Little Key was humming as she made her way through the thickly-packed trees, old roots rising from dark soil to form a familiar path of obstacles. Mavra, Mavra, calling to the water, she sang under her breath, pausing as she heard the first raindrops strike the leaves of the so-green canopy above her. Mavra, Mavra, water calling to me, she continued, hopping over a particularly large log and landing softly on all four paws.
Key was a Canis, a wolf-person winged-person, and a Mavra, a magic-worker spell-singer, and these trees were part of her home and the beloved land of her pack, her family, her whole world. They were old trees, creaking trees covered in slick green moss, trees split in half by lightning but still living on in two pieces of their former selves. The canopy was so well-leafed and so long-branched that it was one elegant weave of bough and twig for miles in every direction, and the rain could not hit anyone beneath the treetops without first hitting the trees and racing along their bark-skinned arms.
Key trotted along the path as the patter of the rain increased to a mild downpour, and she sang louder to hear herself over the sweet rain-thrum. Mavra, Mavra, singing down the raindrops, Mavra, Mavra, calling down the sky! Mavra, Mavra, all ears pointing cloudward, Mavra, Mavra, wants to know what comes!
She stopped when she felt the first trickle of referred rain sink through the thick fur between her shoulders and cool the skin beneath. With a tongue-lolling grin, Key looked up to the shadow-soft eaves of the trees and waited until more raindrops blessed her forehead and tickled her attentively-perked ears. In the far distance, on the other side of the horizon of daylight, thunder rolled and rumbled in a deep, soothing voice.
Plumed tail wagging in quiet happiness, Key resumed her course and reached a well-sheltered shallow cave. It was barely two body-lengths deep, only one high, and stretched four lengths wide; its rocky edges were covered in confusing ivy strands, and its hunching back was part of the hillside that rose from its base. It was too open to offer a permanent den to any forest creature, and so it remained empty and unremarkable to the wild animals in the area.
Key loved it. She stepped beneath its low overhang and took a deep breath, then shook off the dampness that had glossed the outer layers of her dense fur. The cave smelled deliciously old, like rock dust and lichen and long-dead leaves. And its interior walls – the parts that weren’t lined with plantlife – were covered with colorful symbols.
They were hers, these symbols, these brightly-colored lines and curves that formed nonsense pictographs to anyone but her. They were word-magic, sigils, crafted by hue and shape to protect, to heal, to bless, to guide. This was not part of being Mavra; it was part of Key herself, her uniqueness, her art and her gift to the pack.
The rain dripped from sky to trees to ground steadily, cleaning the roots of dust and making the ground muddy. Key tipped her muzzle up and let out a singing howl, wordless and tuneful, calling to the water falling to earth. The rain responded, arcing towards her as it dripped from the boughs, creating a strangely beautiful effect of a constantly moving web of water pulling into the edge of the cave.
Key curled her tail up and over her haunches and focused the incoming rain on the very tip; her fur soaked up the water and retained it as long as she concentrated on holding it there, together, bound along the hairs. Her howl dwindling away as she moved to the next step; she turned to dip her drenched tailtip into a niche in the cave floor that held her precious stash of dried colors. The color clung to her damp fur, and the water made it run like ink, but Key held the newly-stained liquid close to her tail as she lifted it to a bare place on the cave wall.
With exacting care and excruciating slowness, Key drew new symbols with her Mavra-made paint; time and rain passed like the wind as her entire spirit was funneled into the strange work of sigil-art. Late afternoon had become late evening before she finished and rinsed her now-multi-hued fur in the small pool of water that had formed just outside the cave mouth. She had worn out all the muscles in her tail and all the strength in her heart, but she had drawn her magic well, and she was satisfied.
The trip through the night-cloaked, soft-mudded forest was slower than the bright trot to the cave, and Key stumbled once or twice on roots she knew were coming, her paws dragging heavily. Even her wings, folded close to her flanks, drooped a little, her primary feathers brushing against the roots and dirt. The scent and warm light of the pack’s central fire welcomed her in, and she sank down gratefully, close enough to bask in the radiating heat.
“Key!” Her brother joined her in the firelight, bladed tail wagging cheerfully as he nuzzled her shoulder. “Did you hear?”
She shook her head, eyes half-closed against the luminance. “How are they?”
Her brother gave her a toothy, bright-eyed grin. “All the pups are healthy, even the littlest one that we thought might be stillborn. And their mother is resting; she’s fine, Key, she made it through okay.”
Key allowed all her weariness to leave her in one long, relieved sigh, and she smiled at her brother. “That’s very good to hear.”
Her brother extended a feathered wing and draped it over her back, drawing her close in an affectionate hug. “The whole family’s saying your sigils pulled them all through,” he said more quietly, ruffling her fur with his chin.
Key laughed, feeling lighter than she had since she set out on her task to work magic for a safe birth for a first-time mother – her sister. “All that matters to me is that they’re all alive and well,” she said, relaxing against her brother’s strong shoulder and gazing happily into the flickering flames.