Mighty fortress of living stone, its walls and rooms were without a seam, smooth and strong as if the whole thing had been made on some mammoth potter’s wheel.
The outer walls were several yards thick and inspirations patrolled the top of the walls.
The fortress had three levels; the only entrance to the next level being on the opposite side of the entrance of the previous level. So any attacking force had to either breach the walls or fight their way to the opposite side of the fort to ascend to the next level. Along the granite walls watchtowers of opal rise, trebuchets mounted atop each.
In the center of the fort a giant crystalline spear of obsidian stands with veins of gold marbling its surface.
The Obsidian Keep. Stronghold of Stone-Made-Soft.
The interior of the keep is a labyrinth of rooms surrounding the giant throne room. The throne rooms vaulted heights are completely shrouded in shadow outside the glow of the braziers and lamps.
The throne room was shaped like a cut diamond with the point being a sliver of open sky. The back wall was completely open save a fine net to catch birds and keep them from entering.
The effect of it being that any supplicant could only see the silhouette of the giant hunched there against the bright sky. The effect was even more unsettling when there was a thunderstorm.
At the center of the room was a pile of treasures, heaped around the stone chair upon a dais of malachite that was the Granite Throne. Stone-Made-Soft sat in a bored pose, his fingers absently tracing the patterns on the hilt of his sword which leaned as always on the arm on the throne.
The dais itself was just out of the glow of the lamps, so one could see the feet of the Lord who sat there and the faint glow of his sapphire eyes.
Next to the Granite Throne, at the foot of the dais and still within the glow of the lamps is another chair, this is the seat of Stone-Made –Soft’s most trusted lieutenant and slave to his will, Translocation-of-Self.
The fortress itself was situated upon a thin jut of stone that branched out and rose above the sole mountain upon the fields of translucent dreamgrass that stretched to the very tracks of the Nowhere Express and the pockets of settlement that dotted the course of the train.
The Watcher-on-the-Wall, a figment that Stone-Made-Soft had encased in stone up to its multieyed head, renamed, and mounted above the inner gate of the third level sounded the approach of a raiding party that had been sent out a few days past.
The Obdurate Gate of the keep swung open and a single inspiration stumbled in. The aptly named Doghead.
Stone-Made-Soft stood warily.
When he spoke it was with a clear resounding voice, one that spoke with cunning and the underlying power to bend mountains to its will but not as menacing or gravelly as one would expect, it was a voice that you wanted to trust. The voice of a friend.
“Tell me dear Doghead, where does the remainder of my company lie?”
The inspiration fell to its knees panting.
“Lord, we were set upon by-b-b-by…a Jack. It to-ook our wagon and all t-the loot.” Doghead barked. “Killed, kill-killed ‘em all.”
Whatever passed for blood in the body of Stone-Made-Soft’s body drained from his face.
He grabbed his sword and stepped from the gloom of the dais into the glow of the lamps, quartz and other crystalline minerals glittering set in his skin.
He crouched and locked Dogface’s droopy brown eyes with his piercing crystal gaze.
“Which,” He cleared his throat as Dogface whined “Which, Jack?”
Stone-Made-Soft hissed and backpedaled away from the doomed inspiration.
A disembodied chuckle rose seeming for every corner of the room and yet from inside his head as he drew the stone sword.
How could they have not seen it before?
Because it didn’t want to be seen.
That is how.
Upon the back of Doghead was an emaciated greyskinned thing. It’s hips merged into the small of Doghead’s back, it sat erect while the inspiration slumped to the ground. One set of sinewy arms hooked under the armpits of the inspiration, absurdly long fingers drooping down and merging into the muscles of Doghead’s legs. The second set of spidery arms raised high above his head in the pose of a puppeteer but instead of strings the fingers of one hand lead down and merged into the back of his skull and several vertebrae, the other hands fingers merging into the muscles of Dogheads arms.
Above the sunken chest of the dread puppeteer mouthless head supported by a long and oddly jointed neck.
The head bore a crown of three sharp horns and four glass smooth eyes black as the depths of the Ebb Maw.
Hijack. The Dread Puppeteer. The Taker.
The Taker had come to the Keep of the Bandit King. Just walked right in.
“Do not use your gift. He will take it and we will die.” Stone-Made-Soft growled at his second in command. “We have to leave now.” He slowly circled towards the door keeping the glass sharp edge between him, Translocation-of-Self, who moved with his master, and the Jack.
-Leaving ssso ssssoon? Bandit Kking?-The voice came from within his head and Doghead’s mouth aped the words soundlessly. The black eyes tracked his every move.
“Bandit I may be but no fool am I.”
A gleeful laugh of pure malice.
-Yesss, you havvve been at MY game for ssa-ho long, bandit king. Now I tttake that which you tttake. *I* am the Taker of Takers, the Thief in in the Night.-
The spindly hands twitched and Doghead pulled a steampistol and fired in one smooth motion.
The shot grazed the ribs on the right side of Stone-Made-Soft as he and Translocation-of-Self dashed through the door as soon as they broke line of sight with the Jack Translocation-of-Self teleported them outside the walls.
They ran for the Nowhere Express, Stone-Made-Soft holding his side, through the dreamgrass which shimmered and changed colors at their touch.
“We will return.” Stone-Made-Soft vowed.
Once we learn how one kills a Jack.
The multilimbed horror that was Hijack left the body of Doghead on the floor and ascended the throne and cackled.