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I. The Tan'Rathil Ceremony

I. The Tan'Rathil Ceremony

"Come, child, it is time."

Caoilfhionn was barely awake when the Hagmother, the oldest witch of the covenant, beckoned. She knew this could only mean two things. Either she had done something terribly wrong or she would finally be bestowed her own Tan'Rathil tattoos - the sign of a fully learned Witch. Caoilfhionn hoped for the latter.

The young woman stood up, leaving her bed, and followed the old crone. The Hagmother was old and nearly blind, but she moved with a surprising grace despite her age. Her white hair, only slightly whiter than that of Caoilfhionn, seemed to reach out to greet the passing members of the covenant. "Mother" and "Sister" could be heard as the two women passed, but none stopped their occupation for a chat. The covenant was rather informal about most things among each other.

Arriving in a small room, well-lit by candles, the single table caught Caoilfhionn's attention. Next to it, a much smaller table with knifes, cups and herbs awaited the hands of an expert.

"Mother, Sister", a witch greeted them, courteously nodding. Her cheeky, youthful face, the abundance of auburn curls and general small but well-endowed body, told Caoilfhionn who this was: Sister Nevilyne. A mischievous little 'brat' who always found some creative, albeit sadistic means to use her mystical knowledge. Caoilfhionn couldn't remember how many time Mother had scolded and punished her for all her caprices. But then again, who better than Nevilyne to tattoo someone? For all her mischief, Nevilyne was devoted to anything she did, and her tattoos were a marvel to behold. The Hagmother nodded and faced Caoilfhionn.

"You've grown a lot since the child you once were. You matured mentally and physically, becoming a young woman I'm proud of.", the Hagmother said warmly. "Today, you face the last trial of your youthful growth. You will receive your tattoos as a sign of your maturity, becoming a Witch and forsaking the title of Initiate you have carried for so long. When you are ready, take place upon the table. Sister Nevilyne will stand by your side during the Tan'Rathil rite."

The Tan'Rathil was a sacred ritual to the Wylder Witches which originated from the Alfin of Simir'Kan. Where Alfin traditionally applied henna in a ritualistic way to bestow a child's full-grown status, the Wylder Witches had added their hint of magic to this. They mixed the fading henna colouring with their own blood and inked the mixture on their bodies as they gently chanted to weave Arcane energies into them. Doing so not only bound the henna ink with the body forever as the entwined magic drew sustenance from the life-force of its host, but many Witches said the tattoos actually lived. Rumours had it the tattoos often whispered and glowed in response, like a guide in the dark.

The tattoos were also aesthetically pleasing, adding art to the beauty of the body. The Witches always used the same idea - vines, leaves, flowers - but no two Witches wore the same tattoo as they considered no two souls were ever the same. The tattoos were inked on either the left or right side and spanned most of the body. One part was inked on the upper chest, shoulder, breast or back. The second part was inked on the lower area of the chest, which could be the stomach, around the navel, the lower back or even erogenous zones. The last part was inked somewhere on the leg, either the outer thigh, inner thigh or the calf.

"Left or right side?", Nevilyne asked as she prepared a mixture of herbs and pigment.
"The right side."
"Give me your left hand, then. I'll need some of your blood to finish the paste."

Caoilfhionn offered her left hand as asked and Nevilyne grabbed it. Taking her athame, she recited a prayer and cut in the open palm. Blood welled up quickly and dripped into the mixture.

"Whenever you are ready, Sister, bare your skin and lay down on the table. And whatever happens, do not move once the ritual is started. Endure.", Nevilyne said as she finished the henna paste.

Caoilfhionn nodded and undressed, clearing her mind and calming her nervous heart in the process. Resting herself on the table, she nodded and braced herself for what was to come.

"So the ritual starts. As you have learned, life can't exist without pain. A mother suffers as she gives birth to her child, a child screams as it draws its first breath. So will no Witch exist without experiencing the power of her own blood. Initiate. Through pain, through blood, through nature, you shall be reborn as Witch."

Placing warm hands upon Caoilfhionn, Nevilyne prepared her body by massaging it briefly. As the warmth of her hands spread, the herbs that were scenting the room started to work on her mind. Before Caoilfhionn even knew, she fell into a deep trance, the faraway chanting of Sister Nevilyne the only tune preventing her from vanishing into eternal planes beyond.

Deep within her trance, Caoilfhionn could feel her body burning. Whatever her Sister had used, it caused her body to emit a stinging warmth, much like a smouldering fire. She could feel sweat forming as her body tried to cool down, but it didn't help. Instead, she felt her skin tear and, like a volcano, she felt energy burst out of her body in rage to the perpetrator. Despite the counter-offense, her mind and soul could not stop Nevilyne's tools from drawing the tendrils and leaves of the Tan'Rathil tattoo.

She had never felt such agony. If only she could, she'd be crying and screaming, but her body refused all cooperation. Her mind was trapped, her body left to the mercy of her artistic Sister and the gaze of the Mother. No wonder Mother was reluctant to have any of the initiates undergo this ritual - even brutal murder would have seemed merciful compared to this.

Caoilfhionn was unsure how long this powerless struggle lasted. The pain stopped only briefly, broken by a vaguely familiar chanting that reminded her there would not be eternity just yet. Before Caoilfhionn could calm her mind and attune to the rhythm of the guiding song, another wave of rage, fire and blood roared through her mind like a rampaging dragon.

Once again, she felt her mind slip into what seemed eternity, but this time she wasn't alone. She felt something brush her mind, seeking her presence. As she opened her third eye, the beginning of a garden beckoned her, its shade offering shelter against the blistering heat. Before she could reach out, pained dragged her away and into the inferno. Her resolve had been strengthened nonetheless and Caoilfhionn swore to endure the pain a little longer.

A second moment of quietude broke. Panting and on the verge of exhaustion, she thanked Nevilyne's chant as it replenished her and cleared the turmoil in her mind just long enough for her to see the tendrils of life-force within her having grown even more. Wherever they came from, Caoilfhionn grabbed them and gripped firmly. She realised that the pauses had been nothing more than Evilyne's break from tattooing, and expected a third wave to come soon. Endure, her Sister had said. She had all intentions to do so.

And there came the third wave, breaking the clouds and ripping the earth below to shreds. The pain was less severe this time. It was more intimidation than actual power, but its presence was still overwhelming. With the last of her strength, Caoilfhionn attempted to push it back, numbing the pain to a point if became nothing more but a monster trapped in the depths of the earth. And, at last, though feeling exhausted yet renewed, quietude and harmony returned.

Caoilfhionn opened her eyes.

The room was still as she had seen it before her trance. Mother was sitting on a chair in one side, and Nevilyne rested in another side, clearly exhausted by her chanting and tattooing. While candles still lit the room, their clarity had lost in power. In fact, half of them had died and the herbal scent that had permeated the area before had left to make room for the cooler, natural scent of the chamber.

Upon her body, Caoilfhionn could clearly see beads of sweat, a sign she had, indeed, suffered certain warmth. Her body had fought against the magic that had tried to overwhelm her, but as she laid eyes upon the tattoos, Caoilfhionn forgot al that had transpired.

They were breath-taking. The level of detail each vine and leaf held was almost inhumane. The first part started above her right breast and traced its shape into a crescent before drooping straight down. The vine ended there where her stomach began. The second part of the tattoo was rather small. The vine trailed almost entirely around her navel, leaving but a small opening to the left, while the leaves and flowers of the skyflower -her favourite flower - actually brushed her navel. The third part, covering most of her thigh, followed the same pattern. The vine started with a curl and ended with an elegant, snake-like tail. It looked much like a stylised S, abundantly decorated with skyflower bloom and leaves. Perhaps due to the magic, or maybe because of her breathing, the flowers and leaves seemed to sway gently. Even though the colour of the tattoos was an blood red, aggressively showing off against the paler tint of her skin, the soft glow it emitted in the now dimly-lit room, and the comforting warmth it left on her cooling body enthralled her. Was this the magic of the ritual, or was this truly Nevilyne's level of talent? Caoilfhionn could only wonder, her eyes refusing to leave the artistry on her body.

"Welcome back, dear", the Mother greeted her. "I see you have decided to finally wake."
"Oh yes. You've been sleeping quite a few hours."
"I'm sorry."
"Aw, don't be. The ritual is different for all of us. Once, I had a little brat sleeping for a full day. It was the last time I allowed her to sleep that much."
"Oh, shush Mother", Sister Nevilyne chimed in. "It was just too comfortable to wake."
"Of course, my dear, of course. Hence why you're the next ritualist in line. You slept enough as it is."

It dawned Caoilfhionn she had never heard Mother talk so openly. It had always seemed as if the old crone did nothing but complain and scold the initiates, but here she was chatting like a regular woman.

"No matter how much I adore your beauty, Sister, I think you should try your new clothes. It's Mother's gift to our new Witch, tailord by Sister Naomi as if it were her own."
"Spidersilk, woven like only an Amirian can.", the Hagmother added with a nod. "Don't be shy now."

Raisng her body felt like a burden. Caoilfhionn had remained still for so long that her body felt like slumbering. Sitting at first to give her body the time to wake, she took another look at her tattoos, and beamed as pride filled her. Feeling Sister Nevilyne's gaze on her body, she blushed slightly and proceeded to get her new clothes, mouthing a 'Thank you' to her Sister in the process. Nevilyne replied with a glint of mischief in her eyes, her typical way of hinting Caoilfhionn she'd be more than willing to accept any invitation to tease and prank her some more in the future.

The clothes were neatly folded and resting on a nearby table. The spidersilk reflected the light like a river did with sunlight. Unfolding the clothes to take a btter look, Caoilfhionn found herself holding a regal dress about her size. It neatly covered her fine figure, somewhat accentuating her feminine curves without hampering her movement. The neckline ran into a small V to leave a little skin bare but without revealing too much - just as she liked it. Her shoulders were covered, and the sleeves were long yet widened enough to add a sense of mystical elegance. The slit in the right side ran up to her thighs, showing off most of her leg in the progress. While it certainly added allure to the wearer, the main purpose of the slit was to proudly reveal the Tan'Rathil tattoos as the Witches did not hide their nature, even if few considered them unwelcome. Since the dress had been made with spidersilk, it would offer plenty of resistance to tearing while travelling the world.

"It's beautiful", Caoilfhionn said as she dressed up. "But how did you know the slit would on the right side?"
"When you have my age you know a thing or two in advance.", Mother replied.
"Fits you perfectly. Naomi did a great job.", Nevilyne said with a broad smile, and handed her Sister a silken rope. "A new belt to hang your pouches. White like your hair."

Fastening the rope around her waist, Caoilfhionn added the final touches by attaching her herbal pouches, crow foot and sheathed athame. When she was done, she took a last look at herself and gave the Hagmother and Nevilyne a kiss on the cheek. Finally. After all these years, she was now a true Wylder Witch.