Three of them are dead. He doesn't even need his healing sense to work that out. The smell is sickening, but he can't bring himself to feel sad for it, not with the cooling corpse of Wiggums lying next to them.

The fourth is whimpering in pain and Anders wants, so badly to leave him to die, but he knows if he does he will be branded maleficar and when they hunt him down, as they are sure to do, he will be killed on sight.

He doesn't want to die, he finds.

So he approaches Cullen, who tries pitifully to skitter away from him, burned as he is. Anders shushes him as he would one of the youngest apprentices, holding up his hands and calling forth magic. He needs Cullen to live. He needs Cullen to tell the others what Anders did.

The first thing William does is withhold his food. He only works this out because Wiggums arrives one day and the food is not there. The cat is confused, but not as confused as Anders. He thinks at first that Wiggums has come early and dismisses it - he can't expect the cat to keep to a routine, even though it has become one of the threads that tie Anders to sanity.

His stomach tells him otherwise, however.

When the food finally comes Wiggums has departed and Anders is pacing his cell. He runs to the slot, hoping for another comment from William, but it arrives silently. He inspects it closely, but it is the same as it always is, thin gruel, a piece of bread peppered with seeds and a strip of dried meat.

When he takes his first bite of the gruel he swears. It's over-salted to the point where it seems to suck the moisture from his mouth, and if he eats it he will undoubtably end up finishing his water too soon. He has a choice, then, to be hungry or thirsty.

He chooses hungry. He is a healer, he knows thirst kills you more quickly.

It is only the beginning.

Once Cullen is healed Anders lets him sink into unconsciousness, then busily strips William of his armour. They are much the same size and Anders manages to dress himself relatively quickly. It is not the first time he has donned Templar armour, he is familiar, even after all this time, with the buckles.

The armour is scorched and dented and Anders is counting on his own voice being hoarse and unrecognisable as he clatters up the stairs to the main hall.

The routine that has been pinning the shredded pieces of his mind together is ripped from him. Food arrives when he is still full from his last meal, or doesn't come until he feels like his stomach will digest itself from hunger. Sometimes it is heavily salted, sometimes more disgusting things have been done to it in order to make it inedible. One day a great, steaming pile of faeces greets him instead of his gruel and he gags. It is still warm.

William is careful never to interfere enough that Anders starves, but Anders knows that if it goes on long enough this is a possibility.

One day, when the food is blessedly normal he cries out to William to tell him why he does these things.

The only reply he gets is a dry chuckle.

The flash of rage is intense and uncontrollable and when he comes back to himself his food is plastered over the wall of his cell and Wiggums is a hissing ball of claws and teeth, screeching at the door as if the cat could blast it from its hinges through the force of his will.

Anders is shaking and can't remember what he's done. He is hungry and exhausted and filthy and fundamentally sick of it. He approaches the cat warily, frightened he might have hurt the animal, but Wiggums turns, hackles smoothing, and calmly jumps to his shoulder, purring and rubbing his head against the mess of beard that covers his face.

It is the middle of the night, there are only the Templars on door duty. "A demon!" he chokes out as he stumbles towards them. "Sweet Holy Andraste - the prisoner - a rage demon! You have to help them!" The guards are stupid. They run, without asking him any details, and Anders, staggering a little under the unfamiliar weight of plate mail, fumbles with the doors.

He nearly cries then, because they're locked and he can't open them and he'll be caught and killed before he's seen the sky again.

The whispering gets louder and more insistent. It speaks of revenge. When he dreams, he dreams of templars burning, screaming and begging for mercy that he does not give.

He stops wondering if he is mad. He stops caring when he loses his temper and rages at the door. He stops worrying that he'll hurt Wiggums, instead when the cat visits he spouts vitriol about what he will do to the Templars if he ever gets out of the cell, how he will murder them, feast on their blood and rip their flesh to shreds.

When the rage demon comes he is ready to accept whatever price it asks for the opportunity to take his revenge. But a small, velvet paw pats his cheek and he is distracted, suddenly, by his friend's soft purr and he remembers why it isn't worth it.

They will kill him, and he will have achieved nothing. They will kill him, and no one will know what they did to him.

They will kill him, and he will have lost.

The demon shouts. The demon is stronger than he thought. The demon cannot force itself into Anders, so instead it forces itself into the only other mortal body near.

He is leaning against the door, sobbing, when another Templar comes up beside him.

"The door guards said you were attacked by a demon!" Carroll says. "Are you all right?"

The light of hope seems to burn through the slit in the visor that keeps his identity secret.

"Carroll, I need to get outside… please… just… away from what I saw…"

"Oh. You don't have your key?" the man is the stupidest Templar in the Tower. It is common knowledge.

"The demon…"

"Sure, fine, I'll unlock it for you… William isn't it?"

"Yes."

The demon's heat is enough to melt the locks on the door. As soon as the sigils are breached, Anders feels his magic rush back to him and he sobs aloud in relief even as he crafts the cold spell that will slow the demon enough to let him escape.

Before he can cast, however, there is the clank of Templar armour and William rushes in - of course, they have been waiting for this - but the templar is confused to see both Anders and the demon and the confusion costs him his life. As William burns the sentinel's high pitched warning shriek erupts and Anders realises there will be more templars any second. The demon turns on the sentinel first and consumes it in an aura of fire, even as Anders desperately casts, freezing it in place. Three more Templars are there then, and damn their stupidity they smite him and cleanse the area, not realising that it is his spell that has stopped them from being killed outright on their arrival.

He strips the armour from his body desperately, leaving the pieces in the grass which he feels in his toes. It is summer, thank the maker. The swim will not kill him from cold, at least.

If it is summer then he has been confined for at least a year. It's possible he has been confined for twenty, truly, he has no way of knowing.

He plunges into the cold water of the lake, striking out for shore the way he has so many times before this. It has never felt so good.

He staggers and falls, watching helplessly as what-once-was-Wiggums roars and plunges fists of fire into the first two templars killing them instantly. The third staggers back, and Anders realises from the babbling words of the chant spilling from his lips that it is Cullen. Desperately, he calls on his last breath of mana. Desperately he shoots ice and then lightning at the demon. Cullen screams as a burst of flame engulfs him but it is the dying gasp of the demon and Anders watches it diminish and dissolve back into the limp form of the animal who had saved more than his life.

He begins to weep.

The Blight claws at Ferelden and Anders desperately wants to get away, but so does everyone, it seems and in the end he finds it is easier to stay unnoticed as an apostate in a world where healers are more valuable than coin. When Rylock's cronies finally catch him, he has experienced nearly three full years of relative freedom, but he is still bitter, still angry, still certain there must be a better way. It won't be him who finds it. He will die before he goes back into that cell. He knows there will be an opportunity to make certain of this, and he resolves to take it.

Instead, as he sits in his cell contemplating the best way to end his own life, darkspawn attack. An emmissary's spell frees him from his manacles, and perhaps… just perhaps when he shoots fire at the darkspawn he doesn't aim particularly carefully. He doesn't use his healing to stop the screams and the burning when he can. It would be a waste of mana, he reasons. He doesn't know how many darkspawn are out there. He can't be certain these men, who have been kicking him and taunting him with what will happen when he gets back to the Tower, will respond to healing magic in any case.

Perhaps, just perhaps, he grins a feral, satisfied grin as he sees the last of them fall.

Then there is a sad, weary elf who has stepped straight out of his past and become a hero of epic proportions, who offers him freedom in a form more permanent than anything he has ever contemplated before. It is an offer he cannot refuse, even should he want to.

Years later, after the mess that is Kirkwall and the revolution that follows, people will say this was the first step on his path. He knows they are wrong.

The first step was taken when he was twelve years old, watching his freedom be taken from him while a man who should have fought to protect him shook with fear.