was Beshekee here? And if so, how did they get his attention?
The question of how to summon Beshekee seemed so overwhelming that it only seemed comical when Daniel called, “Beshekee?”
Yet what else could they do? “Beshekee?” called Wollunqua. “Beshekee?” called Francois. “Beshekee?” called Otterdammerung.
“We have brought you a gift,” called Daniel, “Will you grant us an audience?”
No answer came. Louder, Daniel repeated his words. Again there was no answer.
“No!” shouted Daniel, “We have come so very far to see you! You must be here!”
Daniel the Dik-Dik rushed up to the Tree of Life and Death, ferociously calling to it. “Dik! Dik! Dik!” he shouted, like a frightened, furious lady Dik-Dik.
“Sssstop making a fool of us, Dik-Dik,” Wollunqua hissed, “He is not coming.”
“No! He must come, he must!” Daniel was desperate.
“Daniel,” said Francois, “We must face the strong possibility that Beshekee never existed, or perhaps is simply not interested in us. I am sorry.”
“What do we do now?” Little Fellow asked.
The creatures all looked at one another. Francois looked at Daniel, Daniel looked at Wollunqua, and Wollunqua looked at Little Fellow.
“Where is your Otter friend?” asked Little Fellow.
In an instant, the air was filled with a familiar bright orange glow.
“Fire!” cried Daniel.
“Man!” cried Wollunqua.
“Cain!” cried Francois.
“No,” came a familiar voice. The animals’ eyes turned toward the source of the blaze.
“Not Cain,” said Otterdammerung, “Me.”
The Otter was standing, holding a brightly burning torch, twirling it through the air as if fascinated by its unholy glow.
“Everything I have done, I have done in the search for knowledge… Long have I sought the most dangerous secret of all: that of Man’s Fire! And at last, with the burning of Cain, have I learned it!”
Otterdammerung laughed like an Otter gone mad.
“But why?” Daniel called, “What will you do with such a secret? Fire is not meant to be controlled, not by Man, not by Otter, not by anyone! It is too dangerous!”
“You are right, Daniel,” the Otter said, “But I do not wish to control it.”
Otterdammerung threw the torch onto the trunk of the Tree of Life and Death. There was a fwoosh and the old, dead tree was aflame.
“When the World Tree burns,” the Otter said, “The Sky will fall and the Earth will crumble. Only the Water will remain to flood the universe, and the River Otters will need not fear Snakes or Foxes or Man.”
The blaze was spreading quickly. Daniel was afraid, but he thought of his brothers and his sister and his aunt and uncle and his cousins and his Grandfather Steven. If the Earth crumbled, they would surely die! So the little Dik-Dik sprang to action, rushing over to the burning trunk and furiously kicking dirt and earth upon the blaze. Each time the dirt hit the Fire, a bit was extinguished, but the blaze was too big. Soon he saw Francois, rushing to help, and then Wollunqua as well, sweeping dirt onto the fire with his massive tail! Soon it seemed they would indeed quench the flames before the Tree was consumed.
“No!” shouted the Otter, “I will burn you too!”
Now Otterdammerung was rushing towards the three creatures! Reaching for his branch! Reaching for the flames! The fire was spreading out of control now, and the Mad Otter was seeking to set the three friends ablaze before they could do anything! Daniel quickly sprang towards the Otter, his horns aimed forward. Success! He felt the gnarled wood catch in between his horns and, with all of his strength, he yanked the branch from Otterdammerung’s paw, flinging the Otter to the dirt as he did so. The flames were continuing to climb up the trunk of the Tree, faster than Wollunqua and Francois could stop them, and Daniel thought he could see the Stars begin to fall from Heaven. He had to stop this Otter! His mind racing, Daniel darted towards the Fallen Star that lay unguarded behind them. Otterdammerung was scrambling up, furiously, and he was after Daniel now. In a single moment of terror, the Otter had siezed the Dik-Dik, and in one of his paws he now held a sharp rock.
“I have learned much from Man,” said Otterdammerung, “More than enough about how to destroy a Dik-Dik – Oof!”
Wollunqua had wrapped himself about Otterdammerung and was tightening… tightening… tightening.
“I have waited for thisss, Otter!” Wollunqua said. But the Python hissed in pain as the Otter jammed his sharpened rock into the snake’s cold body. Taking advantage of Wollunqua’s surprise, Otterdammerung slipped free and with his sharpened rock, he dashed toward Daniel. Now Francois was rushing towards him to stop him as well… And Daniel had arrived at the fallen star. Now Otterdammerung was upon Daniel again, as the Fox and the Snake hurried to catch up. With his tiny Dik-Dik teeth, he pulled the covering off of it, and the world was filled with a brilliant golden light, blinding everyone. Daniel felt Otterdammerung’s sharpened rock start to press against his fur…
Then there was a yelp! and Daniel felt the rock leave his skin, and the Otter roughly pulled away. In a moment, the blinding light was gone, and the star was again covered. When Daniel regained his eyesight and placed his eyes upon his rescuer, he was stunned. For now Otterdammerung, the Mad Otter, was writhing in the hands of Cain. Daniel had been saved by a Man.
“Thank you, Cain,” came a voice from next to the fallen star. Daniel looked over and saw Little Fellow, adjusting the covering he had placed back on the brilliant shining light from the sky. “On behalf of Eden, and the Forest and the Savanna and the Way of Things, I thank you all for your assistance,” the tiny critter said.
“Little Fellow?” Daniel said, “I thought you had run away!”
“Little Fellow is only a nickname,” said Little Fellow, “I am more commonly known as-”
“Beshekee!” Daniel cried.
Little Fellow – Beshekee – nodded. “I am tasked with protecting the Way of Things. I sensed a great Evil heading towards the Tree of Life and Death, but I did not know who or what it was. I sent Cain after it, and he came back burned. I expected some malevolent force, so imagine my surprise when a Dik-Dik, a Fennec Fox, a Python and an Otter showed up at my door!”
“Wow,” said Daniel, “So you do not fear Dik-Diks, that was merely an act?”
“Not exactly,” said Beshekee, “I did not know if you were the Evil One, or what you had planned. I decided I would follow you to find out. Now I know.”
“This is all well and good,” said Francois, “But still the Tree burns!”
“Indeed,” said Beshekee, gesturing to Cain, “But it is the Way of Beshekee to set right what has gone wrong.”
Cain, still clutching Otterdammerung, lifted the Fallen Star from the earth. Holding the squirming Otter against the covered Star, he walked towards the World Tree. The animals watched in awe as the Oldest Man began to push the Otter and the Star into the mighty trunk of the burning tree. The wood spread around both of them, covering them as water might, and pulled them into its ancient bark. Otterdammerung screamed in terror, writhing all the while until his face disappeared into the Tree of Life and Death.
Then a wondrous thing happened. The Tree accepted the Star; and it accepted the Otter; and the Way of Things was right once again. Now, before the eyes of the awed onlookers, the Tree of Life and Death came alive again. From its dead branches, there sprouted green leaves; the Fire burned away to be replaced by moss. The Life growing in the Tree spread all across the Earth around them, and grasses and flowers sprang up from the ground. Eden was alive again!
Beshekee smiled. “It was not the Way of Things that an Otter destroy the Universe. But even the mighty Beshekee is surprised that it was saved by the friendship of a Dik-Dik, a Fennec Fox and a Python. Had you not brought the Star back to me, perhaps Eden would indeed have burned.”
“Mr. Beshekee?” Daniel asked, a little nervous, “Will you now help to protect us from Man? I hate to ask, but I wish to walk the Savanna-”
“Daniel,” said Beshekee, “I am not a bodyguard. But you and your friends are very brave. You should never fear to walk the Savanna; for there are predators everywhere, and it will always be so. Birds above, Snakes below. And yet, tonight you have made friends with a Python; you have nearly been slain by an Otter and rescued by a Man; and you have even made the mighty Beshekee afraid you might be World-Destroying Evil. And soon the legend of Daniel the Dik-Dik will spread through the Savanna. There will always be dangers; yet because of you and your friends the Stars still shine. So walk the earth, Daniel, walk the earth and know that you may come visit me in Eden at any time.”
“Thank you, Beshekee,” said Daniel.
“So indeed you are real,” said Francois, amazed, “I confess I did not believe.”
“I might have eaten you,” said Wollunqua.
Again Beshekee smiled, “All of you are welcome in Eden at any time… But although I cannot protect you from Man, I can give you a gift.”
He reached towards his feet, and plucked a newly grown bean pod.
“This plant, native to Eden, will make a strong Python stronger; it will make a quick Dik-Dik quicker; it will make a clever Fox even more clever. With it, you will have an advantage. Now, I must return to my Tree and continue to keep an eye on the World. Good luck.”
So Daniel, Francois, and Wollunqua watched Beshekee scurry up the side of the mighty Tree of Life and Death. Then, they left Eden, still hoping to get home before the Sunrise so that Daniel would not get in trouble with his family. Everything has changed since that moment; for now Dik-Diks walk above the ground. And, today, if you go to the Savanna, you will see them, quick as you please, darting about the brush, faster than ever thanks to Beshekee’s Gift. Sometimes, you may even see a very tiny Dik-Dik, not running but playing with a big snake and a clever fox; for Daniel the Dik-Dik still visits his friends all the time. Remember, too, that even Man can be helpful; even Otters can be bad; even Snakes can befriend Dik-Diks; and even Dik-Diks can sometimes scare Beshekee.
Such is the story of Daniel, the very brave Dik-Dik.