The cavern was the second largest in the system, according to Tessa. The roof stretched up and into the dark forever. Faint, almost imperceptible waves of chilled air came from above.
Father's torch stood resolutely in the center of the room, lighting things just enough to make Win aware of the immense darkness above. And not just above. To both sides, the floor slanted away dangerously, narrowing as it plunged downward. Stones and pebbles aplenty lined the edges of the room, sentinels, witnesses to the wisdom of the darkness.
Behind the torch, near the far wall, sat a throne chiseled from a massive boulder. The throne of darkness. It faced away from the sisters, a testament to power found not through seeing, but listening. Following.
The only other objects in the cavern were the racks of dried meat between the torch and the entrance. Strip after strip of venison, perfect for consumption. Normally the sight of such food would have set the girl's stomachs growling, but eating was the last thing on their mind.
From where Win stood, Father's hand could be seen hanging off one armrest, perfectly still. The fabric of his robe pooled around the base of his seat, blending with the stone and shadow, black like everything else.
Please let him not be angry.
"Children." To her side, Tessa straightened. "Eat." His hand gestured vaguely towards where the food hung.
Tessa and Win dared not refuse his offer. Grabbing one strip of venison each, they took a bite, chewing nervously. Win couldn't stop herself from worrying that her chewing was too loud. Noise often offended the darkness more than anything else.
Win took another bite, while Tessa just swallowed. Her posture was even more stiff than usual, eyes fixed on the back of the throne.
"Children. I thank you for coming so soon. The darkness has rewarded you for your obedience." He referred to the meat. Indeed, the food was a gift.
Father's voice was... Nondescript. The voice of a man. Even though there were few men in the community, Win knew what to expect. She had heard his voice before, long ago.
"Children," he said again. "To what do you owe your life?"
Win looked at Tessa for guidance, and she just shook her head. Don't talk.
"You may answer." Father said a moment later.
"The darkness," They said in unison.
Silence. Another wave of damp air.
"Correct. You may go now."
Tessa turned without hesitating, walking the way they had come without looking back, and Win followed with only one glance behind her.
Father's hand was out of sight.
"Aetwin, be quiet. We don't need to talk about it. Ever."
Silence was okay, too. Win used it to create a quiet rhythm with her feet and knees as she crawled towards the younger women's caves. All the others were probably still asleep.
What had the purpose of that been? Why interrupt rest to do the same thing as everyone did upon waking? Why had Father spoken to them, and not one of his teachers? What was the difference?
So many questions Win couldn't answer. And if she had to guess, Tessa wouldn't be able to answer any of them either.