Chapter 2

The Ether pipes rattled their arrhythmic beat as they greeted a new arrival in the Spider's lair.

He entered with hesitance. Gold eyes flitted around the room like a nervous animal. His clothes were those of a traitor. The white shawl of a funerary covering draped across shoulders that hunched downward as if a heavy burden rested on them. He was thin from hunger, broken by the cruelty of a face he did not recognize, but others reviled. Out of "compassion" he was given a space to rest: a modicum of privacy amid the rattling pipes.

The Spider, with one hand at his mouth, perched so far forward on his throne that it dipped down toward the floor. "Nothing? " he asked one of his lieutenants, who offered a wordless shake of his head in response.

"And you're sure? This isn't just some…" Spider waved one hand in the air, as if gesturing to his point. "Some clever ruse?" The silence that Spider was met with may as well have been a resounding affirmative.

"Fascinating." Spider grunted as he slid forward off of his throne. He landed on the floor with surprising grace, but when he walked, it was with an ambling gait—a feigned weakness. He dismissed his lieutenant with a flippant gesture and traipsed toward the nearby storage room. The pipes were quieter in there, but only just.

Seated on the floor, wrapped in the tattered white cloth of his burial shroud, the man once known as Prince Uldren Sov looked up to the wide shadow Spider cast in the doorway. He rose to his feet, then bowed. "Baron," he said mistakenly, unaware that Spider neither held no such a title, nor led a great house. Spider's response was a smug laugh, though he tried to temper it behind smiling words.

"You look like the underside of a Dreg's boot," Spider opined as he glided into the room with a silence that belied his stooped posture and uneven gait. His guest—a Lightbearer, no less—turned to his Ghost in a moment of uncertainty.

"We've had better days," was the Ghost's response. Spider restrained himself from criticizing the Ghost for intruding on the conversation and pointedly ignored him.

"My boys said they found you adrift in space, that your ship ran into some… debris," Spider said. "Awful generous of them to… retrieve you." The Spider circled, slowly, blue eyes glowing in the gloom of the dimly lit space. Up close, he carefully assessed the Lightbearer's posture, his expressions, and even something as intimate and subtle as his scent. "How long were you trapped up there, in the vacuum? Dying and being reborn… over and over again?"

The Lightbearer slouched, and his gold eyes averted to the floor at the memory. "Long enough to know what eternity feels like. Long enough to know I'd never escape without…" he looked up to Spider, to the glow of those Ether-infused eyes. "Without help."

"That's me," Spider said eagerly, "very helpful. Very helpful indeed." Now sure that the Lightbearer didn't recognize him, Spider ambled up close and took an assessing look at his new guest. "I don't think I caught your name," he added—one final test.

"I…" The Lightbearer didn't know how to answer. His Ghost was silent too. "I don't have one." It took all of Spider's energy not to burst out in gleeful laughter.

"Well, that won't do," Spider insisted as he laid a hand on the Lightbearer's shoulder. "That won't do at all. I won't have someone in my care…" and Spider was careful to emphasize that word, "without a proper name."

With a sly tone, Spider moved in closer and suggested, "How about we try one out? Just for a little while. You and me." His voice lowered, gravely and hushed. "What do you think about… Crow?"

The Lightbearer's eyes showed no recognition. The Spider's shone with predatory intent.