A Symptom of Magic Sample Chapter

Cursed in Sunlight 

Chapter 1

I threw out the ace of diamonds and watched the faces of my competitors turn sour as if they’d just downed a gallon of vinegar. Xavier gave me a slight smile from across the card table, and I knew we were on the same page. 

I hadn’t seen him since the night we’d had to fight for our lives in Pear Town together. I’d pretty much gone back to life as I knew it after that whole fiasco.

Twist, the other person who’d been with us, and who’d certainly been hurt the most, hadn’t come back to Jinx’s (the gambling spot where he worked as a floor runner) for two weeks. Eventually, he’d come back, though, he seemed to be a shadow of his former self.

The night we’d first met, Xavier had told me he wanted me for a big game where it was twenty thousand just to sit. I didn’t have that kind of cash, and I’d told him so outright. He’d agreed to front me the money on the chance that we’d actually win. 

Well, we’d been victorious, but in winning, we’d advanced to the next round. Something I hadn’t known, as I thought I’d be able to just take my twenty and go.

 This time it was forty to sit, so I again had to borrow twenty from him. Which made me kind of ill, and I showed it by shooting him a hard stare every few seconds.

Looking at it on the flipside, though, there was eighty thousand dollars up for grabs. Twenty, of course, would go to Xavier, but that still left me sixty to play with. More money than I’d ever seen in my life. My bills were in tatters, but I was a gambler, so my bills were always on life support.

Winning here could pay off a few of my larger expenses, as well as allow me to be more selective in future games. I was at the card table every night. Being sick or even just tired didn’t matter. If I didn’t play, I didn’t eat. Winning this money would help to alleviate a lot of that pressure.


The tournament hall was a large space that fit over a hundred tables easily. All around us the games went on, not only spades, as many contests took place at once.

The floors were burgundy carpet and the walls a crisp white. It wasn’t the best combination I’d seen, but then things here looked more vintage than what I was used to, so I really wasn’t a good judge. Every couple of feet were large floor to ceiling windows that let the sun in and provided ample light. Not that the carefully placed chandeliers, that seemed to be above every table, weren't doing a good job.

Because so many people were crowded in here, the only thing I could smell was body odor and sweat. The place wasn’t too noisy, as most people here concentrated on the games. 

I looked down at the table, and my spine tingled with excitement wondering if we could actually pull this off. Besides my bills, I also needed a new car, as my old one had broken down a few months ago. I figured I’d purchase a nice used one for about three grand, and still have enough to keep my rent and utilities paid for a while.

Just thinking about it put a big smile on my face, but that quickly vanished when the man beside me, a big fellow named Earl, with red hair and a beard, threw down the three of spades, effortlessly cutting my diamonds to shreds. 

I looked up to Xavier in a panic. I would have never played the ace of diamonds if I’d thought Earl still had spades in his hand. Shit. I took a deep breath and tried to keep my head in the game.

This was the last hand and what happened here decided who won tonight’s tournament. Xavier seemed unbothered and tilted his head to the side in a way that said, “It happens.”

Yeah, it’d certainly happened to me before, but not with eighty thousand, ready to slip through my fingers.

Xavier only had one card left as did Earl’s partner, Tenana. She was a tall woman, her skin the same color light brown as my own. She had on a white shirt, and her hair was in a kinky twist that was natural and flowing. It looked good, and I made a note to ask her about her hair game later.

Xavier looked from Earl to Tenana and then smiled and threw his last card out. I held my breath, as this was the difference in me walking away with everything or nothing.

A seven of spades hit the table, and I almost jumped from my seat. Xavier raised a brow that said I was stupid to be worried in the first place. Well fuck that, he still had money if we lost, I didn’t. I turned from him, back to Tenana. Her face was stone cold, giving away nothing.

She looked at the cards already on the table and then at her own. The smile on her face, and the way she slammed the card down, like one only did if they were victorious, made my stomach sink to the floor. 

Why had we had to advance to the second round anyway? Why couldn’t we have just walked away with the first win? I heard noises around the table, but I was so caught up in my downward spiral that I paid them no attention.

I couldn’t believe we’d come this far only to lose. Not only that, but I was used to playing with food and lots of alcohol. Here, none of that was allowed on the game floor, not even a glass of water.

“Leah!” Xavier said my name as if he’d been calling me for a while.

“What?” I said, not able to keep the bitterness out of my voice. It wasn’t his fault, we’d played as a team, a very good team mind you, and we’d lost as one as well.

“Look at the table, darlin’.”

I sighed loudly, letting my inconvenience show. Then nearly lunged from my seat when I saw that the only thing she’d thrown down was a five of clubs.

“I was just fucking with you,” Tenana said, a disappointed smile on her face. “Had to get back at you somehow, right?”

The only thing I could do was nod, as at the moment I seemed incapable of speech. There were three floor runners to each table, making sure the transitions went smoothly, and there were no problems.

One was a short guy with black hair, dressed in the blue slacks and yellow pocket shirt uniform of the tournament hall. “Don’t forget the house takes three percent. Come on. I’ll verify your win so that you can advance to the last round tomorrow.”

Last round? You mean we had to do this shit again? I looked to Xavier, but he held his hands up, feigning innocence. I ignored him and turned back to the floor runner. “How much to sit at the game tomorrow?”

His brows drew together as if he wondered why I was here if I didn’t know the rules. Good question, to be honest. “Games start tomorrow night at seven, sixty to sit.”

My shoulders slumped. Great. The stakes had just gotten even higher. I snorted, as I thought about it, of course they had. That was the name of the game in gambling.

I also knew that the gambler in me couldn’t walk away from a pot of over two hundred and forty thousand dollars, one hundred and twenty would be mine free and clear.

The downside was that after I paid Xavier back the twenty I’d borrowed for this last game, that’d only leave me with sixty, which is how much the game cost. That meant if I lost tomorrow, I’d lose all the money I had. I shrugged, thinking that’s probably why they called it gambling. But also knowing that I needed to be able to pay my rent and eat, something that wouldn’t happen if tomorrow’s game was a bust.

Xavier seemed cocky enough, but hell, he probably had money to spare. I didn’t. “Cheer up, darlin’.” He fell into place beside me. “We won. Let’s say we celebrate.”

I swallowed hard as I looked at the games still in process. “I can’t celebrate until tomorrow after seven. See me then.”

He seemed undaunted. “Your choice.”

I sighed and deflated a bit with his easy acceptance. He still looked as good as ever, over six feet tall with shoulder length black hair and a smile that made me want to do things that should probably make me blush. “How about some food?” I asked, stepping closer into his space. He came a few steps closer as well, until we were barely an inch apart. “Maybe you can come up to my room after we celebrate, help me release some of this tension in my shoulders.” 

He ran a single finger down my face, making me shiver from his touch. “I can damn sure try,” he said, voice heavy.

“That’s what I like to hear,” I said, a little breathless. We’d never had our night together, and everything in me jumped with anticipation.

We followed the attendee to the window, and he verified us, making sure we advanced to the next round. We were given our money, as I didn’t feel safe letting the hall keep it.

The hotel rooms came with the tournaments, but we still had to pay for food, drink, and any entertainment we might like. I’d won five hundred from my last game at home, and brought three hundred of that with me to eat and drink. This money I kept separate from the tournament money.

“Where to now, darlin’?” Xavier asked, looking at the throng of people around us.

I thought about it. I was feeling expensive tonight. I hadn’t known we wouldn’t be able to eat or drink during the game and that had saved me more money than I’d realized.

I could treat myself tonight and still have enough to eat well tomorrow. “How about crab legs, and T-bone steaks? I had no idea they would starve us the whole time we were here.”

He grinned. “Oh, now, darlin’ that sounds like my kind of meal. There’s a steak house down the street. Good food and good service.”  

“They sell crab legs?” For me, that was a deal breaker. I had to have my crab legs.

He nodded. “Shrimp too. Come on, let’s go.”

I started to ask him if we were walking or catching a cab. I knew he’d said the place was just down the street, but he didn’t say how far, and this road was a couple of miles long. 

I didn’t get the chance to ask though, because a scream like I’d never heard rang through the hall making me drop to my knees and grab my ears.

I looked around and saw that others looked as pained as I did. 

Some tournament players were scrambling by, putting their money in a safe place and trying to hightail it out of there.

Xavier turned to me, and for the first time since I’d met him, I saw him look truly concerned. “Put your money up and walk away. I’ll catch up with you later.”

The urgency in his voice left no room for arguments. I started to do as he’d said when the scream sounded again. As howling and painful as the first scream, this one was accompanied by flashing golden lights and a man who looked to be about thirty.

He was slim, almost waif like, and I got the impression that if a strong wind came, it would knock him over. He wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather, and the blue jean shorts and brown T-shirt hung loosely over his five-nine frame. His brown hair was plastered to his head, with sweat or water, I wasn’t sure which. His skin looked blistered and was covered with dozens of tiny markings, each which seemed to be on fire and the source of his pain. Some were bleeding, and others were open festering wounds.

I stepped back horrified, not sure of what I was seeing. 

He looked at the woman beside him and made to snatch her money. Xavier was on him before I could blink, and I followed right behind.

Xavier reached out to grab him, but the man disappeared. The woman gave Xavier a quick thanks, then hurriedly tucked her money in her pocket and ran out the door.

“What the…” I looked around, but Xavier stood in a crouch, arms out as if waiting for the man to reappear. Mostly everyone else had left, probably figuring they’d get away while they still could. “Maybe we should--”

I didn’t get a chance to finish, because that next moment the man appeared again, wailing as he’d done before. With his left hand, he snatched Xavier’s money, and with his right he took mine and then disappeared. It all happened in a span of two seconds, and for a moment I was just stunned. “Hey,” I said once I registered what had happened. “How did he… How could he… Please tell me they have insurance for this type of thing.” It was my last hope, to be honest, anything else was just too painful to think about.

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