“Titus!” Draven shouted as he ran past the portable. There was no use in trying not to panic; fear clawed at Draven from the inside out. “Titus!”
“Draven! Draven!” Riveen grabbed his arm. “He can’t be far. Maybe he just walked—”
“No!” Draven tried to shake Riveen off but couldn’t. “I feel it, Rive. I feel that he’s gone!”
Riveen paled. “G-gone?”
Draven snarled. “Not that kind of gone!” Draven was certain he’d know, but the idea of a world without Titus in it bruised his heart and soul. “He’s been taken!”
“Who’d take him?”
Draven spun around and almost slammed into Zach. “What?”
Zach frowned. “You’re yellin’ for your boyfriend and said he’d been taken. Who’d take him? I can call the cops--”
“No,” Draven snapped. “No cops.”
“But if he’s been kidnapped or…or whatever, then we need—”
“No,” Draven reiterated, cutting off Zach’s argument. “No cops, I mean it. This is…not that kind of thing.”
Zach didn’t look cowed. “Um, what kind of thing is it, then?” He folded his thick arms over his chest.
Riveen squeezed Draven’s arm just as Draven opened his mouth to put Zach on blast.
“This is a game we play with some friends of ours, fake abductions,” Riveen said. His smile looked strained, but hopefully Zach wouldn’t notice. “It’s like a treasure hunt. We have to find clues and track them down, then we get Titus back and formulate our revenge.”
“That’s messed up,” Zach muttered, staring at Draven.
Dariel was approaching behind Zach. “It is, but that’s how we roll. We’re a group of weirdos.”
Zach turned to look at him. “I guess, whatever floats your boat.”
“Yeah, so we need to get on with our scavenger hunt. I’m sure y’all can do y’all’s job without us taggin’ along,” Dariel said.
“Of course we can.” Zach glanced back at Draven and Riveen.
Draven wanted to punch Zach for causing a delay. Instead, he nodded. As far as he was concerned, he was done answering questions.
“The family’s already spread out and looking,” Dariel whispered when Zach headed back to his lunch. “As soon as you realized he was gone. Come on.” He took off and Draven was right beside him, with Riveen there as well.
And probably all the rest of the cousins that’d been hanging around the cleanup site.
Draven looked as he ran, searching for any trace of Titus—or Andres. He saw birds flying overhead, heard them calling out and recognized their voices.
His family was there, had been there and yet, Titus was gone.
“What kind of fuckery are we fighting against?” he mumbled.
Dariel pointed to the house at the end of the block. “Stop there, around the corner.”
Draven didn’t want to stop. He wanted to find Titus and not rest until he held him in his arms.
“Stop,” Dariel growled. “We need to formulate a plan. Otherwise, we’re running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.”
Several birds squawked at that.
Draven stopped around the corner. “I have to find him. I have to find him, now!”
“Right,” Riveen agreed, grabbing him and giving him a shake. “So let’s figure out how best to do that.”
“How?” Draven laughed but there was nothing other than fear in the sound. “We don’t even know who has him for sure. If it’s Andres, we don’t fucking know what Andres is!”
Birds settled around them.
“He has to be magic. He couldn’t have been only a human being. Andres had to have been more, and maybe…maybe he became something stronger upon his death,” Riveen said.
“Like a goddamn evil phoenix,” Dariel added. “No one has heard from Aunt Jusis. Damn it, what would she do?”
“I don’t care what she’d do-- we have to find Titus!” Draven was ready to punch someone. He’d never felt so helpless before, and his anger was only held in check by his fear for Titus.
“Yes, we do. It’s—” Dariel hissed when one of the birds began to shift. “Not in public!” He moved to shield her from anyone who might have been watching. Riveen helped him.
“We fight magic with magic.”
Draven recognized the voice of his cousin Ninfa.
“I am sorry I only just arrived to help. I came as quickly as I could, and that’s enough on that. You must remember, we are supernatural beings, too,” she said.
“That’s not helping us find Titus,” Draven bit out.
Ninfa peered over Dariel’s shoulder. “We are looking with the wrong part of ourselves. We are shifters; we were created with a drop of blood from Alquinones, have you forgotten?”
Draven had heard the tale a dozen times. “That’s just a—”
“Not just anything,” Ninfa interrupted. “It’s not a fable. It’s our past, our creation. It’s real, and we carry the blood of the animal god in our veins.”
“So what does that do to help us?” Draven wasn’t going to argue. If there was any chance Ninfa was right, that she could do something to help find Titus, then Draven would listen.
“Magic all comes from the same place, from the first moment in time, when the great goddess gave birth; particles collided and energy spiraled out in great and lesser amounts,” Ninfa explained. “The greater energy became our demigods, and the lesser, humans and animals, all life as we know it. Alquinones wanted his own people, and we are the result of the compromise he struck with the great goddess. You have heard this before.”
Draven ground his teeth. He’d heard it before, and time was being wasted on the story when action was what was needed.
“We can find him,” Ninfa said. “Through our blood. Through your blood, Draven, because it is your mate who is missing. Come here, and someone give me a knife.”
Cold. Titus shivered. His head ached, and the cold seemed to seep all the way to his core. He tried to open his eyes, and maybe he succeeded—he couldn’t tell. There was nothing but the darkness, not even a speck of light. With his head pounding, he couldn’t think, couldn’t focus. All he knew was confusion, darkness, and the cold.