I inhale hints of Buenos Aires.
We must be by the border. My heart catapults into my throat.
The air has grown so dark that I can’t make out the portal’s rocky walls. I have no idea what happens when I reach the checkpoint and come face-to-face with a border agent.
All I know is that Tiago, Saysa, and Cata walk beside me. After everything we’ve been through, the one thing I’m sure of is, I’ve found where I belong. With my friends.
They’re my manada. My pack.
Tiago’s fingers squeeze mine, like he can read my thoughts. The surrounding blackness has become so opaque that it obscures even the glow of our eyes.
Countless Septimus march with us, our collective footfalls whispering across this passage that bridges two realms of reality. We’re returning to Earth from Lunaris, a land of magic and mist and monsters that’s the source of our power.
By law—and bio-magical imperative—brujas and lobizones sojourn in that realm every full moon.
We’re here, I think as I breathe in notes of coffee, leather, and paper. But when I’m hit with Ma’s almond scent, I know I’m not actually smelling my homeland. I’m inhaling Ma’s memory of it.
That’s how she described Buenos Aires to me a month ago. A lifetime ago.
The last day we ever shared together.
I used to think I grew up in hiding in Miami because Ma and I were undocumented and on the run from my father’s crime family, who’d killed him for attempting to abscond with her. But the true story isn’t even in the same genre.
Turns out, I’m not entirely human. I’m also part Septimus—a cursed species of Argentine witches and werewolves.
And my father is very much alive.
All these years, he’s been a teacher at a magical school just a couple of hours away.
Ma’s almond scent has been teasing me since we left Lunaris, like she might be around every dark corner. Tiago warned me the portal crossing would jostle my senses, and the most powerful memories from the past moon could break through the surface.
But I know Ma isn’t really here.
She’s in a detention center in Miami, awaiting deportation.
That’s why I’m traveling to Kerana, the Argentine city where most Septimus live. In such a populous place, my friends and I will have a better chance of avoiding discovery by the Cazadores. Law enforcement. And once I’m in Argentina, I’ll find a way to reunite with Ma.
Light floods the tunnel, and the walls wilt into a massive underground station. I blink as Septimus swarm around us, rushing toward the checkpoints ahead, probably eager to get home and sleep.
But my own legs grow leaden as I see the border agents in the distance, flipping through Huellas—Septimus documentation. And the old mantra runs through my mind: Don’t come here, don’t come here, don’t come here.
In the human realm, discovery meant deportation.
Here, a hybrid like me is subject to execution.
Tiago’s hand squeezes mine, and I realize I’ve stopped walking.
“You all right, Manu?”
His voice is a song.
I look up, and I’m enfolded in a blaze of sapphire. Tiago caresses my cheek with his thumb, and I hear the shakiness of my exhale.
“We have to keep moving,” says Cata, her face wan. Beside her, Saysa’s blank expression is inscrutable, her presence unusually muted.
I reach into my dress pocket and touch my forged Huella. Saysa’s friend Zaybet made the passport-like booklet for me in Lunaris. This will be its first test.
Even though it’s a fake, just holding this paperwork makes me feel like less of a forgery myself. Growing up, there were no photographs of Ma and me around the apartment, no documents of any kind proving I exist. And while the details in this Huella may be falsified, at least it’s my face inside.
Evidence I’m real.
We keep wending through the throng, and it strikes me that no Septimus travels alone. They move around in clusters, and when I glimpse a pack of guys doing a double take of our group, I know I haven’t been imagining the looks we’re getting.
It must be my eyes.
My sun-like irises stand out in all my worlds. Even Septimus don’t have yellow eyes.
I keep my gaze low, and I feel Tiago’s tension from the way he picks up his pace, pulling Cata and Saysa forward. Then he gives my shoulder a quick squeeze before walking away from us.
I stare after him in speechless shock, until it registers that all the wolves are splitting off in the same direction. There are separate checkpoints for brujas and lobizones.
I feel the urge to follow Tiago, but I’m back to pretending I’m a bruja. A lobizona would draw too much attention. And, as Ma likes to say: Attention breeds scrutiny.
So I’m a secret again.
“Come on,” says Saysa, leading me away from Cata.
There are distinct zones for each of the four elements. The breezy area we’re cutting through is where the Invocadoras are—wind witches—and I watch Cata join their queue. The temperature drops a few degrees as we pass the Congeladoras—water witches—then Saysa and I line up in the toastier section designated for Jardineras. Earth witches.
The heat isn’t coming from us. To our other side, and at the far end of the space, are the Encendedoras. I don’t need to look at the fire witches to feel their presence.
I’m afraid if I turn my head, I’ll meet Yamila’s bloodred eyes.
Ever since the ambitious Cazadora discovered my existence, she’s been intent on hunting me down. My arrest would be career-making. My friends and I just barely got away from her in Lunaris, right before entering the portal. It’s only thanks to Saysa we made it out.
But some magic comes at a higher cost.
I clutch the forged Huella in my pocket. I wish Saysa would say something reassuring, but she’s haunted by what she did. Her already tiny figure seems even smaller, and her deep brown skin has lost its warmth, shadows encroaching on her face.
Copyright © 2021 by Romina Garber