The Ether pipes were howling.
Spider sat hunched to one side of his throne, head in hand, when Crow returned from the field.
"Baron," Crow addressed his ostensible benefactor. The Spider looked up and wordlessly beckoned the Lightbearer over. Upon reaching the throne, Crow took a knee.
"What was it we talked about before you left?" Spider's rhetorical question sat like a weight of stones on Crow's shoulders. Crow didn't look up, and when he started to answer, Spider cut him off.
"Guardians can't be trusted," was Spider's reminder. "They can be useful, they can be powerful, but never trusted."
"Baron, I only thought to—"
"No!" Spider bellowed. "You didn't! If you thought about anything, you wouldn't have exposed…" Spider caught himself, words turning into a snarled grumble as he laid back in his throne. "You screwed up."
Crow, head bowed and eyes fixed on the floor, said nothing. He knew the Spider's anger, knew his displeasure, and knew his wrath. He held no desire to face it again.
"But maybe there's some…" the Spider hesitated and chose his words carefully, "…wisdom, in your defiance. The Guardians are too good a resource to cast aside, especially on matters beyond our mutual—ah—expertise."
It was only then that Crow looked up, questioningly. For a moment, he felt humbled pride. Perhaps, he believed, that act of defiance had broken through to Spider, revealed Crow as more than a convenient Lightbearer.
The Spider held out one hand. "I have an idea to… protect you." His offer sounded sincere, even if Spider meant his investment and not Crow as a person. "Send Glint over."
Crow grew tense, looked away, and then thought better of testing another act of defiance so soon. With a nod, he showed his compliance as Glint manifested at his side. The ghost fixed on Crow with a nervous look, then flew up to Spider.
"What… do you require?" Glint asked.
Instead of answering, Spider snatched Glint out of the air with one hand. Glint shrieked and Crow stood swiftly, but just as swiftly saw the Arc-pikes of Spider's guards thrust at him. Spider made a clicking noise in the back of his throat and reached for a set of tools nearby. Tools used to pry open the shells of dead ghosts. They would work on living ones just as well.
"What are you doing?!" Glint demanded, fear in his voice. Crow stood frozen, having faced Spider's punishment before. But this… this was his Ghost. A part of Crow also feared that perhaps he was misreading the situation. He was so certain that Spider would never do anything to permanently hurt him. But when the Spider shocked Glint into paralysis with a small, needled tool, Crow was disabused of that certainty.
"Stop!" Crow cried as Spider wedged a flat tool between Glint's shell plates. "No!"
With a snap, Spider popped one of the casings off. Then he looked up to Crow and switched tools.
"Don't worry," the Spider said in soothing reassurance that flowed like ice through Crow's veins. "I'm just going to make some… modifications," he said, igniting a cutting torch.
"To better protect you… from the world."