An Adventure of Swords and Magic
Dragon Age: Inquisition
When I wake up I'm afraid
Somebody else might take my place
When I wake up I'm afraid
Somebody else might end up being me
Afraid - The Neighborhood
Why do we dream?
Long ago a therapist had once asked that question. Claire could almost remember it like it had happened the day before. The office was warm, just like the nice woman sitting in the plush chair. A collection of stuffed animals lined one book shelf, from large plushy bears to tiny beanie babies. Miss Mallory had been her favorite therapist, always a kind smile lighting up her soft features.
She had been nine when the terrifying nightmares began. When Claire's mother had taken her to the doctors they explained that she was suffering from a type of anxiety. As to what was stressing the young child…they could only guess. They suggested Claire see a therapist to help relieve it.
But so many things changed in ten years. Miss Mallory was gone now, having moved west to start a family. While therapy had never really helped relieve the chronic nightmares, it had always been nice to talk to someone about all the things that made Claire angry or sad. She had confided in her old therapist about her living conditions, how hard school was, and her fears about her own future.
Now, her new therapists seemed disinterested in her life. They were just young doctors looking for their big break, and Claire and her disorder were just old news. Eventually, Claire shut down again only going to the sessions because her mother forced her to.
"Talk to them Claire." Sally would argue, "They're trying to help you."
Her mother meant well, she always did.
It's why it bothered the young woman that she was still going to these sessions. In truth, Sally was spending money they didn't have. They already barely made it by on her meager paycheck, and Claire was often so sleep deprived it prevented her from keeping a steady job. Here she was at nineteen, no job, no car, and no hope for a normal future.
Her life was just fantastic.
"Ms. Brennigan, please pay attention." Vivid green eyes looked up ruefully at her hooked nosed therapist from beneath unruly red curls before she scowled at him, the freckles across her face shifting slightly as her expression darkened. Dr. Walker seemed uninterested, and quickly wrote down on his little clipboard, the pen scribbling across the paper maddeningly.
She hated this man.
He was a new therapist, and this was their second session. The last one had given up on her, just like the one before that. And here she was sitting in this guy's fancy office, with his fancy degrees on his fancy wall, and he was so apathetic she could almost taste it.
So how's that nice degree workin' out for ya? She wanted to ask coldly; would it kill this guy to smile just a little?
"Tell me about your latest dream, Ms. Brennigan." He prompted with a sigh, his cold eyes shifting towards the clock.
Yeah, I don't wanna be here as much as you do, but talkin' to ya sure as hell ain't gonna to make the time go by faster.
Claire gave him credit where it was due. He did try to poke an answer out of her that was more than a syllable. However, her unwillingness to cooperate with him caused the hour to drag by in an agonizing crawl. When she was finally allowed to leave she couldn't get out of the room fast enough, black on white ceramic blurred by her vision as she rushed out into the waiting room where he mother sat in one of the chairs.
Sally Brennigan was a small mousy woman; freckles ran across her fair yet worn skin. She looked up as Claire came round the corner, green eyes brightening with the smile that broke out across her face. Her long graying auburn hair was quickly brushed behind her ears as she stood to greet her daughter. They were a lot alike, or so people often pointed out. Claire couldn't see it; where her mother was a pretty shining star of optimism, her daughter was a sullen void of anger and fatigue.
Sally disappeared into Dr. Walker's office for the usual post appointment talk. Claire could only imagine the conversation that was happening behind the closed door. She was willing to bet there was talk of her being suicidal, or at least starting on the path of becoming a killer sociopath. She snorted at the thought.
Her, a sociopath?
First of all, she needed to be devoid of a moral compass, and she liked to think she had a good grasp on that. As for her habit of being completely unsociable, being tired caused her tolerance for general stupidity to fall through the floor. It was better to remove herself from stressful situations than risk going off on somebody. And besides, she'd be a terrible serial killer. She and blood never got along to begin with; a nosebleed was usually enough to make her nauseous.
When the minute hand finally reached the half hour mark Sally emerged from the doctor's office. Claire looked at her as her mother trained her gaze on the floor. She looked so old then, tired and beaten as she shuffled along to the reception desk.
It was her fault; all this money on Claire's condition and they were no closer to a cure than they were years ago. Sometimes, while lying in bed at night, she'd wish her mother would just leave. Claire convinced herself that it wouldn't be so bad, at least her mother could gather the shattered remains of her life and put it back together. Her mother deserved the world, and yet she was stuck with Claire.
Life certainly was cruel.
"Claire," The redhead snapped out of her reverie, "Let's go, we're going to be late for the train home."
Sally flashed her a disappointed look. It was an expression Claire didn't often see and it made her stomach drop. She followed her mother out into the bright Friday afternoon streets, and was nearly swept up into the bustling crowd that never seemed to cease. They traveled down the busy sidewalks, pushing through the thousands of people that bumped past them.
They finally managed to return home within the next hour, tired from their long day out. Their apartment was a small one bedroom complex. Despite the size it was homey and well kept; the kitchen was tidy and clean, as was the living room. The den was Sally's space, indicated by the multitudes of trinkets decorating shelves and hanging from the walls. They were reminders of her childhood in Ireland, a home and family Claire would likely never see.
For reasons she wouldn't divulge, her mother wasn't on good terms with her family. Even in their worst moments, Sally refused to break down and ask them for help. When questioned about it, her mother would just frown. She'd shrug and say,
"They made their choice…and I made mine."
Claire quickly kicked off her worn sneakers, and padded across of the living room towards her bedroom. She shut the door with a firm snap and heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, sweet solitude. Her fortress was small. Clutter took up much of the floor, a horrid amalgamation of clothes and other junk, while the late noonday sun filtered in through dirty window. Her sparsely used bed sat at the far wall, while her wardrobe leaned upon her left hand wall with her desk next to the door.
She dumped her jacket on the floor and overstepped her mess towards the bed. She was eager to relax after her arduous appointment; she fell into her pile of blankets and pillows searching for the paperback book hidden within the depths. Once she had the novel in hand she flopped onto her stomach and began to thumb quickly through the pages before finding the point where she left off.
She liked books; they were easy to get along with. They didn't think she was weird, or call her names, and their sole purpose was to transport her to other worlds. Which was as good as it was going to get for her. Sometimes she wondered what it'd be like to live in the places described in her books. Then she'd be able to embark on adventures, and be the hero in her own tale for once.
But this was reality, and reality had a bad habit of shitting on people for no legitimate reason. On Earth she was different, an outcast made by society because she didn't fit into their norms. Claire certainly didn't ask to be different; if she had her way she'd be the happy go lucky girl people wanted her to be, and who had passed high school with top marks so she could be accepted into prestigious colleges.
Then at least she would be a daughter her mother could be proud of, instead of the tired failure that she ended up as.
"Claire," Sally's voice echoed through the closed door, "I'm going to the library, do you want anything while I'm out?"
The young woman paused for a moment, "No." She called back.
"Alright, I'm going to be out late. There's leftovers in the fridge if you get hungry, and don't let anyone you don't know into the house."
"Ma, I'm nineteen, I get the idea of stranger danger."
"Lip, Claire." Came a warning tone from beyond the door, visibly the redhead shrank back,
There was a pause and the slight shuffle of footsteps before her mother's voice came back through the door, "I love you, Claire." She said; Claire smiled softly,
"I love ya too ma – be safe out there."
She listened as her mom walked away, seconds later she heard the door open and creak shut. There wasn't much to do in their small apartment, and it wasn't like she had any friends to invite over for any wild parties. Claire sighed and rolled onto her back continuing her book . She passed the next hour and a half leisurely, shifting every so often.
Eventually, hunger took hold, and she clambered through her room. The hallway was dim, the setting sun nearly below the city horizon, filtering in through the window at the end of the hall. Claire padded quickly into the kitchen and went straight for the fridge. As she warmed her leftovers she wandered into the living room, overstepping the blankets that lay quietly at the foot of the couch.
Their apartment was only one bedroom, as such Sally had given it to Claire and opted to sleep on the couch. More than once, the pair had argued about the arrangement. Claire was more than willing to sleep in the living room, but her mother insisted that since her daughter was a young adult she needed her privacy.
But Claire wasn't interested in the couch or their modesty. In fact she swept past both towards the far wall by the window. There, a mirror stood proudly along the wall standing a foot or two taller than she. The border was an intricate design of woven wood, and tarnished metal. The glass was smooth, crystal clear, and a pristine reflection of herself smiled.
It had been an early birthday present. One of the few times Claire had ever really asked for one. She and her mother had been walking an outdoor market that day looking for a new coffee table for their apartment. The stalls were cramped together; people talking and yelling as the crowd pushed and shoved against each other ruthlessly. Someone had thrust her into a narrow walkway and she stumbled, catching herself upon an old rickety stall.
"Well, well, what have we here?"
Claire's heart shot to her throat, she looked up to find an old woman leaning over the stall's counter, which was covered in a heavy looking blanket. The crone watched her like a hawk, her eyes narrowed and gleaming with a predatory gaze. The old woman's' gaze was odd and unnerving, there was something about her that just seemed…off. Swallowing she stood, hoping she hadn't broken anything because that the last thing she needed was a pissed off old lady.
"Sorry," She muttered, "I got pushed, I didn't break anything did I?"
The woman laughed, rough but also kind in some weird sort of way. She peeled back the blanket to check on her goods, and Claire's breath caught in her chest. Jewelry of all kinds lay in neat little rows from necklaces to brooches with gems of varying color and variety. They shone brightly in the flickering sun, so beautiful she was almost entranced.
"Bah, there's nothing in here worth losing my head over if it's broken. In fact you might increase the value if you did," The woman laughed again, "Jewelry, such petty baubles for petty people. You're not petty, are you my dear?"
"I don't know…they are really pretty."
"I'll not deny that; but their value isn't in how they look, but in their history. The pendants passed down from generation to generation are the ones that hold the most power, it's almost as if the ancestors are passing a small part of their soul to their progeny. Like this one perhaps."
She threw the blanket back over the stall, and motioned for Claire to follow her into the back. The young redhead hesitated for a moment before letting her feet guide her. They stopped before another blanketed object, to which the woman quickly pulled it off.
Claire gasped, and reached a hand out to the tarnished frame. The jewelry had been nice, but this pulled her in and entranced her with her own reflection. She sighed as she admired the beautiful craftsmanship, but almost all at once it faded. Her mother's voice rang out from outside the stall; it didn't take long for her mother to rush to her side instantly suspicious of the old crone. They talked, about what Claire wasn't really paying attention. She was admiring herself in the mirror, her smile gazing back at her as she turned her head side to side.
"Claire?" She turned to her mother, Sally's gaze flickered to her and to the mirror. Whatever she and the proprietor had talked about, it had apparently calmed her mother. "Do you really like it?"
The young woman turned to it again, gazing at it longingly, "Ma, ya can't afford this."
"I didn't ask if we could afford it. I asked if you liked it?" She nodded, and her mother turned to the owner, "What do you want for it?"
The old woman shrugged, "You can take it for free."
Sally scoffed, "You have to be joking?"
It earned her a laugh, "I wish I was; I'm an old woman now, and it's unfortunate my daughter has little interest in my heirlooms. I certainly can't take this with me when I die, and I don't want this to fall in the hands of someone who's just going to break it. I can see you've raised your daughter to respect things of great value; so I entrust it to you."
The look Sally gave her was unfathomable, but Claire was too ecstatic to care. The mirror was hers, and she loved it! They lugged it home at the end of the day; and by the time they got it upstairs both were covered in sweat. The lack of space in Claire's bedroom forced Sally to set it up in the den. Every day Claire would spend her time in front of the mirror, admiring herself and it day after day.
Time went on and Sally began to like it less and less. She didn't like that Claire would waste her day in front of it, and she didn't like the eerie feeling it gave her. Claire's mother was a born Irish woman, and they had their own brand of superstitions. There were little habits her mother had, from her childhood that Claire found annoying, so it was no surprise when Sally finally admitted she didn't like the mirror about a month afterwards. She didn't suggest getting rid of it outright, but there were hints that she wanted it gone. Of course, Claire adamantly refused. It was the nicest thing she'd ever owned, and her mother's stupid superstitions weren't going to change her mind.
The microwave finished its cycle just as Claire shook herself from her thoughts. She returned to the mirror with little hesitation, stirring the contents of the plastic bowl before unceremoniously stuffing her face.
She considered going to bed soon, if she was lucky her nightmares wouldn't be bad and she could get a decent nights rest, as unlikely as it seemed. She had promised her mother that she would go visit Ms. Harold who lived two floors above them. She was really old and needed help around her small apartment, and Sally often liked to volunteer Claire's time. Polishing off the last of her food, the redhead cleaned her dishes, and switched off the lights in the house save for the small kitchen light.
It wasn't long before Claire was staring at the ceiling above her, listening to the cars outside. Her thoughts raced as she turned one way to the other until her eyes began to feel heavy, and ever so slowly she drifted off to sleep.
It had started out as a nice dream, as they usually do. Claire was standing in front of her mirror, in a beautiful long blue dress. She twirled about, the hem sashaying as she smiled and laughed. Her long red curls bounced as she stopped to admire her reflection in the clear glass, playing with her dress.
Slowly, her smile faded as her reflection disappeared. The glass became milky and began to shimmer brightly, forcing Claire to shut her eyes when it became too much to bear. Voices started to echo about her, saying things she couldn't quite understand no matter how hard she tried to listen in. Eventually, green eyes peeked open to see that her mirror was still glowing, though not as brightly, and that the surface shimmered like water.
The urge to reach out and touch it became immense. Breath caught in her chest, Claire extended her arm, fingers reaching out to touch the mirror. Just as she brushed the fluid glass she screamed in horror as the clear sheen darkened, and a monstrous hand reached out from the depths. In a flash it grabbed her by the waist pulling her within, still screaming, until a shrill voice broke through the din and shook her awake,
"Claire Marie Brennigan!"
The dinner table was awkwardly quiet that night, the pair had barely touched their food. Claire eyed her mother carefully from her peripheral; she knew exactly what she had wanted to say. Hell, she had all day to think about her speech while Claire wasted her time with Ms. Harold, and to be honest she only gagged because she didn't want to have this argument once again.
"I'm not gettin' rid of it," she instantly snapped, "Ya being paranoid, Ma."
"Paranoid," Sally replied thin-lipped, "Paranoid is being sure someone is following you down a darkened street. This, this is serious Claire, because you never had a problem with sleepwalking until we got that cursed thing."
"So the Mirror is controlling me in my sleep," The young woman rolled her eyes and stabbed at her food angrily, "Is that what you're going with? Because it sounds stupid to me."
"You're not a mother, Claire, you don't know what it's like to worry-"
Green eyes snapped up to glare angrily at her mother, "Bullshit, I don't."
"Lip, Claire." Sally's daughter paused, staring back down at her dinner before she sneered,
"How you gonna pay this months' rent? Ya spent your last paycheck on my doctor visit," When she got no answer she heaved an irritable sigh, "Figures. You really think I don't know what it's like to worry. I may not have a kid, but I worry about how we're gonna make it. 'Specially with the way you keep throwing down cash for my therapy."
"That's not for you to worry about, Claire, you're just a child still-"
"Ma, I'm nineteen, as much as you hate it I ain't a kid no more, and I figure I gotta right to say what I can and can't do now. I'm keepin' that mirror, and as for therapy, cancel my next appointment because as far as I'm concerned that ain't doin' shit."
Sally slammed her hands on the table, causing Claire to jump. Wide eyed she watched her mother turned to her and frowned, "Claire Marie Brennigan," she spoke in a soft, yet deadly tone, "Nineteen or not, you are my daughter and I will not be spoken to with such disrespect. Thus far, I've been lenient in your behavior, but no more. Tonight, I'm going out to find a buyer for that feckin' thing, and you are gonna go to you room and that's gonna be the end of the discussion!"
Claire had officially pissed off her mother now; she could tell because her accent was coming out, but she wasn't going to be deterred. She threw back the chair, throwing her fork to the table, "Then maybe I won't be home when ya get back." She threatened before she stormed out of the kitchen to her room, slamming the door shut behind her.
Sally was still mad by the time she left that night, having slammed the front door shut without bidding goodbye. Claire scowled angrily at the wall for the better part of two hours; there was nothing she could do. Her mother called her bluff; Claire would still be home by the time she got back and the mirror would be gone. It made her so angry that the one nice thing she'd ever gotten was going to be tossed away like trash because her mother 'didn't like it'.
Claire was still thinking about her options by the time ten o'clock rolled around; Sally would be home soon, and about the only thing she could think of to save her mirror is if she turned on the water works. It was a long shot, she had really tee'd of her mother so her acting would have to be good. She was trying to practice her crying when she heard a noise from the living room.
She looked towards her bedroom door in confusion; it was odd because she hadn't heard the front door open. The clinking of glass continued, as if someone was rifling through her mother's things, and the thought suddenly made her stomach drop.
Had someone had broken into her house?
Claire hesitated as she rose halfway up her bed; she had no idea what to do, her mind reeling as the emboldened robber became louder. She could lock her door and stay in her room, and hope they left quickly.
But her mother's things! She had expensive heirlooms sitting in the living room, anyone with a brain could tell that. Her heart was palpitating out of control; she knew the house phone was sitting on a table top just past the hallway threshold. If she could sneak out and grab it, she could scurry back to her room and call the police.
With a plan in mind, Claire crept up to her door, eased it open and started down the hallway as silently as she could. A singular light shone in the living room, a flashlight maybe? She could hear the thief mumble to themselves, but Claire couldn't quite catch what they were saying. Her foot caught one of the creaky floorboards, making her cringe as the voice stopped talking. There was a long silence before she could hear the sound of footsteps, and low cursing.
Claire was nearly panting now, nervously while the robbery was distracted she scurried towards the threshold, determined to grab the phone and go before she was caught. She reached the threshold and peeked round, hoping to avoid the flashlight.
Except is wasn't a flashlight that was the source. Claire could only stare in shock and confusion as a low hum emanated from her now glowing mirror. Frozen, she could see the silhouette of a slender figure trying to fumble, as if they couldn't figure out how to work it, with the lamp. Realizing she was going to be caught she made a mad grab for the phone just as it was the light flicked on.