ODAW: Playing with Fire

A/N 1: So as I mentioned in Of Dhampirs and Warlocks (If you haven't read it already I highly suggest you do), there was a schism between the way one half of the tale was written and the other. I realized that short of rewriting the ENTIRE second half of the book, I was going to have to split it in half. The more I thought on it, the better an idea it became. There is a LONG break between what happens in "Post Production Additions" and what was the following chapter "Power Plays", Points of View were changing from chapter to chapter between three or four different protags and antags... so splitting it really came to be the best option!

This prologue is BRAND NEW and hopefully transitions us into the tale properly! Enjoy!

Prologue: Intelligence

Victor Sierra buzzed with activity. It didn't matter the time of day, there was always something going on. Garrett changed his focus from nothing at all to the sounds going on beyond his opulent office's door.

Squints going by chattered about the day's scientific data – new inoculation techniques for fresh recruits coming out of the nuclear desert, strength enhancements under the latest battery of tests before giving them to the Wanderers corps, talent potentials for the newest Troubleshooters to be indoctrinated into their cause. Their twittering faded, revealing the more subtle sounds of the Morlocks going about the mundane tasks of keeping the Cathedral clean enough to eat off the floors. The untalented human personnel tended to find ways to blend in and stay out of the way of the volatile crowd they were employed by.

After all, Wanderers tended to be a bit on the sociopathic side, while Troubleshooters often were possessed of violently swinging moods due to their aberrant abilities to tap the supernatural. No human would survive their attentions if they got in the way. Creepers and Squints spoke in, it seemed, another language three-quarters of the time and only seemed comfortable conferring with their own. So Morlocks worked in the background, practically cellophane within the building.

He lifted his head from where he'd propped it on one thoughtful fist. Frowning, he drew a deep breath, before letting it out again. His exhalation resulted in a sharp stabbing pain from within as a muscle in his upper right chest cramped. Well he wasn't sure if it was that or his scars talking to him again. He reached across his body to rub at the puckered burn scars his jerkin barely hid. His actions did nothing except make them ache more.

"Daemon," he growled to the still air surrounding him.

The silence in his office frustrated him. The milling crowds and waxing and waning sounds from without irritated him. He needed to get the hell away from this place for a while, but had no clue how to get that wish granted. While he was back on field work – back in the element he loved, their cases were slowing down for some reason. Seemed as if the supernatural entities were tailing off again, or they'd gotten really good at flying under the radar.

His case was at a dead standstill and had been for nearly two decades. His team was constantly screening for leads on his target's whereabouts – and they got just enough ghosting leads to keep him off of other assignments.

That was a long time to be mother-henning his team as they screened every snippet of intel in the hopes that one lone dhampir would blip radar.

Allowing his fist to fall onto the desktop with a thump, he shook his head, and grunted, "Where the fuck are you, Cabal?"

Saying the dhampir's name aloud only brought back the memories of how the man had one upped him at every turn. In turn, his sternum began to ache as if the dhampir had just plunged the stake into his chest again. Despite that it was nearly forty years prior, there was little else he could think about.

Here… Carmel… Targus… Cabal had weaseled his way out of death multiple times and left Garrett looking like a fool. And after Targus, he'd gone so far to ground no one had been able to give him a scrap of actionable intelligence.

Garrett ran his right hand through his shortly-cropped copper hair – feeling the static from his cybernetics lick across his scalp. That set it to itching and he obliged the feeling for a moment before stretching and rising from his seat once again. He made his way out of his office and the short distance to the team's lounge/training room.

All activity stopped, as usual when he stepped into the room. Temperance recovered the fastest.

"What up, boss?" the fellow Wanderer said, straightening to her full height – which matched his. So did her muscles. "We got orders, finally?"

He shot the Amazon a crooked, half-hearted grin. "I wish. You guys' been holding up being farmed out to the other teams?"

Booker grinned back. "Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy!"

Temperance shot, "Where do you keep coming up with these lame-ass anecdotes, man?"

"I read, Temper-Tantrum, perhaps you should try it!"

She ignored his dig. "What even is a lemon?"

"Dunno," he shrugged.

"You shouldn't use words you don't know, Book-It, you may say something offensive."

"You're offensive."

"Get a room you two," Garrett interjected. He'd gotten a ping while they were bickering. "Looks like the Creepers have another lead for us to follow."

"Oh, thank God," Booker cried, "If I have to sweep one more zombies' nest, I'm going to cry!"

"The fungus recognizes fungus, Book-It," Temperance snorted. "You're in no danger of being converted."

"Fuck off," Booker snarled back.

"All the time," she purred, grinning at him and waggling eyebrows.

"Masturbation doesn't count."

Garrett sighed, rolled his eyes, turned away, and, instead, went by himself to the Creepers to see what they had in person. He strode in, stopping the show once again. "What we got, Creeper?"

"Got a ping from the edge of the Mexican Territories." He pulled up his tablet and handed it to Garrett. "I know the image is poor, but you know how dhampirs' energy interferes with surveillance equipment."

Garrett studied the image closely. "Mmm, it looks vaguely like him, but you think I'm going all the way out to …" Glancing at the time stamp, he added, "Yew based off a fuzzy image, you've got another thing coming."

"If it was just the image, I would most certainly have not bothered you Wanderer Kelly. Screening people in the area we've found that his Mandalay has been seen multiple times in the course of the last six months. Additionally, he himself has been spotted by at least five people. The most recent was just a week ago." He straightened to his paltry height that barely came to Garrett's chest. "Unfortunately, these sightings range over several of the towns in that area. Yew, Jasper, Arlette. It seems, he doesn't want to be seen in one town too often."

"That's still pretty thin evidence, Creeper." Garrett sighed.

"Yes, Wanderer, but it's the best we've got at this moment." The man shrugged. "Do with it what you will. You know the order still stands for the dhampir's bounty."

Grunting, Garrett tried to work up an argument against wasting time. Yet, his desire to get the hell out of Dodge had him seriously considering a personal follow up.

"Send the files to my account," Garrett sighed.

"Yes, Wanderer Kelly."

He felt the vibration in his hand before he hit the doorway, so he spent his slow walk back to his team reading through the evidence. His lip curled as he realized this was a needle in a haystack ploy.

Would mean an extended stay away from here though, his brain prattled. Could consider it a paid vacation.

When he slipped into the lounge once again, Booker and Temperance looked confused and miffed.

"Dude, you dipped on us!" Booker huffed.

"I didn't want to break up your lovers' quarrel," Garrett returned.

"So?" Temperance lifted a brown in intense interest. "Was it something we can use?"

"Perhaps," Garrett answered. "It's something, but not enough to warrant the entire team."

"So, who're you sending to scope it out?" Booker sat up straighter.

"Me," Garrett folded his arm and looked down his nose at the two. "You two have been carrying the brunt of the leads, to point. It's about time I did my part out there."

"Aw, MAN! That means I'm back on the Zombie Brigade! Don't do this to me, man!" Booker whined.

"I'm pulling rank, Booker. It's my stakeout." He started to turn away. "I'll be sure to personally request you guys when a team is needed."

"If you say so, boss." Temperance only looked like she didn't care about the decision. He knew better.

"Be sure you play nice with the others while I'm away."

"We guarantee nothing!" Booker hollered at his back.

Garrett smiled out of their sight.

Within the hour he was on his way to the edges of the United Territories, out where it met the Mexican Territories. Yew…

Such a Podunk town.

A/N 2: So here we GO! I hope you will enjoy the ride. As with ODAW I am going to be editing and possibly adding to chapters as I go, so I will see what I can do about chunks (though that didn't work so well with ODAW because people were jumping to the newest and skipping the ones between, and were probably disappointed in the telling for the missing info). So if I do post multiple chapters they will probably be over a few days rather than all at once.

Thanks for reading, I will love you forever (and even return R&R's) if you give me feedback on the telling! Grammatical, plot holes, etc!