Kathleen stood amidst the hustle and bustle of the entrance hall of a mansion whose size she could hardly guess, holding her head high as the kinfolk behind her wove her hair into a thick, intricate braid. The young woman was one of ten, specially chosen and consecrated so that they could be entrusted with the honor of preparing the heroes who would face this longest night and bring forth the new sun. Her name was unknown to the Garou she served, and so as she tied Kathleen's braid off with a silver silk ribbon, the theurge simply favored her with a nod, rather than a personal thanks. Kathleen turned to face the woman, holding her arms out and trying not to project a long suffering air.
She strongly disliked being dressed by others. Though she was of the First Tribe, there were certain indulgences she simply would not get used to. The girl seemed to catch her disapproval of the process, draping the embroidered white and silver robe over the theurge post-haste. She straightened it with a professional air, guiding the intricate glyphwork to its proper spot over Kathleen's chest and back, then cinching it at the waist with a simple white belt. Still going about her job with the efficiency of drillwork and practise, the young woman retrieved a small pot of silver paint from the communal preparations table. Kathleen watched, still unmoving, as the other woman breathed a prayer across the paint, then began to daub it onto the Garou's throat, face and hair. She worked in quick, confident strokes, sketching out glyphs indicating Kathleen's rank, auspice and house. Still the Silver Fang held still, her expression as impassive as the kinswoman's.
The last stroke of the glyph for Falcon was inscribed across her forehead, then the younger woman stepped away. Neither checked the kinfolk's work-the punishment for including a flaw in the ritual design was too much of a risk for the kinswoman to have made an error. The woman strode off to the next ritualist, beginning the process all over again with him. Kathleen was left to store her things in a drawstring bag and make her own way out to the bawn of the Golden Wings caern. The itch of the paint drying on her face was only a minor irritation compared to the butterflies in Kathleen's stomach. At least the itch was assuaged by the cool breeze she walked against.
It had been some time since she'd been allowed to participate in the rites of the seasons. Her dishonor made her suspect to the spirits of the summer and the autumn rituals, and her discomfort with spirits of spring was mutual. That left her the winter, The Long Vigil. It was a time for rebirth, and if ever there was a time for her to attend such a rite, it was now. She straightened her shoulders and shortened her stride as she walked on towards the bonfire preparations, that breeze nipping at her exposed arms and legs every so often. She counted her steps, her path weaving into the woodland that surrounded the ritual site. When she reached two hundred, she started to look for a fallen branch that would be best suited for a torch, finding a knotted and gnarled chunk of wood not far from a dead tree. She hefted the branch, continuing her count as she approached the ritual area. On step 356, she entered the circle at her appointed place and stopped.
The theurge bowed her head, touching her branch to the ground and reciting the offering prayer. with one fingertip, she traced the shapes of glyphs on the wood, charging the tree's limb to play its part in the resurrection of Lord Helios and the rebirth of the world from darkness. She recited her lineage in respectful tones, then made mention of her deeds, dropping her voice when speaking of her dishonorable conduct. She was dimly aware of the footsteps of the ritemaster moving her way and tried to time her recitation accordingly. As the elder stopped in front of her, she finished her litany of renown, keeping her head lowered in deference to the ritemaster and the rite.
"Stones-Secret-Eyes of House Wyrmfoe, crescent moon, Moon Lodge," Theo said, his voice deep, strong and a little loud. She acknowledged him with a slight bow, unable to see if it was returned. "Will you stand with us against the black and sing Helios into the sky once more?" he continued after a moment.
"Yes, Noble-Flame-rhya," Kathleen responded, careful of every touch of inflection.
Something dripped over her scalp, warming as it slid into her hair. She smelled a strange, warm concoction of herbs and oils, fighting the urge to look up. Theo's fingers crossed in front of her eyes, bringing up another daub of the herbal concoction to brush across her forehead. "Then rise anointed to stand with Lodge of the Moon. Sing out to Mother Gaia and bring her through her pain," he intoned, waiting until she raised her head and acknowledged him before moving on to the next Garou.
There was nothing to do then but wait as one garou after another joined the circle surrounding the ritual bonfire. Kathleen stood straight, eyes forward, internally reciting her parts of the songs and chants that were part of the rite. One word wrong and they would send her away, likely barring her from any further participation in the rituals of her tribe. As she prepared internally, she began to slow her breathing, calming her heart rate and easing that nervousness out of her gut. As the last of the arrivals were anointed and placed appropriately in the circle, she reached a state of almost meditative calm, only spoiled by the anticipation that the nervousness had left behind.
The first howl exploded from the gathered Sun Lodge garou across from her, the ritemaster of the caern bursting to crinos. He was a glorious sight, silver-white fur brilliant with the borrowed light of Luna, a blazing torch held high in his clawed fist. One by one, in order of rank, auspice, and finally breeding, the others of the Sun Lodge joined his song, weaving their voices into a hopeful howl of encouragement. Kathleen and her fellows listened for a respectful moment, then one by one the Moon Lodge joined the chorus with a bolstering, ringing call. Strange notes complimented the Sun Lodge's song, elevating the howl to the heavens and hopefully further. When the last of the Moon Lodge garou had joined the cry, Noble-Flame hurled his torch into the heap of prepared wood. The fire swept through the pile quickly, making the air pungent with the smell of burning wood and incense. Thick smoke washed over all of them as the burn gained strength, until finally all were basking in the heat of the flames.
The rite went on, the Moon Lodge tending to the flame with their chosen staves as the Sun Lodge called to their lord. As the night reached its zenith, the places were switched, the Moon Lodge Garou singing out to Gaia, dancing and touching the earth to encourage her labors as the Sun Lodge members stoked the fire. Though the Sun Lodge performed their duties with zeal, the Moon Lodge's endurance was just as significant and unflagging. Through the longest part of the longest night, Kathleen stepped, clawed, sang and howled in time with the rest of her people, feeling the rhythm of the night building to the inevitable climax of dawn. When the sky began to lighten, she was among the first of the Moon Lodge to gratefully move to their appointed positions along the edge of the ritual circle, casting her branch into the flame before turning to stand watch against the evils that may yet try to disrupt the birth of the sun.
At her back she felt the intensity of the flame build, the dance of the fire light making her shadow flicker and twist in front of her eyes. Through her exhaustion, she tried to will herself back to her earlier meditative state, finding the transition easy now. Her breathing came in time with the song at her back as it drew longer and longer. The flickers of flame seemed impossibly far-stretching now, the heat more intense than it had been all through the night. There was a snap at her back and the heat and light seemed to swell. She was briefly wrapped up in the glow, only realising that she was howling with joy along with the sept when the light abated. Dawn had broken, and now the exhausted Silver Fangs celebrated their victory against the spirits of night and the birth of the sun with exuberant calls. She sang with them til the last of the sun crossed the horizon, howling until her voice gave out. Though she had to be guided back to the house, she went with a smile, still aglow with the victory that was morning.