Excerpt from Retribution in Athena’s Daughters

I’m Cassidy Kincaide, and I own Trifles and Folly, a 300 year-old antique and curio shop in historic, haunted Charleston, South Carolina. The shop has been in my family almost since Charleston was founded back in 1670. And although most people just think of us as a great place to find beautiful and unusual antiques, the truth is a little more complicated. We exist to find dangerous magical and supernatural items and get them off the market before anyone gets hurt. Most of the time, we’ve been successful. On the rare occasions when we weren’t, history chalks the damage up to natural disasters.

I’m a psychometric, someone who can ‘read’ the history of an object just by touching it. That comes in handy for what we do, but it can also make for unpleasant surprises. My gift is the reason Uncle Evan left me the shop and how I inherited the job of getting magically malicious objects out of circulation. Teag is my store manager, and he’s got some pretty cool magic of his own. Sorren is my business partner, the store’s real founder, and a nearly six hundred year-old vampire. Nothing about Trifles and Folly is business as usual.

“I think we might have a ‘spooky’,” he replied. “I’m picking up bad vibes, and I’m not nearly as sensitive as you are.”

“I’ll check it later,” I said. “Do we know anything about it?” I stood up and stretched, slipping a piece of my strawberry-blonde hair behind one ear. With blue eyes, freckles, and pale skin, my Scots-Irish ancestry is apparent to anyone who lays eyes on me. Only thanks to the hot Charleston sun, and a day spent canvassing yard sales, I was decidedly pink from the sun even though it was autumn.

The boxes had been delivered from the auction at the Legacy Hotel, a long-shuttered landmark that had once been a Prohibition-era speakeasy. “There’s nothing unusual other than the flask obviously belonged to one of the Legacy’s customers,” he remarked.

I looked down at the half-emptied box I was working on. “Put it aside and I’ll have a look once I finish this box.”

I turned back to the box and was about to lift out the next bundle when I froze. “Hey Teag, I need your help with this,” I called. “I’ve got another ‘spooky’.”

A ‘spooky’ is what I call an item that gives off a dark psychic resonance. It may have had a tragedy associated with it, or it might possess dangerous power of its own. Those take special handling, and often, I hand them off to Sorren to get rid of. ‘Sparklers’ have a touch of supernatural power, but aren’t usually dangerous. We check them out thoroughly, and decide how to handle them on a case-by-case basis. The truly harmless pieces we’ll sell to discerning buyers, and anything questionable Sorren takes care of. ‘Mundanes’ are non-magical items, and they go on sale in the front showroom.

“Sure. What do you have?” Teag asked. He eyed the paper-wrapped bundle.

I checked the packing list. “According to this, it’s a poker chip set. No idea why it would be ‘hot’ but I’d rather deal with it later.” I paused, concentrating on what my gift could read even keeping my hand several inches above the item. “It’s not active right now, and it’s not dangerous to handle, but there’s something dark about it.”

Teag nodded and bent down to pull out the bundle. He carried it over to the table and unwrapped a beautiful burled birch wooden box that was the same general size as the kind used to store silver flatware. He sifted through the papers that were used to wrap the item and a small card fell out.

“That’s odd,” Teag mused. “It’s a novena card for Our Lady of Lourdes. Not exactly what I’d expect to find packed with a poker set.” Teag touched the box and waited a moment, and when nothing happened, he flipped the lid open. The inside of the box was covered with velvet that was in remarkable condition given its age. Vintage poker chips nestled into six rows of shallow depressions in the inside lining, and a small square area had room for two yellowed decks of cards.

“It’s gorgeous,” Teag murmured. He reached in and picked up a couple of the poker chips, and weighed them in his hand. “Clay chips. They’re the right age to be from the speakeasy days.”

Teag turned the chips over and held them up for a better look. “Pretty swanky,” he said with a grin. “There’s a fleur-de-lis stamped in the middle of each chip, and it looks like when they were new, those might have been covered with gold leaf. I’m betting this was a custom-made set.” He glanced more closely at the set. “Too bad—a couple of them are missing.” He met my gaze. “But the question is—why the bad juju?”

I shrugged. “If the Legacy lived up to its reputation, I can think of about a million reasons,” I replied. “Gambling debts, desperate high-stakes players, duels, love affairs gone wrong.” I paused, and sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?”

Teag shook his head. “I don’t smell anything except a little mustiness from all these pieces being closed up in that old hotel for so long.”

I sniffed again, but the scent was gone. “It was a floral smell, like an old-fashioned perfume. I can’t smell it anymore.”