Curie’s Backstory Tale (Featuring Nathan Style, Mycroft, Mr. Physics)
The only customers in Rita’s Diner, a dimly lit breakfast and burgers joint a few blocks from the Inner Harbor, were seated in a corner booth, enjoying Rita’s finest cuisine.
“Mycroft, you ever gonna trim that mop?” Nathan pointed his fork across the table, waving it absently, “or at least do something with it?”
“This is style, fancy pants,” Mycroft responded with a chuckle.
“Oh, ‘wet dog’ is back en vogue?”
Mycroft threw a napkin across the dingy diner table, it bounced off Nathan’s shoulder. “Some of us are a bit more subtle about fashion, Nathan Styles.”
“’Fashion,’ right,” Nathan mumbled around a mouthful of powdered egg and crumbled krill patty omelet.
Curie sat on the edge of the bench, angled for an easy exit through the open aisle. She only caught bits and pieces of the banter between the men, paying just enough attention to confirm they still weren’t saying anything important. She didn’t know them and, to be honest, didn’t care—not beyond the skills they brought to the proverbial table.
“I’ll wrangle an extra ten percent and buy you a makeover, how about that?”
“Yeah, whatever.” Mycroft gave in to Nathan’s teasing with a grin.
Nathan Styles was arguably one of the five top frontmen in Boston, so of the men seated at the booth, she at least knew him through his reputation. He knew the game, every trick the headhunters played to lowball their operatives. There was a rumor that he’d once negotiated double the initial offer. Same rumors claimed that particular headhunter no longer sourced options, at least in Chicago.
He also had a talent for building teams optimized for whatever the biz called for. That was why she was here; even though she didn’t know him, he’d asked for her by name. It was pointless to speculate how he’d heard of her, but it was obvious he had an established rapport with Mycroft, and both of them seemed comfortable with the third man at the table, a heavily chromed orc who’d introduced himself as Mr. Physics.
From what Curie had gathered, Mycroft was a talented arcanist, so having Curie on board created an overlap of skills that most budgets wouldn’t cover. She speculated that Styles knew something about the upcoming job, even though he hadn’t met with the headhunter. Presumably.
So, this fine meal was really a team ice-breaker, which was apt, given her temperament. Despite Curie being the only newcomer to this particular crew, none of them had directed any questions her way. She had arrived before any of them, and all she’d received so far was a nod of acknowledgement from Styles. ‘Yes, you exist.’
For the most part, that was fine. She wasn’t here to make friends. Still, time was valuable and just now, hers was being wasted.
“So,” she cut in, “what’s on the agenda for this evening?”
The question, delivered tersely in her heavy British accent, silenced the men as they turned their attention to her.
“Well…” Nathan exhaled. “Alright. I’ve got something lined up and this is the crew that’s gonna knock it out . We’ve got my plan, Mycroft’s magic… and Mr. Physics with the light touch.”
The burly orc grinned widely, proving he had teeth beyond his exposed tusks. Most of his teeth.
“Now, you’re a bit of a mystery here, Curie. I know what my contacts said about you, but you’re a mystery to Boston. If you don’t mind, a little show and tell for these two apes would be helpful, so they know what they’re working with.
Talking about herself was the last thing she wanted to do. Words weren’t her forte and her history wasn’t important for whatever they were doing later. The men at this table wouldn’t have cared anyway; she’d assessed their emotional maturity and anyone still laughing at dick and fart jokes wasn’t someone she wanted to share anything personal with.
Still, this was business and whatever she felt about their personalities, they were what passed for professionals in her new home and she had no reason to suspect they weren’t capable operatives. She would share what they needed to get the job done, she’d expect no less from them.
“I’m new t’ Boston, but not freelancing. Working across the pond these last few years, I—”
“First bit of advice,” Mycroft interrupted, still chewing his food, “work on losing the accent. You’ll stand out here.”
Curie fixed him with a cold glare. She wasn’t entirely certain if he was seriously offering advice or making a joke. She decided it didn’t matter.
Reading the table, Nathan quickly redirected them to the topic. “We know you’ve got the touch, but what are you best at?”
“Conjuring, if I had t’ pick. I’ve a small but potent selection of spells, when it’s necessary. I prefer patience t’ violence and abhor action for the sake of boredom satiation.” Curie looked pointedly at Mr. Physics, busy constructing a small fort with the available cutlery and condiment bottles. He made no sign that he even caught the slight.
“Right. Can you banish a free spirit?”
Her gaze returned to Nathan, trying to get a read on the man. She was well versed in banishment, anyone who dealt with spirits quickly learned the best way to remove them was without offending them. A free spirit, though, that wasn’t as simple as sending someone home.
Free spirits weren’t bound to a summoner. As the label implied, they were free-willed beings in their own right. It was a distinct difference and one Curie took seriously. In her mind, banishment was akin to murder. The shadows weren’t a kind place and she was no idealist, but ending someone with purpose wasn’t something she expected from work on the low end of the pay scale.
She blinked, then, and went with the simplest and most honest answer.
“I do what the job requires.”
Curie casually strolled through the park. The intent was to grab the attention of the spirit that had been harassing people in the area, projecting an air of vulnerability to lure it into a trap. She didn’t care to be used as bait, but this was Nathan’s plan and the 50% additional pay he’d negotiated put him in the driver’s seat.
But the spirit would know she was touched by magic. It would react differently to her than to somebody mundane, probably more carefully since her gifts were capable of affecting it. It might even ignore her in favor of any easier target. It seemed foolish to rely on such a questionable outcome.
Admittedly, there wasn’t really a better option. Mycroft, to his credit, was a powerful magician. Curie could see the arcane energies swirling in his aura. In terms of raw power, he was stronger than her. Conversely, Mr. Physics had replaced too much of his body with tech, leaving his aura dim and unappealing to any creature making its way by siphoning the soul of others.
Nathan would have been the best option, really, but he was running the show and since Curie was the new girl, there she was. Easy decision for the team, but a bitter pill to swallow.
Still, she was in the open air, the weather was mild and a breeze kept the bugs down. Everyone else was crammed into a musty van, waiting for a signal. Curie could appreciate the little things.
What she didn’t appreciate was the incessant chatter that filled her earpiece.
“Hand’s down, Dasher Turbo is a better series,” Mycroft was saying.
“Dasher is so rote,” Mr. Physics replied. “Every episode is the same! Crime, hot chick, double-cross, solve crime, hot chick dies, rinse, repeat.”
“Oh, and Shadows of Chicago isn’t stuffed with tired old tropes?”
“Enh, you can’t escape tropes, but at least don’t use the same four in every episode. Besides, it’s the interaction between the characters that’s so compelling!”
Curie had no idea about either program, enjoying American entertainment about as much as a root canal. She certainly didn’t like the sound of “Dasher Turbo.” She was never a fan of that sort of male-centric show, where the lead is a forgettable analog for every pale ape hypnotized by the holobox. An insufferable lout who comes out on top and wins the girl. Childish fantasies to blot out the drudgery of their corporate existence. A recollection to the lost political-economic power of America’s yesteryear, as the nation continued to crumble into irrelevance.
It was a sad enough to watch from afar, but up close her sympathy quickly faded as Mycroft and Mr. Physics continued their pointless debate.
“The main storyline is so much better, though. The conflict with ThorCorp is hitting so many real life buttons! And the acting,” Curie rolled her eyes as Mycroft punctuated his position with a melodramatic gasp, “is top shelf. They are doing amazing things with the content they’ve been given.”
“But the content is garbage, don’t deny it! I’ll put Dina for best performer over… what? Brad Kendall? Please. Shadows of Chicago’s got everything that’s good about Dasher AND compelling plot that isn’t poked full of holes. It’s a series with heart and a setting you can relate to. You can feel what it is to be part of that, doing everything you can to survive in a city forgotten by the world. It’s some deep shit, is all I’m sayin’.”
As genuinely heartfelt as that was, Curie thought her brain would shatter if she had to listen to much more.
“What?! Chicago is old news! You want to really play to the heartstrings of the audience, go LA! Or… shit… something global, like Rio or Pretoria. Something that’s happening now.”
Just as she was beginning to think she’d check out Shadows of Chicago, a sudden flash of light and energy startled Curie back to her senses. She whipped her attention to the light, drawing forth the first inklings of an offensive spell to mind. She managed to hold back; acting rashly could lead to an outcome bereft of pay.
The light flickered from a hedge of bushes. It settled into a deep, green glow as a ragged figure rose ominously into the air. Large, razor tipped claws extended towards her before it violently lunged forward.
Her eyes locked on the slashing claws, Curie’s mind wrested with the primal urges of fight or flight; flee the danger or, more instinctively, simply obliterate the spirit with blast of arcane energy. Neither of these choices would get the job done and she focused on the task at hand.
Falling away from the swiping claws, she reeled gracelessly backwards, simultaneously shifting her perspective to the astral plane, the realm of spirits which overlapped the true world.
Colors drained from the few man-made objects around her while every tree, every bush, every blade of grass blazed with vibrant energy. She continued to fall backwards, her eyes focused on the advancing spirit, but her brow furrowed in confusion as it faded completely from sight. She landed hard, barely registering the dull pain in her posterior as she whipped her head to either side, scanning in vain for the spirit.
This source of mayhem, a spirit that had attacked park visitors and evaded efforts to contain it, was at the center of their job. A dangerous spirit that had just attacked her but was now completely out of sight. No sign of its existence, no trace of its passage, anywhere in the astral plane.
“Run!” Curie heard Mr. Physics yell over the comms. “Mycroft, blast the hell outta that thing!”
Curie quickly gathered her wits, her mind processing the information. “Wait!”
If the others heard her, they gave no indication.
Curie heard it over the earpiece, “Infernus!”
“Shit!” she turned to see Mycroft releasing the spell, the arcane energy he had gathered clearly visible in the astral. A deep knowledge of Latin wasn’t necessary to suspect it was magical fire, but the underlying magic projected only power and menace. She could not see the flames, but she was quite certain the effect would be deadly.
She instantly gathered what arcane power she could, throwing it up and around herself in a shield. The epicenter of the blast matched the spectre’s last location. In the aftermath, a forensic magician would read the residual mana flow in the area, find the tell-tale eddies and vortices, and confirm that a high magnitude fireball had been cast onto this very spot. They would announce that it was fortunate no one had been in the vicinity.
Curie’s shield was expertly weaved, but Mycroft’s raw power managed to penetrate as she felt the heat singe her exposed skin. As the brightness of the magic faded from sight, she shifted her perspective back to the true world. A scattering of small fires burned what vegetation remained in the blast radius. Amidst the light and smoke, the spectre rose again, untouched. If anything, it had gained a sense of corporealness as smoke wafted through it.
Its head reared back in a soundless howl before it lunged again at Curie.
Curie sighed as she held her ground, brushing singed fabric from her clothing as the apparition slashed its claws harmlessly through her.
“Please do not project another spell in my vicinity,” Curie said, exuding a calm she didn’t feel. The icy hint of a threat hovered at the back of her tone.
“How the hell is that thing not vaporized?” Mycroft called out.
Curie sighed. “Because it’s not a thing. It’s nothing.” Through the haze, she followed a line of light to the faint shadow of a drone hovering in the distance. “It’s a projection. Technological. Should have brought a hacker.”
The wail of sirens rose in the distance.
“I guess that answers that,” Nathan piped in. “With that solved, we need to roll. Law’s on the way.”
“Drawn like moths to the flame,” Curie patronized, moving back to the van. Her narrow British wit struck a nerve with the American spellcaster.
“Hey, if that thing had been real, I’d have just saved your ass!”
“Well, I supposed I should thank you for the instant sunburn.” She switched her comms off, mid-sentence, as she stepped into the van, leaving her disdain unfettered by technology.
Mycroft muttered under his breath and leaned back in the seat.
Curie watched the Boston streets pass. It wasn’t what anyone suspected, but it hit all the markers for a successful job. A solid start to a new life.
From the back, Mr. Physics reached forward and gently shook Mycroft by the arm, “Hey, don’t be down, buddy. We’ll be back in time for Shadows of Chicago!”
Mycroft groaned melodramatically and Curie allowed herself a smile. Just a small one.
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