The Veil
Page 2

 Chloe Neill

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I was seventeen when the Veil, which ran roughly along the ninetieth line of longitude, straight north through the heart of NOLA, had splintered. That made New Orleans, where I’d been born and raised, ground zero.
My dad had owned Royal Mercantile when it was still an antiques store, selling French furniture, priceless art, and very expensive jewelry. (And, of course, the walking sticks. So many damn walking sticks.) When the war started, I’d helped him transition the store by adding MREs, water, and other supplies to the inventory.
War had spread through southern Louisiana, and then north, east, and west through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and the eastern half of Texas. The conflict had destroyed so much of the South, leaving acres of scarred land and burned, lonely cities. It had taken a year of fighting to stop the bloodshed and close the Veil again. By that time, the military had been spread so thin that civilians often fought alongside the troops.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t lived to see the Veil close again. The store became mine and I moved into the small apartment on the third floor. We hadn’t lived there together—he didn’t want to spend every hour of his life in the same building, he’d said. But the store and building were now my only links to him, so I didn’t hesitate. I missed him terribly.
When the war was done, Containment—the military unit that managed the war and the Paranormals—had tried to scrub New Orleans not only of magic but of voodoo, Marie Laveau, ghost tours, and even literary vampires. They’d convinced Congress to pass the so-called Magic Act, banning magic inside and outside the war zone, what we called the Zone. (Technically, it was the MIGECC Act: Measure for the Illegality of Glamour and Enchantment in Conflict Communities. But that didn’t have the same ring to it.)
The war had flattened half of Fabourg Marigny, a neighborhood next door to the French Quarter, and Containment took advantage. They’d shoved every remaining Para they could find into the neighborhood and built a wall to keep them there.
Officially, it was called the District.
We called it Devil’s Isle, after a square in the Marigny where criminals had once been hanged. And if Containment learned I had magic, I’d be imprisoned there with the rest of them.
They had good reason to be wary. Most humans weren’t affected by magic; if it was an infection, an illness, they were immune. But a small percentage of the population didn’t have that immunity. We were sensitive to the energy from the Beyond. That hadn’t been a problem before the Veil was opened; the magic that came through was minimal—enough for magic tricks and illusions but not much else. But the scarred Veil wasn’t as strong; magic still seeped through the rip where it had been sewn back together. Sensitives weren’t physically equipped to handle the magic that poured through.
Magic wasn’t a problem for Paras. In the Beyond, they’d bathed in the magic day in and day out, but that magic had an outlet—their bodies became canvases for the power. Some had wings; some had horns or fangs.
Sensitives couldn’t process magic that way. Instead, we just kept absorbing more and more magic, until we lost ourselves completely. Until we became wraiths, pale and dangerous shadows of the humans we’d once been, our lives devoted to seeking out more magic, filling that horrible need.
I’d learned eight months ago that I was a Sensitive, part of that unlucky percentage. I’d been in the store’s second-floor storage room, moving a large, star-shaped sign to a better spot. (Along with walking sticks, my dad had loved big antique gas station signs. The sticks, at least, were easier to store.) I’d tripped on a knot in the old oak floor and stumbled backward, falling flat on my back. And I’d watched in slow motion as the hundred-pound sign—and one of its sharp metallic points—fell toward me.