As far as I knew, only the bouda clan within the Pack, Curran, Jim, Derek, Doolittle, and I knew what Andrea was. And we all quietly conspired to keep it that way without ever actually discussing the subject.
"You really want some advice?" I asked.
"Try to think less like a bouda and more like a man."
He bristled. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Bouda is what I am."
I wiped the last smudge of tzatziki off my plate with my bread. "She's a knight of the Order.
Only one in eight who enroll into the Order's Academy makes it to graduation. She's worked very hard at being a human. Be her friend. Talk to her. Find out what books she reads, what guns she likes . . . Speaking of books, I can tell you something specific about Andrea, but it will cost you."
"What do you need?"
"The Midnight Games. Everything you know."
"Easy enough." Raphael grinned. "You go first."
"How do I know you'll pay up?"
"Andrea's coming up the stairs. I can hear her. Please, Kate." He did his version of puppy eyes, and I almost fell out of my chair.
"Fine." Kate Daniels, trained negotiator. When in possession of some valuable information, give it away to the first sexy man you see with no guarantee of return. "Lorna Sterling. She writes paranormal romances. Andrea loves her with unholy love. She has a stack of her books under her desk at work. She's missing numbers four and six."
Raphael pulled a pen out of his backpack and scribbled on his forearm. "Lorna?"
"Sterling. Books four and six. Andrea's been haunting that bookstore on the corner for weeks looking for them."
Andrea emerged from the door, carrying a milk shake and a plate of sliced peaches. The pen vanished into Raphael's backpack.
I leveled my hard stare at Raphael. "Give."
"The Midnight Games are forbidden," he said. "By the direct order of the Beast Lord, no member of the Pack may participate, aid, or bet on the Midnight Games."
"That's it? That's all you got?"
He shrugged. There was more to it; I could tell by his face. He was holding out on me.
Bastard. I looked at Andrea. Help me.
She took a peach, bit a tiny piece from it, and licked her lips slowly. Raphael did a stunning impression of a pointer sighting a pheasant.
"How come they're forbidden? Is there a story behind it?" Andrea bit another piece of peach and licked her lips again.
"Yes, there is," Raphael murmured. I almost felt sorry for him. I wonder if that would work with . . . I grabbed that thought and stomped on it before it had a chance to infect my head with nonsense.
Andrea smiled. "That sounds interesting. I'd like to hear it."
Raphael caught himself. "It's not something we explain to outsiders."
"Too bad." Andrea shrugged and glanced at me. "Are you ready to go?"
"I was born ready." I reached for my bag.
"I guess there wouldn't be any harm in telling it this once," Raphael said.
I let go of the bag.
"In two thousand twenty-four, the tournament was still legal, and the championship came down to a fight between the Necro Lords and Andorf's Seven. Andorf was a huge were-Kodiak, twenty-five hundred and eighty pounds in beast form. Had paws bigger than my head." Raphael spread his hands, indicating a paw the size of a large watermelon. "Big, mean, vicious bastard. Loved to fight. He put together a good team, but by that point there were only four of them left: Andorf, a wolf, a rat, and my aunt Minny."
ANDREA'S MOUTH HUNG OPEN IN A DECIDEDLY unseductive manner.
"Aunt, huh?" I said to say something.
Raphael nodded. "That's how the bouda clan used to make its money. We'd bet on ourselves.
It was different back then. Now we have the Pack, which provides us with operating funds.
We draft a budget. We have an investment plan and own shares in businesses. But back then there was no such thing as a 'Pack.' There were isolated clans and we pretty much sank or swam on our own."
The bouda clan counted less than twenty people. Sixteen years ago, it must've been even smaller. They couldn't have had an easy time of surviving. "Who was on the other team in the championship?"
"Four navigators from the People." Raphael counted off on fingers. "Ryo Montoya, Sam Hardy, Marina Buryatova-Hardy, and Sang. As much as I hate the fuckers, it was a deadly team."
Of that, I had no doubt.
"Why would the People involve themselves in the fight?" Andrea frowned.
"They were just building the Casino. There was some talk of money gone missing and repercussions coming down their chain of command if it wasn't found fast. They bet a lot and needed to win."
"So what happened?" I leaned forward.
Raphael grimaced. "The People had an edge. The bloodsuckers tore the rat in half and my aunt's guts were all over the Pit. Looked like curtains for Andorf's Seven."
"Andorf went nuts. Nobody knows if he went loup or just berserk - bears do that sometimes.
He shifted into full beast form, ripped the vamps to shreds, crushed the wolf's skull, then broke through the fence around the Pit, and went after the navigators. They ran, and he chased them through the crowd. Mauled whoever got in his way. Killed all four and over a hundred spectators. Then he rammed the wall and took off."
"Holy crap." Andrea drained a third of her milk shake.
"Yeah. Not the best way to end the night."
An enormous were-Kodiak gone mad on the streets of Atlanta. A Kodiak trained as a fighter, smart as a human, stronger and bigger and badder than the average bear. It would have been the ultimate nightmare for the shapeshifters.
"There was a massive manhunt," Raphael said. "Andorf hid in Unicorn Lane."
An area of deep, wild magic, Unicorn Lane sliced across Downtown like a scar. Treacherous magic swirled and pooled there even during tech. Even the Military's Supernatural Defense Unit didn't dare to stay too long.
"An assembly of clans was called to try to figure out how we would deal with that mess, because all sorts of shit had broken out. The People were calling for the expulsion of all shapeshifters; the zealots came out in force with that Sign of the Beast crap again. It couldn't have gotten more screwed up. This clusterfuck needed to be fixed and fast. The wolf clan was the largest."
"Of course." Andrea snorted.
"Francois Ambler headed the wolf clan at the time, and people called for him to go and take Andorf down. He wouldn't do it. The way my mother tells it, he got up and just walked away.