So there I was, bound with my own set of manacles in an empty boxcar headed for Sacramento with a dead deputy and a cannibal with magic powers. It was not my best day. I struggled with the cuffs but to no avail.
Elias Richardson was, for the most part, ignoring me. Occasionally he would shoot me a glance, just enough to let me know he was there, but the kid mostly seemed intent on sharpening his knife and pacing the car, muttering thing to himself that I couldn't quite make out and wasn't entirely sure were in English anyway. I tried to engage him in conversation, maybe to talk him down and maybe to just know what the hell was going on before I died. But to no avail, he ignored me the first time I tried and muttered a few words that made every muscle in my body painfully cramp up simultaneously the second.
So I had time to think. Until finally, it dawned upon me. No matter how much power Richardson had garnered, he was still a kid. I remembered being 19 myself. At 19, outwardly I was invincible. But I remembered being insecure as hell deep down. Because I knew that all my youthful swagger was really unearned. I couldn't say for sure whether Richardson was like that too. But it damned well was worth a shot.
"You God-damned coward, Richardson. Just dawned on me why you haven't killed me yet. You don't have the balls. You know that if I ever get out of these cuffs, I am going to gouge out your eyes with my thumbs, don't you?"
"Shut up Bounty Hunter!" he snapped at me.
It was a response, it was a start. Truth be told, I wasn't really sure, yet, what I was trying to accomplish. Just hoping that if I could get him riled up enough, he would do something stupid. So I did something that would have enraged me when I was 19. I laughed at him. Then I said "Oh my. The little boy thinks he's scary, doesn't he? Son, I faced down Marauders during the war. I faced down the whole Wilkins gang armed with nothing but a bowie knife. I have put down real demons, boy. You think a little pissant like you can frighten me just because he has learned a few parlor tricks?" I punctuated the last with a contemptuous snort.
Then another epiphany. He hadn't killed me yet. Why? It would have been quite easy. Either there was some reason he was keeping me alive, or he couldn't. I wondered which it was.
"SHUT UP!" He shouted, getting red in the face.
I smirked then said, calmly, "Make me." A schoolboy taunt, I know, but given its target, I didn't see the need for anything more clever.
He pulled out his knife and charged at me, putting it at my throat and yelling "DON'T TRY ME, OLD MAN, IF YOU DON'T SHUT YOUR MOUTH I WILL CUT OFF YOUR LIPS!"
And there it was. Richardson put his face within an inch of mine to shout at me. What he did not take into account was that my hands were bound, but my teeth were not. I lunged forward and bit his nose. I bit it off and spat it out. He grabbed his face and screamed.
"What'd I tell you, son? You brought this on yourself" I said as I charged forward at him, hoping to overbear him with my shoulder. My charge was stopped when he regained his composure faster than I thought and once again muttered something. Pain exploded through my body, and I blacked out once more.
I didn't come to until a railroad worker slapped me awake in Sacramento. No sign of Elias Richardson, but the dead deputy with a hole in his chest was still there, as was Richardson's nose. My manacles had been removed, and my face was covered in Richardson's blood. The realization of this dawned on me slowly but chillingly. To make the tableau even more interesting, Richardson had left his knife, covered in blood, right next to me. Needless to say, I found myself under arrest and in a Sacramento jail cell shortly after that.
Luckily, though I can't say I was quite as friendly with law enforcement in Sacramento as I was with Virginia City, a few of the local lawmen knew me. So an explanation along with my badge was enough to get me sprung from the hoosegow. I left out the part where my quarry used magic, I just said that he managed to overpower me. Embarrassing, but I wanted out of the cell WITHOUT being locked up in the Sanitarium. Still, the whole process cost me several hours, and with a quarry like Richardson, that may as well have been years.
I was out of ideas. I honestly had no idea how I was going to track down Richardson now. I wasn't even sure how I was going to get back to Virginia City, as my trip to Sacramento was somewhat unexpected, and I didn't have enough cash on me for a train ticket. I found a bench to sit and think
That was when a well-dressed man, whip-thin, came and sat on the Bench next to me. His face was familiar. I had only met the man once before, but it was the first time I had tangled with the supernatural, so it was indelibly etched in my memory. "Eibon?" I said
"Ah, Mr. Jessup. Our paths have crossed again," he said as he took his seat, "fate seems to favor you."
"Not today it don't"
"Perhaps more than you think. Would I be correct in assuming that you are on the hunt for a young man named Elias Richardson? If so, I think our interests have intersected once again. Twice now. More than coincidence I should say"
"So what's the story this time?" I asked him
"Mr. Richardson has made a grievous error. The poor boy was only looking for some new thrill, I think, but some time back he came across a copy of a grimoire. A copy of one of MY grimoires. Only it was a copy of a copy of a copy, and as a result, essential bits had been lost. Things had been altered, both by mistake and by design. When he used it, he opened himself to corruption by things that should best be left unnamed and undisturbed.
He can't be helped. Not by you and not even by me. If it makes you feel any better about it, he is really just a puppet to them, and he doesn't even realize it. You will be doing him a mercy when you kill him. "
"I was hoping to avoid that."
"I know. That is why I am telling you this. Because when that time comes, you can't hesitate. Not even for an instant. Richardson has to die, and soon, or he will be a vessel for something far worse. I can't protect you more than I already have."
"You're the all-powerful immortal wizard why don't you kill him? And wait...what do you mean 'protect me more than you have.' This is the first I have seen of you since that incident out by Pizen Switch."
"I have been keeping an eye on young Mr. Richardson since well before YOU got on his trail. He doesn't know. And I knew you were in trouble back there. I couldn't rescue you, but I could weave some subtle magic where he never even got the idea to do so. A spell you were not helping by trying to put that idea into his head, by the by. And here we are.
And the reason I can't kill him is simple. His magic is effectively my magic. Corrupted and incorrect though it may be, anything I could do, he could counter instinctively. If I even got to close, he would know. But do you know what he can NOT counter, Mr. Jessup?"
"A .45 caliber lead ball in the brainpan?" I asked
"Crudely put, but yes. Just not from me. I could never get close enough. Fate seems to keep putting you in my way. So I think you are the man for the job. The bounty is 'dead or alive on him, is it not?"
"Yeah, just a shame. I was hoping to go easy on him. "
"Too late for that. It's not really him anymore. Put such thoughts out of your head. As I said, you cannot hesitate. He won't.
In any case, I have scried his location. He is currently enjoying a drink at a saloon called...hmmm...Bobcat Sal's." Eibon spoke the last two words as if speaking them put a bad taste in his mouth.
Twenty minutes later I was at Bobcat Sal's. It was a thoroughly disreputable establishment and crowded. The tinkling of a piano mixed with the laughter and loud conversations of the patrons as I entered.
I made my way through the crowd toward the bar. Dodging several drunk patrons and at least one lewd proposition as I did so. I spotted my young friend. He had changed clothes and had a bandage across his face, where the front of his nose used to be. In this place, among what looked to be the dregs of Sacramento, he really didn't seem all that out of the ordinary.
My problem was, I couldn't just shoot him right there, as Eibon had been urging me to do. It was too public. If I didn't give him a chance to surrender, it would seem like open murder and of the sort that I doubted a quick explanation and my badge would get me out of. Not to mention that if I missed, I would almost certainly put a bullet into an innocent bystander. Well, a bystander I didn't intend to shoot, anyway, I doubted anyone in this place was innocent.
On the other hand, it would be unlikely he would try his magical tomfoolery in such a public place either. So, I made my way across the room, trying my best to blend in with the crowd. There was a large mirror behind the bar, and he was facing it, but he seemed to be keeping his head down not paying attention. Good, because I didn't want to see him to see me coming up from behind.
I was about three feet from him when he said in a loud, clear voice that cut through all the noise in the crowd. "That's close enough, bounty hunter" then he swiveled on the barstool.
The room got quiet. I said, "I aim to take you in, Elias Richardson. Come along peaceful now."
"No.," he said with a smile, "I don't think I will."
"That's a shame then."
I am no fool, I didn't forget Eibon's advice. I didn't hesitate, but neither did I shoot him. Instead, I launched myself at him and landed a fist right on what was left of his nose. The pain seemed to be enough to stop him from doing anything but grabbing his face. Another punch to the throat and he wasn't speaking his magic words. As he staggered backward, he made his final, fatal mistake. He drew a knife. That gave me all the cause I needed to plant two slugs from my army revolver into him and Elias Richardson fell to the ground.
Two days later, I was back in Virginia City, collecting the bounty on Elias Richardson. Sad that I couldn't save him, but happy that I had most likely saved him nonetheless. I was in my room at the boarding house, cleaning my revolver so that in the morning I could set out after a far more mundane target, a cattle rustler named Belasco, when there was a knock on my door. I answered and it was none other than Eibon.
"Aw hell. I thought our business concluded when I shot the kid. What more do you want from me?"
"RIght now nothing. Just to give you a warning. I have searched every hotel room, boarding house, and shack where Richardson has slept for at least two months. There is no sign of my grimoire anywhere."
"That's too bad, but it don't really sound like my problem, Eibon"
"That, Mr. Jessup, is where you are mistaken. You see, I am not being metaphorical when I refer to fate as having us continually cross paths. I think we have done so for a reason. And if my grimoire is missing, then it seems likely to me that you will cross paths with whomever now possesses it at some time in the future. And that will be dangerous for you. I suspect it means we will meet again as well. Hopefully, that will be less so."
"Well, hell. I don't really know what to say. Hope you're wrong." I said
"Nothing TO say, Mr. Jessup. And I am almost never wrong.", he sounded a little insulted that I had implied it was even a possibility.
"Counting on the almost then"
He just nodded and left. And with a gnawing in my gut, I realized that I probably couldn't count on the almost.