Author's Note: I've wanted to write a little Anders one-shot for some time now, and this bit came to me. I owe a shout-out to karebear, whose portrayal of the Circle and Anders resonated with me as I wrote this.

Release

"The First Enchanter can't stick his neck out for you this time, mage," the templar spits as he fastens the heavy manacles around Anders's wrists. He grins and roughly ruffles the mage's wheat-blond hair. "I hope the let us watch your execution."

Anders only smiles and wonders why they haven't yet engraved his name on this particular set of chains. He knows the penalty should have been death a long time ago, and yet they still keep him alive. Maybe that's why he keeps running; he'd rather be dead than Tranquil. "Come along, Biff," he tells the templar as they get underway, Anders shuffling along behind Biff's horse. "I do have a name, and we're on a first name basis by this point."

Biff's response is to Holy Smite Anders. He falls into the dirt and horse shit and is dragged along as he is drained of mana. He tries to breathe. He tries to find his footing. And in spite of this, he still smiles because he got a rise out of the templar.

"They'll cut out your tongue before they make you Tranquil," Biff says. He spurs his horse into a faster gait, and Anders stumbles along.

"You really think they'll make this one Tranquil after all the trouble he's made?" asks Jenson. He twists in his saddle to look back at the unkempt mage, who just shrugs in his chains and tries to keep up. Jenson shakes his head.

"He's a pain in the ass, but he's a powerful mage," Biff says. "Circle wouldn't waste talent like that. They'd probably get him enchanting."

"Thank you, Biff, that's high praise from you," Anders says, folding his hands and making a slight bow. He should keep quiet. But he can't.

Biff stops his mount and turns to Anders. "I'll cut your tongue out right here and now if you'd prefer," he says with a sneer that twists his features.

"My apologies, templar," Anders says, suddenly cold and focusing narrowed eyes on Biff. The templar is momentarily disconcerted by the change in behavior so he turns around and spurs the horse forward. Anders follows behind, inwardly cursing templars and the Circle and Andraste and everything he can think of. He stares at the ground as he walks, and while Biff and Jenson see his silence as contrite, Anders is keeping a trained eye out.

The Blight ended nearly six months ago, and the roads are littered with refuse from the armies that passed over them. Scraps of leather, twisted hunks of plate, and small slivers of metal line the roads, sometimes buried into the mud. Anders catches sight of these treasures and feigns stumbling or tripping whenever he sees something worthwhile. Biff never turns around, and sometimes Anders is dragged a few paces on his knees, tearing his robes in the process. But he doesn't care. He stopped caring a long time ago. Anything for freedom.

He fiddles with the lock mechanisms in his cuffs. If anything it gives him more to focus on than the horse's ass before him that intermittently spews shit that he must avoid stepping in, and it keeps his mind off of his fate. It will take at least a week, maybe two depending on weather to reach Kinloch Hold; that is a long time to ponder losing your life, either through execution or Tranquility. Much as he hates to admit it, Biff is right. First Enchanter Irving has gone out on one limb too many as far as Anders is concerned, and how has Anders repaid him? By running every chance he gets. After the disaster in the Circle during the Blight, Irving has lost much of his sway with Knight Commander Greagoir, who had little patience with Anders to begin with.

So he focuses instead on the lock, careful not to let the smallest stream of magic flow into the mechanisms. Biff and Jenson would sense it immediately and he'd find himself smote repeatedly until he had no choice but to be dragged along the road through the muck and shit and debris.

They pause so Biff and Jenson can take a piss, and a half dozen templars meet up with them. "This the apostate?" they ask, and Anders tries not to laugh. As if it could be more obvious.

"I'm Anders," he says with a smile that earns him a gauntleted fist in the gut. He staggers back but keeps his feet. He tastes blood. He resists the self-preserving urge to heal himself.

"You speak when spoken to, mage," the man snaps and pulls back his gauntlet once more.

"He's not worth the effort, Talrew," Biff says. "But Jenson and me, we're taking bets on whether they'll execute him or make him Tranquil."

"Hello, standing right here," Anders says and earns another punch that lands him on his back, as well as a Holy Smite that is superfluous given the fact that he is keeping a careful hold on his magic. His mana drains again; and yet again Biff spurs his horse forward before Anders can get to his feet.

He vowed long ago never to submit; he watched the templars hold the pretty elf girl down, watched them gag her with her own stocking so her cries of fear and pain were muffled. He watched them take their turns until she was a crumpled, bloody lump on the floor. As he watched from behind a curtain in the otherwise empty dormitory, he knew she'd been a good mage, submitting to the Circle's demands, and had done nothing wrong other than catch a man's fancy. And for that she was punished like this. When she trembled and shook on the stone floor, one ran her through with his sword and claimed he'd stopped her from becoming an abomination.

As Anders watched the rape and murder he knew that the only abominable thing about it all was the way the templars got away with it.

He'll never submit, even if it means giving his own life. He'll kill himself before becoming their slave. Even chained he is free, because they have not broken him.

Overhead the sky darkens. "We can stay over at Vigil's Keep," Talrew suggests. "The old arl has a sturdy dungeon we can throw this one into, and a fine collection of wines we can throw into our bellies," he says with a laugh that turns Anders's stomach.

He fiddles with his locks, so intent that he almost misses the first cries of terror. "Darkspawn," Jenson growls as the rain begins to fall. He dismounts and draws his sword, as do the other templars. "They were supposed to be done with once that Hero of Ferelden killed the archdemon."

The group moves through the portcullis into the keep. Anders wriggles his scrap metal one last time and his chains come loose, but he moves with the templars. He's learned to wait for the opportune moment. Only fools rush in, and though he has a smart mouth and a history of foolish behavior, he is far more patient and intelligent than he will ever let on to the likes of these.

A scream, and Jenson's face is ripped off by a menacing giant with skin like rusted cast iron. It's terrible and seems to be smiling and though Anders is revolted by the violence, he doesn't feel too sorry for Jenson. Or Talrew when he gets a ragged blade through his belly. Or any of the others who lose various appendages or take swords to the gut while Anders casually sets up a Glyph of Repulsion to protect himself. And the templars are so busy protecting themselves that they don't have the sense to cast a Cleanse.

At last, Biff is left. He watches Anders with pleading eyes as darkspawn advance on him. "Help me, Anders," he begs, as if the one moment of humanity can undo a lifetime of torment.

"I'm a pain in the ass, remember?" Anders asks as the tall darkspawn beast reaches out and grabs Biff about the throat. One huge clawed hand squeezes, and then Biff falls to the floor, the life leaving him in an amusing gurgle.

Anders lets the chains fall away, and allows the repulsion glyph to dissipate. He is dirty and tattered, and once more he is free from the templars. It's temporary; his freedom is always temporary. But that doesn't mean he can't enjoy it while it lasts. He smiles at the darkspawn that advance upon him, black saliva dripping from yellowed fangs. His pulse races and he feels alive.

Flames dance across his palms and the darkspawn roar as they catch fire. Anders laughs as the dead templar bodies cook and char beyond recognition in their armor. And only when the last darkspawn falls, and he turns to see two people watching, does he realize how this looks.

He blows out an errant flame clinging to his fingertip. "I didn't do it," he says.

But he wishes he did.