The people of this world knew his name.
The first time he became aware of this fact, Dax was sitting outside a tavern in Aringill with his feet propped up on the table in front of him and a mug of beer in his lap. It was a pleasant day, all things considered, with the sounds of a market a few streets away carrying on the light wind, a warm sun to ease the tension in his shoulders, and a few extra coins in his pocket from a ring fight the night before.
So the Tairen sat, chin planted on his chest and gaze firmly on his drink, and tried to think of home. Elia came to him in his dreams sometimes, and Tomas and Thea, and even Ravak with all his bluster. At night he could see them, but during the day they felt infinitely far away. Did Thea have blue eyes or brown? Was Ravak’s missing finger on his left hand or his right? Thus distracted by trying to put together his memories, Dax almost didn’t hear the voices rising inside the building behind him. Then he heard his name.
“Dax? He said his name was Dax. Torellion?”
“He didn’t give a bloody last name,” the tavern keeper said irritably. “I wouldn’t even know his first if not for Megna.”
Megna the tavern maid was beautiful, sassy, curvy, perfect...and a third of Dax’s age. There had been a time that would have been an attraction rather than a deterrent, but it had passed while Katrie still wore his ring. Beyond that, Elia was waiting for him; she had to be. Elia, who would look at him with those green eyes of hers when he told her what he had done. She probably wouldn’t say a word...or maybe she would yell and throw things as she did sometimes when angry. It didn’t matter, really; either way the gray-white whiplash of her hurt would cut through him like a blade.
That was why Dax refused to flirt with Megna of the big brown eyes, much to her chagrin. He had given her his name, however, when he turned he down for the last time. It had seemed only polite, given how intently she had pursued him. Now, however, it felt as foolish as the intimacy he had avoided.
The door opened and boots crunched across pebbles. “Are you Dax Torellion?” A man’s voice asked. It was the same man from the conversation inside. Dax lifted his head and twisted to look up at him through half-lowered lids. The stranger was of average height, but wide, with thick black hair, a bristling beard, and small, pale eyes. He wore workman’s gear -nothing exceptional- and no visible weapons..
“Who’s asking?” Dax Gaidin had replaced Dax the sellsword as his dominant identity at some point, but the cautious question came naturally regardless. Smart mercenaries, the ones who wanted to live, were careful with their names. Certainly they were more careful than Dax had been since he woke up in this world with no Grey Tower, no Elia, no friends, and no hope.
“My name is Senclar Lebann.”
“Is that supposed to mean something important?” Dax returned his attention to his drink. Deliberate arrogance sometimes got better results than good manners. He had learned that first from watching Jem, then again as a fifteen year old punk with a stolen sword he had no idea how to use.
“It means money...a great deal of it...in exchange for your particular services, Torellion.”
The Tairen swirled his beer around in its cup and took a drink. It had gone flat and sour, but he swallowed anyway. “I’m listening,” he said, dropping his feet to the ground. “Have a seat.”
Senclar paid in advance, which was both unheard of and exceptionally well received. He asked Dax to hunt a man named Dayne Ocara. His target led the Gaidin on a merry chase up the river, across the Caralain Grass, and nearly to the Black Hills. There he took on a small band of body guards and dispatched them with laughable ease. No one expected a mercenary to fight as Dax did, especially not on some desolate stony plain in the middle of nowhere.
Dayne was a scrap of a human, scrawny and pale. Dax hesitated with his fingers wrapped around the man’s throat, held back by some muddy-brown feeling he didn’t immediately understand. ”What did you do to Senclar?” he asked. He hadn’t asked for details when accepting the job; they hadn’t mattered. Now he had the man in his grip, however, Dax found that he needed to know whether this was a murder or an execution.
“Not to Senclar. Oh no. His son though? Well...” His captive's eyes were wild and his tongue rambled; as his story unfolded the Tairen’s gaze faded from curiosity to blistering ice. It seemed Dax had also forgotten how satisfying it was to simply squeeze the life out of a thing that no longer deserved to exist. It was good to watch the light go out of the squirming monster’s eyes and even better to toss him aside like the refuse he was.
Dax washed his hands in a nearby stream and walked away.
It turned out that people didn’t just know his name; there was actually another version of himself wandering about.
Dax found himself by accident while walking through the docks of Illian toward a new work opportunity. The other him had a girl with dark hair trapped between himself and a wall, one arm pressed against the wall above her head while he talked. His sleeves were rolled up and the skin on his forearms was devoid of ink. It was odd to see his arms without herons. Indeed, save for a few unmistakable marks of age he might have been the same man who fled to the Grey Tower for sanctuary decades before. Dax’s skin crawled just looking at him. Me? Him? What is the appropriate word?
The Gaidin decided he would rather not find out what would happen if the other noticed his presence. He turned on his heel and pulled his hood up despite the heat. It took most of his remaining money to buy space on the next ship leaving, but he took it. He called himself Stefan after that, unless the person knew him. He knew himself too well to presume the other him would not come looking for a supposed impersonator.
Job followed job, life got a little easier with a flow of coin to support him, and Dax lost track of time. The world actually seemed to move differently here, spinning ever faster beneath his feet with every step he took. His loneliness faded a little beneath the guise of familiar routine. He did not quite stop thinking of home, but it no longer consumed him. Even meeting Ria -or perhaps more accurately, this other version of Ria who was missing an eye, had clearly had intimate acquaintance with his other body, and had a stunning right hook- did not change the distance he felt when he thought of the Grey Tower. If anything, it made ‘home’ feel even more alien.
It was fall, and Dax walked through the neatly ordered streets of Cairhien toward a mansion -rightly a palace- that belonged to House Damodred. He despised the machinations and gossip that went with working for Cairhien, but he could tolerate a little bit of verbal sparring for gold in his purse- and Lady Leilaine paid more than well for his services.
His pace slowed as he approached an intersection some distance from his destination. Dax knew exactly where he was and the knowledge burned sharp and hot and red in his chest. If he turned right and walked a little ways he would reach the Riatin estate. He stared up that street and reminded himself that Lady Aikaterine Riatin could hardly recognize a lowly mercenary on sight, not in this world. She was third in line for the Cairhienin throne, had trained with Aes Sedai...she was, in short, everything his Katrie had never wanted to be. Did she really want it, here, or had it been forced upon her?
The need to see her one last time, even if she gave him blank eyes and a pretty noble’s smile, was suddenly all-consuming. His treacherous feet made the terrible decision for him and he began the long walk up the hill.
A few minutes later a carriage barreled down the street completely oblivious to the humans that might be in its path. Dax flattened himself against the wall with a muffled curse. He could hear raised voices over the rapid hoofbeats- a woman, a man, another woman. Abruptly someone inside unlatched the window and threw something out; the square object landed on the smooth stone and slid to land neatly at Dax’s feet. When the carriage finally rounded a corner and disappeared from sight, the Tairen looked down to see what had been so rudely discarded.
A book, roughly the length of his forearm, bound in red leather.
All the breath left his body in a shocked sort of oomph and Dax dropped to his knees in the dust without care for bruises. Rough fingers scrambled through the dirt to caress the delicately embossed cover of that book, tugging it toward him with reverent care. He traced the decorative woven frame, the scripted title, the whimsical tree and the lovers standing with their fingertips pressed together above the still waters of a small pool. He knew it all. He knew every single flaming detail. The Tairen gathered it into his lap, opened the cover. It fell open to an illustration of a woman talking to a snake through an oddly twisted doorway made of redstone. The story that went along with it was hand written in a painfully familiar hand; even the ink blots were the same as he remembered.
“Light help me, how?” Dax gasped, slapping the cover down once more and gathering the precious object against his chest. His eyes traveled from the ground where it had landed, along the street and up, until it landed on a tall wall with a massive banner bearing five gold stars. Of course. Katrie. She had made that book for him at the Grey Tower, so it only made sense she would make it here, as well. Had she made it for this version of him, or for another?
His mind spun at the possibilities and his heart ached from the force of the memories pouring through him, but in the end Dax did something wholly unexpected: He cradled the book to his body like a child and returned to the inn he was staying at. Whoever she was in this world, Katrie had thrown the book away here as well, and he was bloody well going to keep it.
That night he dreamed of snakes and foxes, impossible doors, and Elia’s delicate hands stroking through his hair.
OOC: Ria and Dax are getting their own entire separate thread. I'll edit this to reflect any changes that thread inflicts upon the story line.