Chapter 1: Prologue
He grew up in the woods, spending far more time roaming the forests and the fields than he spent in his drafty, dilapidated house. His parents were dirt-poor...the kind of poor that never saw enough food, or enough medicine, or enough clothes. He grew up barefoot and dirty, grew up knowing to chew his food as slowly as possible to make it last, grew up knowing that there was little his parents could do if he got sick or hurt. He learned to hunt and trap practically as soon as he could walk, and he grew up knowing his skill with a bow and a snare would mean the difference between eating and starving.
His mother died when he was still a child, and his father went from 'distant' to 'hostile' almost overnight. His home wasn't even an illusion of safety and as soon as he was old enough, he left and never looked back. He'd never graduated any high school, and what he knew, he'd largely taught himself.
If anyone had asked him (and if he'd been in a mood to answer), that was the story Daryl Dixon would have told. It was the absolute truth...but it left out some important details.
Details like the fact that the woods he'd grown up in were nowhere near Georgia. Details like the fact that his drafty, dilapidated house would barely qualify as a hovel by modern standards. Details like how everyone in his parents' village was just as dirt poor as them, at the mercy of a landowner they hardly ever even caught a glimpse of.
Details like the fact that Daryl Dixon was only one of dozens of identities he'd worn over the years.
Daryl wasn't exactly sure how old he was. He hadn't learned to read or write until well into adulthood...let alone been aware of calendars and dates beyond a basic awareness of changing seasons. He figured he'd been somewhere a little past thirty...
When he died.
For the first time, anyway.
He knew how old he was starting after he died--that he'd been able to look up. He knew roughly where he'd died and he knew what he'd died of. Like much of England's population, he'd succumbed to the pneumonic plague sometime in the fall of 1348. Time had blunted many terrible experiences for him...but even nearly seven centuries hadn't been able to dull the memory of gasping back to life at the bottom of a plague pit. Surrounded by bodies in various stages of decomposition, while still more were tossed down into the mass grave from above. For an endless, terrifying time, he'd been convinced he was in Hell.
He remembered very little of the next few days, and that wasn't because they'd happened so long ago. He'd never been able to remember more than vague impressions of clawing his way out of the plague pit, climbing and scrambling over the corpses--his hands and knees sinking into yielding, rotting flesh while clouds of flies buzzed around him. He'd eventually reached the top and run. Ran straight for the woods that had always been his only refuge, barefoot and dressed only in a tattered shift, convinced he was damned for all eternity.
His next clear memory was of stumbling into a forest clearing, half-starved, half-frozen, an with a strange, buzzing pulse in his head that skirted the edge of pain. There was a lone stranger camping in the clearing...he'd had just enough awareness to register the very large broadsword leveled at his chest before he collapsed, nearly pitching face-first into the fire.
As it turned out, faceplanting into that traveler's camp had been a stroke of unbelievable luck. The traveler--a bear of a man with dark hair and eyes, who called himself Cassian--had been like him.
Cassian had been a young Roman centurion, who had died his first death when he was in his early twenties, in a battle against invading Visgoths. He'd been a kind, learned man who had taken a crazed, frightened stranger under his protection. Daryl had never really understood why--he later learned that Cassian had seldom taken on students in his long life. He was just grateful that the man had seen something in him worth helping.
Cassian helped him understand what he was, that he wasn't damned to Hell, was very much alive. He taught Daryl the rules of his new life...that unless someone cut his head off, he would heal from any injury, come back from any death. The older he got, the more potent the energy that kept him alive would become...and that others like them would come after his head for it. Holy ground was the only place he'd be completely safe from another Immortal's challenge.
He had stayed with Cassian for a number of years, roaming all through Europe. He'd certainly never needed anyone to teach him how to survive on his own, and Cassian had been pleasantly surprised by his proficiency with a bow, but the old warrior had taught him how to fight with a sword. How to read and write. How speak more languages than he'd ever even knew had existed. How to travel under the radar, to read the strange, buzzing pressure in his head that always signaled another Immortal's presence. Cassian had been his mentor, the first person he'd ever truly called his friend.
On some occasions, when they'd been away from civilization too long, Cassian had been more than his friend.
They had eventually parted ways, of course. Eventually, Cassian had had no more to teach him, and Daryl had felt the need to find his own way in the world, stand on his own two feet. They had kept in touch, meeting at least every twenty years or so. His friendship with Cassian had remained strong until his mentor had finally been brought down by a headhunter, about three centuries after Daryl had stopped traveling with him.
Unfortunately for the Immortal who had killed Cassian, he severely underestimated Daryl's own hunting skills...and his ability to hold a grudge.
He'd tracked the bastard who had killed his friend relentlessly, for nearly ten years. He had chased any word, any hint of a rumor, all through Europe, parts of Asia, and finally across the ocean to the New World. The other Immortal had still underestimated him when he'd finally caught up in what had then been the colony of Georgia. The man had been old--older than Daryl by a few centuries at least. Bigger, stronger, more experienced with a sword and more familiar with the terrain Daryl had challenged him on.
But Daryl had been hell-bent on avenging his mentor.
He'd won the duel, taking the other Immortal's head and his power in a dizzying rush that had left him a shaking mess on the ground. When it was over, he'd just lain on his back, staring up at the stars and wondering what he was going to do next. He had seen all Europe had to offer a dozen times over by that point, had traveled through parts of Africa and Asia. He had no real friends to speak of, no lovers to go back to. With Cassian gone and finally avenged, there was nothing to tie him to the Old World.
So he started over in the new one.
He'd stayed in the Colonies, joined up in the Continental army when the revolution broke out. He settled down (as much as he ever did) in Georgia after the war, even tried his hand at farming for a while, though he always eventually had to move on when too many years passed. He moved around the newly-birthed America's ever expanding territories...but he always came back to Georgia.
When the war between the states broke out, he joined the Confederate army, more out of a sense of loyalty to the place he had called his home for over a century at that point than any real expectation that the South would actually win the conflict. He had been wary, (but not particularly surprised, as many of his kind died their first deaths in these kinds of conflicts) when he'd found another Immortal in his regiment--a man named Merle Dixon.
Once they'd determined that neither was particularly interested in taking the other's head (not that Daryl thought he'd be in any real danger--Merle was big and strong, but young...barely fifty years past his first death), they'd struck up a friendship. War forged bonds between soldiers, and even if Daryl hadn't been as committed a 'Son of the South' as Merle, he wasn't immune to the effect. And he had been alone for a long time. By the time they hit the fields of Gettysburg, Merle had taken to introducing Daryl as his younger brother--something that amused both of them.
Daryl lost count of the number of times he had died and come back on those awful, bloody fields by the time the battle was over. Watching the shell-shocked people around him try to clean up the aftermath, he'd felt a powerful longing to just be gone for a while, to retreat back into the forests that had always welcomed him.
He'd asked Merle if he wanted to come with him.
They had traveled together for several years, before Merle finally got tired of tramping around so far from civilization. They parted on good terms, though, and through accident or design their paths would often cross...and they always declared themselves brothers to anyone who asked.
He had been content with his life. He and Merle had just fallen in together again, after not seeing each other for close to thirty years. He was considering asking Merle if he wanted to take a decade or so and explore the world a little...perhaps go down to South America or Australia. Maybe see what Europe had to offer after over two hundred and fifty years. Then he'd turned on the news one morning, and seen a report that brought every terrible memory of the days leading up to his first death rushing to the surface of his mind.
A few days after that, he was literally watching the world end around him, as he and Merle grimly loaded up weapons and supplies into his pickup truck and struck out for the promised refuge in Atlanta.
A week after that, they'd realized that there was no refuge to be had, and they found themselves following a broadcast on a ham radio channel (the only ones still functioning) towards a supposed camp of survivors at a quarry outside of Atlanta.
There was, indeed, a camp of survivors. Wary, suspicious survivors who demanded that they strip down and prove they weren't bitten before they were even allowed to turn the truck off. Daryl approved of the caution, but Merle...even Daryl had been a bit shocked at some of the things coming out of his brother's mouth. He had eventually wrangled an invitation to stay at the camp by promising he and Merle could fortify their food supplies.
It wasn't until he was unpacking the tent they had brought with them that he'd felt it...a familiar, pulsing buzz in the back of his head. It was different from Merle's, though. Weaker. Barely even flickering on his consciousness, and he doubted Merle would've felt it at all with Daryl right there in the camp. He'd realized what it was a few moments later as his eyes drifted over the group of people huddling by a couple of low-banked fires.
There was indeed another Immortal in the camp, besides him and Merle. Or at least, there would be...whoever it was hadn't died yet. He stared hard at the group, focusing on the tiny, flickering pulse in his head until his eyes fell on the source: the Asian kid in the stupid-looking baseball cap; the one they said did all the supply runs in Atlanta.
That certainly made things more interesting.