Erik pulled his coat tighter around him as he watched his target through a pair of binoculars. Crouched next to him, Kurt was monitoring the bugs they’d placed in the target’s office earlier that night. The German didn’t seem to care about the plunging temperatures, but Erik was a native of Avalon City, which sat on his world’s equator. He’d worked in the cold many times over the course of his career, but he never enjoyed it. Maybe, if Anne would quit taunting him with “Winter is Coming!“, it wouldn’t bother him so much.

“What do you want to ask me Kurt?” Erik asked. For the past half-hour, Kurt’s emotions were roiling with anxiety as he built up his courage. Erik felt Kurt’s courage starting to falter, and their target wasn’t doing anything interesting at the moment. Perfect time to find out what was bothering his native guide.

Scheisse,” Kurt murmured under his breath, “I need your advice. I’m thinking about asking Anne out. Formally.” Erik didn’t say anything for a moment. It wasn’t as if he was surprised. Anne and Kurt had been doing the dance since just after they’d met. Erik knew how the two of them felt about each other, even if they didn’t know how to deal with it. The curse of being an empath. Actually, if Erik was surprised about anything, it was how long Kurt had taken to come to the decision.

“Well, that certainly adds complexity to our mission,” Erik said, “Are you asking for me permission as your boss?”

“More notifying you so that you can request someone to replace me,” Kurt said. “I know what the rules are for this, but–” Kurt stopped suddenly and Erik could feel the sudden bloom of embarrassment.

“Go ahead and say what you were going to say,” Erik said.

“But I don’t want Anne and I to end you like Samantha and you,” Kurt said cautiously.

“Well, I can’t blame you for that,” Erik answered after a long moment, and he nearly laughed at the wave of relief that passed through Kurt. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any assets to replace you. With the current upswing of Dark Towers activity on this world, we need everyone in place. So, keep it discrete.”

“Isn’t that against regulations?” Kurt asked, surprised.

“Pretty much,” Erik answered with a smile. “If Lady Maritza is forced to take official notice, there’ll be hell to pay. So, do us all a favor and make sure that she doesn’t have any reason to take official notice. It’s rather obvious how the two of you feel about each other. You’re both professionals. Act like it, and there won’t be any problems.”

Kurt wanted to say something, but the door of the target’s office opened. Erik and Kurt traded questioning looks. Their target wasn’t supposed to be meeting anyone else for the night. They were just hoping to catch any phone calls before their target went home. Two tall men in matching navy blue suits walked into the office. The target paled as he looked up to see them. Erik couldn’t feel the target’s emotion at this distance, but being an empath meant Erik had learned how to read body language. The target was terrified of his new arrivals.

“I told your clan elders that I wasn’t going to be able to help you,” the target said. Well that was surprising. The target wasn’t strictly a Dark Towers agent, but more of a broker of intelligence to the Dark Towers, as well as native criminal organizations. Erik couldn’t think of a faction that the target wouldn’t deal with.

“The terms we have offered are more than generous,” the shorter of the pair said, with an accent Erik didn’t recognize. Southeastern Europe, Kurt wrote down a pad.

“Yes they are,” the target said, “Unfortunately, I have been told by one of my other clients that I cannot share that particular information upon pain of death. While your inducements are generous, they won’t provide me the protection I need.”

“The clan can protect you,” Short One replied.

“No, you can’t,” the target said, with a mirthless laugh. “Not from this client.” Then, Short One teleported next to the target and loomed over the man. Surprisingly, the target’s fear wasn’t heightened. He actually seemed to relax. Then, he opened one of his desk drawers and picked out a manilla envelope.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Short One said, “Your payment will be in your account by close of business tomorrow.” The two men left the office. Kurt and Erik exchanged puzzled glances.

“Stay here and keep an eye on the target,” Erik told Kurt, “See if he contacts anyone or is contacted by anyone. I’m going to see who those two are and what was in that envelope.”

“Lady Maritza was very clear that we were supposed to only observe the target,” Kurt reminded him as Erik stood up.

“This is what is called a target of opportunity,” Erik said, “I’m playing a hunch.” Kurt let out an exasperated sigh, which made Erik chuckle. Erik walked to the edge of the roof and perched as he waited for the pair to exit the target’s building. The two emerged from the building and walked confidently down the street. Erik pushed off with a bit of power to the next rooftop. He followed them for a few blocks until they turned into an apartment building’s courtyard. He leapt down behind them.

Both of the tall strangers spun as Erik hit the bricks. Erik couldn’t feel the emotions of either of them. That answered who they were – psychics working for the Dark Towers. So, what would a Dark Towers agent not give to Dark Towers collaborators? Erik stood up and gave the two a casual smirk. His suppressed pistol materialized in his hand.

“I would take it as a kindness if you would turn over that envelope without trouble,” Erik said, keeping his weapon visible, but not pointed at the two. The two silently traded what could charitably called bored looks. The tall one was suddenly in front of Erik. How the hell had he moved so fast? Psychics couldn’t gate. The backhand landed with the speed and fury of an orc. Erik felt his teeth rattle as he stumbled back.

“This is not your concern Avalonian,” the tall man said in a similar accent. Erik tried bringing up his pistol, but the tall man moved instantaneously and had Erik’s arm in a crushing grip. Erik let the pistol drop to the ground and the grip eased slightly. “Do not press this further or I will be forced to kill you.”

“You’re not collaborators, are you?” Erik asked, grunting back against the pain. The tall one quirked an eyebrow in confusion before letting out a harsh laugh. As soon as the tall one released Erik’s arm, the Avalonian slammed him with a blast of power. The tall one was lifted off of his feet and thrown back to his colleague. Erik picked up his pistol off of the ground and pointed it at the two of them.

“Last chance,” Erik said, “Give me the envelope.” The two men fell into fighting stances. Erik placed the sights on the tall one, but the short one was punching him before Erik could pull the trigger. Erik felt his ribs crack as the short one rained a series of blows to his torso. Erik knocked back the short one with a blast of power. Then stars erupted in his eyes as a sledgehammer blow hit him in the back of his head. Erik stumbled and a second blow knocked him to the ground. The two men spoke in a language Erik didn’t understand as he fought to remain conscious. One last trick to try.

Erik placed a thin barrier of power above him as he took several deep breaths. He would have the barest second’s worth of advantage with the way these two moved. He felt one of their hands move through the barrier. Erik pushed himself up with a burst of power as he drew Far’ling from its sheath under his jacket. The short sword gleamed brilliantly before effortlessly slicing off the tall one’s hands. The man let out an unearthly scream as his hands smoldered on the ground. Part of Erik wanted to press the attack, but he knew better. Pushing hard against the stones, Erik flew into the air. With a tendril of power, Erik managed to snag his pistol as he flew onto a nearby roof.

He laid on cold steel of the roof, gasping for breath. Whatever those men were, they weren’t anything he’d dealt with before. Erik was going to have to ask Jason about them without explaining what Kurt and he were doing. The Americans tolerated the Avalonians, but they did tend to take a dim view of actual espionage against persons nominally of American citizenship. Before Erik could come up with a decent fib, the blackness swallowed him.