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I have to admit, I'm fond of this report. I can't say for certain, but I think it's the very first time I've had a mention -- let alone an appearence -- in any of the DOGA Archives. Which is fairly impressive, don't you think? That said, I found Lou's revelation pretty chilling... but it explained a few things (which I won't mention, seeing as Narto hasn't got their last mission reported yet).

Getting back to the subject in hand, this story was, um, bad. No two ways about it. In the four or five chapters of it that exist, it managed to pack just about every Mary-Sue cliche in the book. I don't know of any story that can rival that in so little time. All in all, I'm glad it's dead. ~Terri Ryan, DOGA Archivist

Daughter of Darkness

by shatteredxice

[Bip]

I blinked, but kept looking down at my book. "Huhm?"

"Console wants you," Lou's voice said from somewhere above me.

"But it didn't try to deafen me," I said, reaching for my bookmark and trying to get to the end of the page.

"My aura of calm has reached it and soothed its troubled spirit," Lou replied. There was definitely something odd about that girl.

"I suppose it could be a message," I said, closing the book and looking up, "those don't-- okay, Lou, what are you doing?"

"Meditating," my partner intoned. She was, too. She was sitting neatly cross-legged. In itself, that wasn't too bad – though I didn't remember her doing it before. It was more the fact of where.

Our console is one of those that doesn't meet the ceiling. It's got a decent gap on top of it, and that's where she was sitting. I still don't know how she got up there.

"...right. Meditating." Shaking my head slightly, I walked over to the console and looked at the screen. "That's funny."

"What is?" Lou said, from right behind me. I jumped. There was no way I'd had my eyes off her long enough for her to get down, but there she was, standing over my shoulder and waiting patiently. Shaken, I just pointed at the screen.

You are required immediately in the SO's office. Try to get there on time. ~Terri

"You're right," my partner agreed. "I don't think we've ever got a message from Terri before." Uh... I'd best explain this: Terri Ryan is DOGA's archivist, on loan from the Department of Personnel. She works very hard – harder than some Agents, I think – and, well, is quite pretty, although I really hope she doesn't find out I said that.

... I've just remembered that she's going to archive this report. Note to self: remove that line later.

… and I've just remembered why I'm writing this report. I'll leave it in.

"Not that," I corrected. "Why would we be called to the Sunflower Official's office? Unless she meant the Bonsai Mallorn and just made a mistake; that's more likely."

"When have you ever known Terri to make a mistake?" Lou asked, looking amused. I shrugged uncomfortably.

"Why would the SO want to see us? We're not his responsibility. Come on, let's go and see the Mallorn and find out."

"He's in a meeting," Lou pointed out. "We should see Terri instead. Or just go straight to the SO's office."

"..." It's not that I don't like the archivist, I do, but she sort of intimidates me. I think the SO must be worse, though, because otherwise I wouldn't have said, "All right, then, I suppose..."

"Great." Lou grabbed my arm and dragged me through the door. Impulsive woman.

~

As far as I know, only one DOGA Agent has ever set foot in the Archives. That's Agent Dafydd, who used to look after all the paperwork, back before I joined. Once the Department grew a little – that is, once we got more Agents than just Dafydd and Selene – the BM sent a message to the Marquis de Sod requesting an assistant. The answer was Terri.

I wasn't in the Department at the time, but the story goes that she arrived, took one look at the state the room was in, and then kicked Agent Dafydd out of the door and expressly forbade any member of DOGA from ever entering again. That's why, when we need to see her, we have to stand out in the corridor.

Lou hung back a little while I pushed open the door. The room was a bit better than last time I'd been down there – you could actually see the bottom drawers of some of the filing cabinets – but there was still a long way to go, and Terri was nowhere to be seen. I knocked on the doorframe, and waited.

Terri never leaves the Archives without switching the light off. That's how you can tell if she's in there, and know that you may well have to wait half an hour (that was only once, luckily), but she will answer you. On this occasion, she must have been just finishing a job – her head poked around a pile of papers within the minute. "Yes?"

I coughed, avoiding her gaze. There was a streak of dust – I have no idea how there was dust in there – running across her cheek that stood out prominently against her dark skin, and her hair was, frankly, a mess. But still in a bun. "Uh... we got your message," I said.

The Archivist walked out into the front of the office, brushing off her uniform as she came. "Yes? And do I look like a Flower?"

"No, um, we just wanted to check, did you mean the SO, or was it supposed to be the BM? Only..."

She glared at me. "I don't make mistakes, Agent Telyan. If I said the SO, that's exactly what I intended."

"Um. Okay." I coughed again. "We'll, uh, be going, then."

"Great," Terri said shortly. "Have fun."

I backed away, not trusting myself to say any more. Lou leaned forward from across the hall.

"Thanks for your help, Terri. Oh, and by the way – you've got something on your face. Come on, Nar."

~

So, you have come. Excellent.

Contrary to what you might expect from that opening, the SO was not staring out of a window with his fronds behind his back. He was standing, though, and with him two other Flowers – the Marquis de Sod and the Sub Rosa. Both members of the Board of Flowers, as Lou pointed out to me later.

To business: do either of you have any familiarity with the Legend of Zelda canon?

I blinked, and glanced at Lou, who wasn't much help – she was busy glaring at the Sunflower. "Um, no, sir," I said. "We're mostly just Lord of the Rings."

A pity, the SO said. Perhaps you should visit the Canon Library and check out some of the source material. It could be useful to you.

I tilted my head. "Uh, why?"

Flowers can't sigh, obviously, but the mental equivalent comes close. We have recently... rediscovered a badfic from many years ago. Someone is required to deal with it, and I supposed that you-

"He's talking about My Inner Life," Lou cut in. "Written by Link's Queen. You know it?"

I swallowed. I certainly did know it – it was legendary. "But that's... it's awful."

"And certainly not DOGA material," she replied, scowling at the Flowers. "Send it to one of your Assassins, sir."

Oh, I'm sure there's a geographical aberration in there somewhere, the Sunflower said vaguely. But come now. Agent Illian tackled Celebrían, did he not? So why should not you-

"As I recall, he wasn't asked to," Lou snapped. "And I'm sure you recall what state he left that mission in."

He recovered, the SO said shortly. I don't want to have to make this an order-

"Good, because you can't. It's not in your power. Come, Narto." And she swept out of the door (which I would swear we'd shut behind us, but it was open when she went through). I stared after her, then looked nervously back at the Flowers.

"Um. Sorry, sir," I muttered, and then ran after my partner.

~

We re-entered our RC to the familiar [BEEEEEEEEEEP!] of the console. Lou was muttering to herself as she slapped the button, so I read out the information on the screen. "'Daughter of Darkness'. LotR, War of the Ring... Tenth Walker... Sauron's daughter?"

"What's the GA?" Lou asked, already setting the disguises. I checked.

"A week's ride from Lorien to Rivendell, apparently."

"Contrived," my partner said dismissively. "Oh, well. Can't be helped. How long is it?"

"Six chapters," I said, and then looked again. "Hah. Four chapters, one of them split into 'Part 1' and 'Part 2', and a full-chapter Author's Note."

"Ooh." She actually looked over at me when I said that. "Anything good?"

When they send us stories, they're usually kind enough to print all A/Ns out on-screen for our perusal. This was no exception. "Nah, it's just your standard 'Everyone's so m33333n' rant. Oh, but here's a good point – she actually, genuinely and truly says 'IF YOU DON’T LIKE DON’T READ!!!'."

Lou winced. "Don't throw punctuation around like that, Nar."

"Hey, she started it!" I protested. Lou shook her head.

"And you should know better than to imitate 'Sues. Somehow I thought you'd learn faster... anyway, we must be off!" With that, she bounced – yes, bounced, that girl moodswings so fast - across the RC to grab her back. Suppressing a sigh, and wondering vaguely what she'd meant, I opened the portal. We stepped through. Or rather, I stepped. Lou jumped.

~

"... Ents."

Watching a tree trying to bounce is quite distressing. Watching one succeed is even more so. "Yep!"

"Mallorn-Ents."

"That's right!"

I shook my head, causing a cloud of leaves to begin their slow descent. "Lou, why?"

"Well, we've never done Ents before, for one," she said, examining her own arm (or I assume it was an arm). "And mellyrn are pretty."

"But not exactly common in Arda," I pointed out. "Won't we stand out?"

"We'll be in Lórien most of the time," Lou replied absently. "And besides, do you really think a 'Sue knows where mallorn trees grow?"

"... point." I looked around (a really weird experience when you're a tree). "Where is she, anyway?"

"Just a baby, right now," Lou informed me. "Her mother, however, is on her way here... riding through trees." She nodded, and I turned to look in that direction. Sure enough, a blonde elf-woman was riding on a black horse (precisely what sort of black varied between clear-night-with-full-moon and overcast-stormy-night) through the trees. Through the trees.

I shuddered. "I hope she doesn't try to do that to us."

"We're not big enough," Lou commented. "If we were, we'd not fit in Rivendell later."

"Thank goodness, then." I shook my head again. "So she's a Vanya?"

"Probably not," Lou declared, glancing at the Words. "I doubt the Author knows what that means."

"Hrm." The 'Sue...

slowed her horse, at the base of one of the biggest trees, she jumped off and carefully took a peek at the object that rested in her arms. Satisfied she ran a loving hand down her horse's neck.

"Lle ume quel" She whispered, while resting her head on his neck, gathering her strength.

"Ack! Grelvish!" If the mother-'Sue had looked over at that moment, she would have seen two of the mighty mellyrn rolling on the floor, trying to cover what passed for ears on Ents. Fortunately (or perhaps not), she didn't. She just gave a few more world-weary sighs and began to climb the tree. I had to look at the Words for the context, and even then wasn't sure. I can only assume she intended for there to be a staircase there...?

The soft hum alerted me to the fact that Lou had just opened a portal behind me. I turned curiously. "What's that for?"

"I was thinking we might head up to the top of the tree – to Galadriel's 'throne room' – to watch the next scene. The portal seemed easier than the climb."

I winced, glancing at the Words. "It's only a short scene, Lou. We don't really need to go up there, do we?"

She looked at me, then laughed softly. "No, I guess not. We can get the charges from the Words." She looked up. "Ow. Is Bellethiel a valid name?"

"Surprisingly, yes," I said. "Belleth is 'strong', and –iel in this case is just a generic female suffix. So it's valid. And Sindarin."

"Well, bonus points for Mummy-Sue," Lou said in a low tone. "She loses them all again by being Galadriel's sister."

"Half sister," I corrected. Lou shuddered.

"Even worse. That would mean either Lord Finarfin or Lady Eärwen to be unfaithful, and that would not happen."

"Have you seen the description of her daughter?" I asked, changing the subject quickly. "Apparently she has unusual-coloured hair and eyes – black and the 'colour of the deepest oceans', respectively."

"... I hate idiots," Lou grumbled. "Lúthien Tinúviel had black hair, how can it be unusual? I mean, even Arwen had it."

"She also has a tan, which is of course terribly unusual. And her name is... Naerdiel. Lady of Sorrows," I translated.

"Stupid name to give your daughter," Lou muttered. "And it sounds awful, too."

I shrugged. "People say that about lots of Elven names."

"But I don't care," Lou snapped. "It's a stupid name. Let's move on, I'm getting bored."

~

There was a minor problem, in that actual timeframes seemed to be unknown in that story, but we eventually managed, after a quick visit to the Second Age. We watched as Naerdiel decided randomly to go for a night time walk, and lurked in the moonlight as she entered the stables. Then Lou sighed. "This is boring."

"That happens a lot in PPC missions," I pointed out. "You shouldn't have taken the job if you weren't ready for it."

She sighed again. "I'm beginning to suspect I won't have," she muttered. "Look, there's no plot to this chapter. She meets Mr. Blond Border Guard. She has a flashback to the omgm333333n bullies – elves of Galadriel's wood picking on her because she's a girl? Please - and they talk until sunrise. Then she has to go and talk to Galadriel. End of chapter."

"Then portal us through to the one after," I suggested. "Or is that just as bad?"

"Ehm..." Her eyes went unfocussed as she scanned the words. "Next chapter: Galadriel rips off her own prologue, 'Sue sees that she's the daughter of Sauron – which we already knew – and that she'll die if the Ring is destroyed. Galadriel somehow knows about the Council of Elrond, and decides that the secretive Golden Wood needs to send a 'Sue. Oh, and you'll like this – Naerdiel is the Heir of Mordor."

I actually spluttered. "She's what?"

"Elrond puts it even better later," Lou continued blandly. "She's 'the daughter of Sauron, heir to the throne of Mordor and, in part, creator of the One Ring'."

"There is no throne of Mordor!" I exclaimed. "Sauron's an evil demigod! Mordor is a desolate wasteland that no-one in their right mind would want to rule! And Gondor would destroy her if she tried!"

"<i>I</i> know that," Lou said patiently. "Tell her."

I must have looked angry enough to stomp over the stables, 'Sue and all, because Lou leant back slightly. "Later," she amended. "In the Charge List."

"Oh, I will," I growled. "Can we skip ahead to that now?"

"I haven't even got to it in my summary," my partner pointed out blandly. "Tell you what, I'll summarise Chapter Four: Part One, then we can portal in to watch the Council. It's a nice traditional place to do the Duty."

I thought about it, then nodded. "When do we actually kill her, then? 'The Council' is a little vague."

"After she joins the Fellowship," Lou decided, and then, looking at me, added, "If you can last that long."

"I'll do my best."

"All right. Four Part One, then: 'Sue rides for a week and reaches Imladris. She mutters 'evilly'. An elf tries to shoot her."

"Good sense, him."

"Quite. He greets her with more Grelvish, which lapses into English – colloquial English – before long. He considers her for a minuet – which, I have to say, is my favourite typo ever." She shook her head. "Imladris turns into a city. There's random Dwarf-insulting. Lord Elrond pretends to be interested in 'Sue, but even the description sounds like his attention's elsewhere, and who can blame him?"

"Certainly not I," I said. No, I didn't think it was a terribly useful thing to say, but she had left a space for me to add something.

"She pretends to know her way around Rivendell despite claiming it was her first time there. There's a bath drawn for her, and she glows when she gets out. The Valar become a single entity, and she 'definitely' doesn't want to wear a dress. We're treated to an extended description of her clothes, and then she eats a lot. Then she has a disjointed internal monologue and... that's it."

"Nothing terribly original, then," I concluded. "Did you leave out anything that ought to go on the Charge List?"

"Er... oh, she makes all female names end in –iel and all male ones –ion."

I shuddered. "Figures."

"Could be worse, though," Lou provided brightly. "I read the reviews – the 'Sue was originally called Cristiel."

I cringed, which is pretty tricky for a tree. "All right, all right, enough. Let's go already."

Lou grinned. "I thought you'd say that." The portal opened.

~

Naerdiel sat quietly in the shadows to the right of Lord Elrond.

"Naerdiel had not, apparently, even watched the film," I muttered. "Were there shadows? I think not."

"Well, she clearly watched it enough to be able to describe every character present," Lou pointed out. "Not very well, though... she characterises Boromir as 'slouching in his chair with an air of self importance around him'."

"Because Boromir is evil. Everyone knows that." I shook my branches. "Can't we get a Geographical Aberration that doesn't involve a 'Sue?"

"Everything involves 'Sues, Nar," Lou explained patiently. "You'll get used to it."

"Strangers from distant lands, friends of old, you've been summoned here to answer the threat of Mordor." Elrond looked around the gathered men.

"Bonus points for being willing to use 'men' to mean 'males'," Lou murmured. "But gosh that dialogue sounds familiar."

"Plagiarising the movie script, I've got it already." I flicked through my notebook. "In big letters."

"Still, at least it makes PPCing it easier. We could probably recite most of the lines. And punctuate them better."

"Definitely," I agreed, "but would we get the voices right? Look."

"And what would a ranger know of this matter?" An elf rose, blond hair flowing in the breeze.

"... Legolas didn't say... what?"

"Exactly," I said gloomily. "Her paragraphing's shot."

"And she didn't know who Boromir was. Probably expected horns."

"She still... doesn't." I blinked. "'Boromir, son of Denathor and Aragorn'? Did I miss something?"

"She's obviously a closet slash/mpreg writer," Lou suggested. "I don't know that I've seen that pairing before, though... I'll send it in to the list."

I shook my head. "I really wish... wait, what?" Legolas, for some reason, had suddenly assumed an uncharacteristically intent expression (not that I'd ever say anything against Mr. Bloom's acting...) and was pronouncing his next line as if his life depended on getting the most effect from each syllable. Lou squinted at the Words and laughed.

"He's persisting, that's what." She grinned. "I take it back, its' not just like the movie. Not with the creative misspellings."

The typos, however, could only entertain briefly, and we had to watch the entire sequence as it unfolded. There was, I kid you not, only one change in the narrative of the film, which was that when Gimli got axe-happy, Naerdiel gasped and fell to the ground, apparently because her legs crumpled. We never did work out how she managed that from a sitting position. Lou said she was watching, but I never managed to get her to tell, and now... well.

The script <did change, though. Once everyone had started arguing, 'Sue waited for an appropriate moment and then yelled.

"Be quiet you irrational men, arguing does not help anybody!"

"... female chauvinism?" I muttered in disbelief. Fortunately, the wording of the paragraph meant we had a break to make these sorts of comments. "That's a new one."

"It's not usually so overt, but it's there," Lou pointed out. I shrugged.

"Very, very unelven, though. Not that she cares."

Then Boromir spoke.

"And why would you have any input in this decision, you are female."

I swear Lou hissed. Actually, I probably did, too. None of us like seeing 'Misogynistic Pig!Boromir', despite how common he is, so perhaps you can understand our reaction to the next line:

"Human at that." Snipped one of the elves.

This bit's quite painful for me. I think I need to change the format.

~

"Human at that." Snipped one of the elves. Naerdiel scowled. "I am no human foolish elf." She stated throwing back her hood, pointed ears clearly visible as well as the rest of her unusual elf-ish features.

"Oh, that just about does it," said a booming voice from overhead. Virtually every member of the council span around to look, with the exception of Elrond, who let out a small sigh of relief. "Elves aren't stupid, kid," the voice said, as a huge mallorn tree strode forward onto the patio. "They know their own kind."

Naerdiel stared. "It's... it's because of my unusual skin!" she squeaked. "And my hair!"

"Lord Elrond will be very upset to hear that," another, similar voice said, "seeing as his daughter has hair like yours. And please don't repeat that nonsense about Lothlorien elves only having fair hair, that's utter nonsense."

"But... what?" The 'Sue shook her head rapidly. "I don't understaaaaaand," she wailed. "What's going on?"

"We'll explain," the first voice said. "Narto? The charges."

"With pleasure." A second mallorn stepped forward, leafing through a tiny pad of some sort of paper. Yes, that's me. I suppose I should stop with the third person thing now. Anyway, I found the list and started reading. "Naerdiel, daughter of Bellethiel, on my authority as an Agent of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, I charge you with... good grief, so many things. To whit: Abuse of the English Language. Abuse of the people and environment of Lothlórien - Lothlórien, kid, not just Lorien. It's not that hard to get right."

"Get on with it, Nar."

I sighed. "Altering Elven cultural, physical and psychological characteristics. Engaging in dangerous activities for no good reason. Claiming things to be unusual when they really aren't."

"Like your hair," Lou put in. "I mean, really. Carry on, Narto."

"Portraying male and female chauvinistic attitudes in those who should have neither – I suppose you missed the fact that the Elven genders are equal? The fact that Galadriel rules in Lothlórien didn't tip you off that they wouldn't see women as weak?"

"Oh, look, give me that." Lou snatched the charge list from my branches. "Where were you?"

"Chauvinism," I supplied.

"Yes... all right. Ahem: Trivialising important artefacts, causing either Lord Finarfin or Lady Eärwen to be unfaithful, use of Grelvish randomly in dialogue, use of Grelvish at all, diminishing- hey, where are you going?"

The 'Sue, for a wonder, had picked up on the fact that we weren't exactly there to shower her with praise, and had started to run. Fortunately for us, this meant no last-minute appeals to the Canons for help. Unfortunately, it gave us very little time to finish off the mission. Lou let out an exasperated sigh and threw the notebook back to me. "Summarise the last bit, will you?" she said, already starting after the 'Sue.

I stared at the page, which we'd only read half of. "Uh... for these crimes, and for sundry others, including distorting geography by taking only a week to travel from Lothlórien to Imladris, you are sentenced to death by Ent. Have a nice day."

I managed to finish just in time. Lou had been gaining speed, and had reached the point where she seemed about to overtake the 'Sue. Of course, that would only happen if she wasn't directly behind her, which she was. I have no desire to see an Agent stomp on a 'Sue ever again, and I'm sure Lord Elrond would agree – I'm pretty sure there's still a mark where Naerdiel died. Oh, well.

Lou clumped back with a smug expression on her, let's call it a face anyway. "Good work," she commented. I shuddered. "Oh, come on," she said, "it wasn't that bad."

"It really was," I muttered. My partner shook her head.

"I keep forgetting you weren't an Assassin. Come on, let's get home. No reason to stay out here any longer."

~

It was later, and we were back in our RC. Lou, fortunately for my sanity, had foregone returning to her position atop the console. Actually, we were both seated perfectly normally at the table, which is quite an achievement. I'd reached the end of a section in my book, which was why I chose then to start a conversation. "Lou," I said.

She lowered her own book, looking faintly puzzled. "Yes, Nar?"

I took a deep breath. "Lou," I said again, "who are you? Really?"

She gaped at me. I think that's the only time I ever managed to take her by surprise. "You can't... what?"

"You said you'd tell me before," I went on, "but I don't think you actually did. I can't remember any kind of-"

"Yes, yes." She flapped a hand at me. "Look, can you give me a minute? I need to have a quick chat."

I blinked. "Sure...?"

"Great." She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. For the next minute – remember what I said about her precision? – I could watch her lips moving slightly, but that was about all. Finally, she looked back at me. "You're good. You realise the only way you could have pulled this off was the way you did? Spur of the moment, like?"

I frowned. "I don't... what?"

"Not what you think," she explained quickly. "Look, you remember Rings of Power, right? How there was a character who was also me?"

"But not yet, you said." Of course I remembered – I wrote the report for that after this conversation took place. Stop interrupting.

"Yeah. Well... look, it's a bit complicated." She glanced up at the ceiling. "Do you want to use it? And do you have it ready?"

She waited a moment and then nodded. "All right, then, come with me. You're about to get the answer you want."

I blinked. Something in her tone had made me nervous. "I'm not sure..."

That was when she grabbed my arm. "Come on, boy. I want to get this over with." She dragged me out of the RC and down the corridor.

~

It was a very long way to our destination. Near the end, we passed the Fountain of Bleepka, and found a line of wet footprints leading away from it. We followed those all the way to a hole in the wall. On the other side was a brightly-lit and well decorated room, with – seriously! – a tree growing against one wall. There were two people in there – a young man with brown hair, and a young woman with black, bearing a startling resemblance to Agents Dafydd and Constance – with their arms round each other when Lou dragged me inside. She looked at them with an expression of faint contempt. "Are we interrupting something?"

The young man jumped and looked at her, blinking rapidly. "Lou?" His friend, however, grinned widely.

"Lou! Narto! People! Two of them!"

Lou shook her head. "Don't look so surprised, David." Then she glanced at the young woman. "Arianna, you're fairly sensible. Please explain to Gingernut here who I am."

Like I was going to sit idly by. "Hey!" I exclaimed. "Don't call me that!"

Lou shrugged. "Blame the hair, don't blame me. Arianna?"

Arianna winked at me. "It's a love name, Narto." I boggled. That's the only word to describe it. Lou glared at the dark-haired woman sullenly.

"Arianna, I will kill you for that. Later, when the newbie isn't here."

"I'm not a—" I never could keep quiet, could I? David interrupted me that time.

"Can I just say," he asked, "that this is a very bad idea?" Lou snorted.

"No, shut up. I'm tired of your dancing around the subject."

I was starting to get a very bad feeling about this. "I knew I shouldn't have asked..." I murmured.

Arianna had assumed a thoughtful expression. "...hm, ah dear." She shook her head. "Da-vid, how did I get dumped with this?"

David looked slightly sheepish. "Because she knows I won't tell him and feels like blowing his mind?"

Yes, I was very much ready to leave at this point. Why do you think Lou still had such a firm grip on my arm? But it was too late anyway. Arianna had barricaded herself behind an armchair already. "She's part of David," she yelled, "except not!  She's a subset of David.  And female.  And disembodied. All clear?" I stared. "Also, Lou," she continued, "you can't kill me, I have this lovely sturdy armchair between us." Her hands gripped the armchair, as if defying Lou to pull it away. "And it so was a love name."

"...sorry, what?" All right, all right, it wasn't the most coherent response I could have made. But what was I meant to say? Subset? What does that mean?

Well, yes, I know now.

Lou sighed. "That's about it, really." Then she looked over at Arianna and called, "hence, later. Watch your back."

Arianna grinned. "Bah, David won't let you kill me.  Probably. And, yay for opposite-gendered alter-egos!  I should get one."

David shook his head, moving towards her. "I won't."

Lou folded her arms. "Who's the Assassin here?"

"Who's the Author?" I really wasn't sure what he'd said at the time. It wasn't directed at me, and 'author' didn't really make much sense. But, obviously, it was true.

"I hate you," Lou muttered. Note that it had taken me this long to get my thoughts in order. Not that they really were...

"No, but I'm confused." I turned to look at Lou, my expression somewhat pleading. "You're not disembodied..."

She looked nonplussed. Or possibly even miffed. "... ah. How to explain that one...?"

"Narrative contrivance?" David suggested. Lou shot him a look, and a counter-suggestion.

"The guy whose body I'm forced to share being a highly unimaginative author?"

David put on a wounded expression. "Oh, ow." Of course, I wasn't paying too much attention. That time, I had heard the word, quite clearly.

"Wait, you're a..." I couldn't get it out. "...what? Lou, I'm confused."

David rolled his eyes. "You're always confused."

I glowered at him. Funny how that reflex pops up now and again. "What would you know?"

"He created you," Lou pointed out in a low tone. I shuddered. I'd been trying to avoid that particular implication.

"Louise," David snapped. "We do not tell people about that."

"Why not?" Lou seemed genuinely puzzled, and that gave me the idea.

I'm ashamed to admit that I acted the next bit. Come on, I work for the PPC. We use plotholes to travel around, and have an entire Department devoted to forcing the Laws of Narrative Comedy to work on our behalf. We even get our own Mary-Sues every so often. The idea of having an author isn't exactly mind-boggling. You meet Agents who insist that they do, and I'm not talking about former bit-parts. But... to be honest, I was starting to get scared. I needed to get out. So I put on my best 'terrified' expression. "I... you... mad!"

"That's why not," David said in a tone I can only describe as smug satisfaction. I've never been terribly fond of him, when I find myself able to remember him at all.

There was a lull in the conversation, so Arianna chipped in. "Anyone who could come up with you, Lou, is both highly imaginative and highly twisted."

David started. "I didn't--!"

"Mine," my partner snarled, glaring at her Author. Then she tossed her head and looked at Arianna. "He didn't 'come up with' me, Arianna, as you well know." She smirked. "Narto, however..."

I resent that, sometimes. So did David, as he pleaded, "Will you stop that?"

I felt it was time to contribute a bit more of my own performance. "Which way is out...?" I asked weakly. I actually think I was pretty good – a legacy of that drama group back home, I guess. Either way, Arianna gave me a sympathetic look.

"Poor Narto," she said, and I almost forgave her for the 'love name' comments earlier. I suppose we can't help who we 'ship... "You can hide behind the chair with me if you want, I'm saner than Lou is." Then she tilted her head in consideration, and added, "Sort of."

Of course, it wasn't really an option. Stay so that Lou could get into another, longer argument? "I'm... what?" My confused look got another workout. "No, I think... Lou, can we go?"

My partner sighed and looked up at the ceiling – I guess that's just a habit, seeing as her author was right there in the room at the time, and I assume that's who she spends her time talking to. "I swear I feel like a babysitter sometimes," she muttered fiercely, and then sighed a second time. "Come on, then." She grabbed my arm and dragged me away without a single goodbye.

I've been sort of downplaying the effect all those revelations had on me. Suffice to say that we hadn't even gotten past the Bleepka Fountain before I fainted dead away.