There was a post going around the other day about how damaging solitary confinement is to people. Prompted me to slip into Anders’ past and start writing his year in solitary confinement after his last escape attempt to serve as a window into what he’s been through. And hopefully to learn/show more of why he is who he is, through Awakenign into DA2. I wanted the challenge of an extremely traumatic and physically/mentally trying period of his life.
A general warning for being dark/traumatic/depressing etc. I tried to read up on some of the effects of such confinement and incorporate it in.
"I deserved that," Anders huffed under his breath, spitting out blood as the templars dragged him back to his feet.
"You deserve more for what you’ve done. Don’t think I’ve forgotten your last escape," Ser Alec replied, motioning down the stairs. "Must have done something right by Irving and Greagoir to get such special treatment."
“Hah,” Anders muttered. “Not the sort of special treatment I’m used to.”
“Say hello to your new home,” Ser Alec said once they were down the stairs, and he swung open the barred door to let his brothers drag Anders inside.
“Could use some redecorating,” Anders said, and groaned when they dropped him down. When he lifted a hand to heal his mouth, nothing happened. “Oh come on.”
Ser Alec patted the dark stone inset into the walls of the ten-by-ten cell. They were in the basement of the Circle tower. “Lovely stuff, it is – they brought it from Aeonar. This and the room next to you.”
“And who’s my oh-so lucky company?” Anders said as he rose to his knees.
“No company,” Ser Alec called back, his voice echoing down the hall. The templars that had carried him in were leaving. “Enjoy your stay.”
“Wait,” Anders said, and was on his feet against the barred door to look after the man. Ser Alec hesitated in the lamplight, flickers of orange reflected in his polished armour. “You’re just going to leave me down here?”
“Something like that,” Ser Alec replied, casting him a hard glance before turning away. His footsteps echoed off the stone, a metered sound that disappeared with the hush of air and clank of a shutting door.
“Flaming arse,” Anders hissed, gripping the bars of the cell and giving them a shake for good measure. He pushed off and stalked back through the room. There was a bed, a desk, and two shelves of books. He began to look for a weak spot.
Sitting on the floor, Anders sighed and looked at the ceiling. Nope. Nothing had changed. That was stone all right. And moss. And some condensation. And other niceties. The mortar was without a flaw. He hadn’t tried to move the bookcases yet, but they were bolted down, and he suspected that he wouldn’t find much there. His desk and bed were secured as well.
“They know me too well,” he sighed, looking at the bars of his cell door.
The lock on the door was not standard, and his quill had snapped when he’d tried to manipulate it. He’d ended up scraping a long gash down his arm, and it had only just clotted completely, leaving a dull ache and burn behind.
The door down the hall opened and there was the heavy clunk of armoured feet. Anders only made it to his feet as the templar slid the plate of roast meet under the door.
“Oh goody, thank you very much, my dear,” Anders said, stooping to retrieve it before squishing against the bars. He stuffed the cold slice in his mouth. “Leaving so soon?”
The only reply was the clank of the door and the click of its bolt.
There were two types of stone used in the cell construction. He could sense the stone from Aeonar at all times, but when Anders touched it, the walls seemed to close in and the energy in his soul died. It was staggered throughout the walls, thankfully, and he could avoid it if need be. Only twenty-seven pieces all together, each one the exact same size, almost the width and length as his hand.
“That must be what being tranquil feels like,” Anders said, standing with his hands behind his back, inspecting the sullied stone. It had a purplish hue, almost black. He sneezed. “It’d be worse, though, of course. Don’t think I don’t know that.”
Anders paced around the confined space again. The rug underfoot was full of holes, half-worn, and faded considerably. He rounded about to the bars, looking closely at where the hinges were imbedded.
“Smart, that,” he murmured, frowning. It looked like paint. The shimmer of the magical – no, anti-magical really – stone was there, just a coating, so he couldn’t even touch them without feeling sick. He’d tried.
“Well. It’s official.” He strode back into the room, hair bristling on the back of his neck. “I don’t like whoever built this. Not one bit.”
Anders sat down and tried to read again, but his thoughts wouldn’t settle. He abandoned the book on herbal remedies and slumped back on the bed to listen to the faint, distant sounds of movement through the stone.
Anders dropped the arm over his eyes to the floor when he heard the door at the far end of the hall, and he scrambled to his feet. He leant against the wall beside the cell door and cheerfully said, “Hello! Do tell, what’s to eat today?”
The templar scarce said a word, opening the small hatch at the bottom of the cell door to offer a wide bowl of stew. When Anders merely looked at it, she said, “Take your ration, mage.”
“Will you stay and talk if I don’t?”
“No,” she replied, and began to pull the bowl away.
“Hey, hey,” he said, drooping down to grab it. She looked at him, and they both slowly stood up. “Just gets lonely, you know?”
“That’s the point,” she said and turned away.
Anders groped after her but caught nothing, and he spilt part of the stew in the process. His voice grew more hurried. “I just thought it’d be nice to share some news. Some anything. Is Irving dead yet? What about the time? Please!”
The templar hesitated, dipping her helmed head down before saying, “It’s mid-morning.”
"Mid-morning," Anders said, and laughed falsely in relief. She was leaving again, and his voice rose in pitch and volume. "Of course it is. I bet it’s lovely. Is that when I usually get fed? Please – please don’t… go."
Anders shuddered and looked down into the bowl of stew as he leant on the door and slid down. It was cold when he finally ate it.
“Oh elfroot, dear canavaris, heals what ails no matter where it is,
A pale purple flower conceals its wrath, not root but leaf of its extract,
Sweet in your silence, felicidus aria, ambrosia’s root from scent rosaria.
A lover, a drug, a friend tis not, this glowing beauty that’s a mage’s draught,
When sorrow is a close companion, spin-“
Anders’ words cut off and he clamped his lips shut, still laying on the bed and staring at the wall. He strained to listen for the oddity above the regular drip of water on stone. A peculiar rage of excitement fluttered in his chest, but he stayed on the bed.
When he heard another soft clack again, he slowly sat up. “Hello? Look I – I can hear you. I…” He laughed a bit, nervous, empty. “I’d much rather talk to you than myself. Sort of… know what I’m going to say, you know? Of course you know. I know you know.”
There was silence for a few moments more before the cell door creaked, and Anders turned with a start, scrambling up to his feet. There was a dance of mottled fur by the door and a skitter of nails on stone. He reached out.
“Hey – hey no rats, well alright, maybe a rat, you can’t be…” Anders words drained away. He licked his dried lips and sunk to his knees when he saw the cat huddled against the far wall of the corridor.
He ran his hands over his mouth and through his shaggy stubble before whispering, “I’m sorry. You got me excited there. It – it’s okay, I mean you can come in. Lots of room here with just me…” His eyes grew glossy a moment, and his head sunk along with his features. “Talking. Someone has to. Right? Right.”
The cat slunk forward again, nuzzling up to the bars as it regarded him. Anders stretched out a hand, and realized he was trembling.
"Come here, mister kitty," he whispered, and when the feline complied, he whimpered. He rubbed a hand over the cat’s head, rubbing its ears to the tips and coming up short. He cleared his throat, offering his other hand. The cat put his head into it. "You’re a rough and tumble thing. What do those nasty templars do to you, anyway? Do they feed you? Of course they don’t. They don’t like feeding noble, sexy beasts like us."
Anders exhaled an unsteady breath as the cat walked up over his lap, and he scratched the animal’s mottled, tabby fur. “Boy, you don’t know how good it is to see you. The beetles and that aren’t very good company. And no mice or rats – which, don’t get me wrong I appreciate… that must be you, isn’t it?” When the cat nipped at his hand, he said, “Alright! Fine, I guess it’s fine. Eat your mice if you must – hey!”
The cat leapt out of his lap and darted out through the bars, and Anders reached after it.
"I give a mean belly rub, I promise!" Anders called out as he stiffly got up. He leant against the bars of his cell, listening for the sound of movement. He was trembling again, and it choked his throat. "Damn it."
“Just keep moving,” he muttered.
Anders hugged one arm around his waist and drifted from one side of the cell to the other. He rubbed the other over his forehead. The sounds of his steps were all the same, one after the other, creating an even beat as he paced. His legs were numb and it didn’t really matter. As long as he kept moving.
The desk and bed behind him were strewn with books, some of which were half open. On the wall above his bed were 21 ticks in the stone. He knew well enough that they were getting into fall. Even if he couldn’t count properly, he could feel it in the air.
"I’ll make her stop this time. She’ll listen. She can’t just leave me down here. She’ll tell me when I get out." Anders continued to himself, and he broke his stride, feet dragging across the carpet. He took hold of the cold bars, and yelled, "You can’t just cage a person and forget them like this! I’m a person! I’m a mage, but I’m real, and I hurt just like you! You don’t think I know you can hear me?"
Anders started laughing and leant against the bars, trembling and shivering. “Please, it’s freezing down here, and my precious jewels are shrivelling up. I plan to use them again some day, if I can help it. Wouldn’t you like to hear a story about them? I bet you would. But no. No.”
Standing again, Anders tugged the blanket off his bed, tumbling the books onto the floor. He wrapped it around himself and began pacing again.
"It’s alright. It’s alright. They’ll bring food soon. They come about now. And they’ll let you know how much longer it is." Anders’ brow furrowed and he hid his face in the blanket. "Just keep thinking. Just keep… keep moving."
He began to recite the Tome of Spirit Personages again.
Anders tilted the small mirror on the wall and stretched his upper lip, carefully drawing the straight blade down it. Flicking it into the bowl of water in his lap, he slowly shaved his cheeks, the scrape of metal on skin and through hair filling his senses. The splish of his hand in the cold water echoed down the hall.
“Guess they couldn’t stand to see me so bedraggled anymore,” he murmured, contorting his face again to keep from cutting himself. It didn’t work, and he softly cursed. He picked up the rag of a towel and wiped his face, standing up to throw the bowl against the wall in the same motion. The clay bowl shattered and fell to the ground as the murky water dribbled down the stone.
He gripped the bone blade of the razor, standing in the confined space trembling. His voice came in spats, like he were out of breath. “I just want to use my magic. I just want to get out of here. I just want to feel the wind and the sunlight and laugh. Is that too much?” He touched the curve of his jaw, and his fingers came away with blood. “I’m not some criminal. No one got hurt. I just… I just go out. I got to be a person. Just a man.”
Anders pulled the heavy cloak tighter on his frame, breath shuddering as he turned the straight-blade in his hand to look at the crimson glisten down its sharpened edge. He had screamed and they did nothing. What were they doing giving him a blade? It would be so simple and quick if he cut the right places. He knew his anatomy, he had the right book over there.
The red, worn leather-bound tome. It smelled part like blood, and part like dirt – and of course parchment. That he knew the smell of earth, how many mages could say that? He could think of lying on the ground, worshipping it, tearing blades of grass and inhaling the loamy soft earth. And the sunshine, sweet Andraste’s arse, the sunshine. Of taking off his boots the last time just to stick them in the mud. He could almost feel it if he wiggled his toes. The little girl that had laughed at him.
“No,” he croaked, and his arm dropped. He had gripped the blade too hard. When Anders turned back to his pacing, he murmured, “No, not for me. For them. Like neat flesh, to make books of their skin…”
He had begun to fantasize about them. About Ser Alec’s face, and the pretty brunette who wouldn’t meet his eye. What would their screams be like in this dark place? And the taste of her tears licked from the stone.
“Not that you aren’t appealing,” he hurriedly said, spoken words mingled with thoughts. “But you were there. This is because of you. I didn’t ask for this, but you did it anyway. I bet it wasn’t even their idea, I bet you wanted it.”
When Anders opened his eyes, nothing had changed. He couldn’t tell how long he had been sleeping. There were 30 marks on the wall. He was certain they’d started bringing his meals less frequently, so they didn’t matter anymore. They wanted to weaken him more - to thin him down. Why bother feeding him?
He didn’t move from the bed, where he lay wrapped in heavy brocade fabric and wool. His breath hung in the air, and there was frost on the wall. Sometimes it almost seemed like he could hear the lap of Lake Calenhad. Something he used to enjoy.
The skitter of claws on stone brought him slowly up, and Anders almost smiled as the tabby edged into view.
"It’s you," he said, his sad smile souring. He began to shake his head. "Where have you been? Don’t go away like that, Mister Wiggums."
The tabby twitched his tail in dismissal, and leapt through the bars to hop up onto the bed. Anders laid back down, sighing out heavily. A hand crept from beneath the blankets to rest on the cat’s hindquarters as it lay down.
"Good to know you’re tired too," he murmured, eyes heavy. His chest constricted as the cat began to purr, and his breath jerked. "I missed you. There’s a new templar, and the food is awful. It’s supposed to be better isn’t it? Hope you’re better fed, at least."
The cat tilted his head to press his cold nose to the back of Ander’s hand, and quickly licked it away. Tears broke at the edge of his eyes, and Anders buried his face in the blanket beside Mr. Wiggums.
There was another cat years away in his mind, laying in bed purring and licking his fingers as he fell asleep. The mountains outside were capped with snow, and the air smelt like mead and fur. The bed was warm, and sleep was the only thing that had mattered. If he could live it again, there would be dead templars in the snow.
Anders closed his eyes, and blinked the tears to fall. He slipped his hand around Mr.Wiggum’s stomach, feeling the vibrations of his purring and relishing the cat’s warmth. It seemed easy enough to fade back into a better time. Unable to make his eyes focus on the books to read them yet again, he fled to his memories – and some part of him was certain if only he had never been a mage, he would be somewhere happy and content, with a bed of cats and a loving partner.
He would just be a man. He would just be… no. He would never have been Anders.
"Anders," he whispered into the neck of the cat, rubbing its belly. He was shivering, though the blankets were warm. He shook his head and kept his eyes closed. "Anders."
He could see mountain peaks and smell the trees and snow.