02. Killer in the Dark

Dour K yawned so mightily she was sure her head was going to split apart at the seams. That's my cue to fetch another bottle of Coke, she thought, hauling herself to her feet and moseying over to the small fridge in the corner of the Cell. She'd been sorting through piles of continuum reports for close to an hour and a half, and each passing moment spent staring at the white paper dragged her eyelids a little further downward. Paperwork always had that effect on her, which was why she usually avoided it like the plague.

Unfortunately, guilt prevents me from taking such measures today, Dour K thought peevishly. She was still doing "penance" for having neglected to inquire about a techno upgrade on her last visit to Upstairs. Rile X had not been very forgiving; he was at his wit's end trying to deal with the mounds of paperwork shuffling through the Cell. It's not like I meant to forget, Dour K mused sourly. Geez, wouldn't anyone be kinda distracted by thoughts of an impending 1,012-stair trek back down to the basement? She shook her head and grinned at the play on words. Stair Trek, har har, ain't I a hoot?

Dour K retrieved her soda from the fridge and headed back to her desk, enthusiastically swigging the chilly beverage in an attempt to shock herself awake. The newly-released carbonation prickled frostily all the way down. "Whoo!" she gasped. "Nothing like a nice stiff drink to wake you up after hours of mindless toiling!"

"Stiff drink?" Mad H repeated, looking up from her own pile of reports. The other agent's bristly hair was a startling shade of electric purple, having been recently dyed to suit one of Mad H's mercurial moods. "You call that a stiff drink?"

Almost simultaneously, Rile X spoke up as well. "It'd better not've been totally mindless, Dour, or I'll make you re-sort the whole pile," he groused, adjusting his spectacles.

"One of these days I'm going to slip some vodka into your Coke," Mad H continued, as though Rile X hadn't spoken, "and then you'll know what a stiff drink really is."

Dour K laughed and plopped down in her seat, already feeling sillier than was her wont. Must be the previous six Cokes, she thought. This one hasn't been in my system long enough to have taken effect. "No thanks, Mad, I'm perfectly content to get trippy on pure sugar and caffeine. Less side effects that way. And Rile, I've been sorting studiously, I swear!"

"Uh-huh," Rile X answered. He sounded completely unconvinced, but instead of pursuing the matter, he abruptly pulled a sheet of paper out of the ever-present pile at his desk. "Hey, Trippy, got another urgent report from the Lord of the Rings continuum here."

Dour K lurched out of her chair and stumbled over to Rile X's desk, feeling a little lightheaded from the caffeine overload. "Gimme." The other agent handed over the paper, and Dour K scanned through it. "Sweet Saint Katharine, it's a serial murder story. Starring Legolas as the murderer?" The agent shook her head. "Bloody fantastic."

"Doesn't sound too bad," Mad H ventured. "Is it another Mary Sue?"

"Doesn't look like it," Dour K returned. "But it could be just as bad, you know. It all depends on whether the author bothered to explain why Legolas is now a psychotic killer instead of his normal chipper self." Dour K returned. "I suppose I'll take this one, but I hope it's a little less horrifying than the last one." She shuddered. "I'd still like to go back and teach Palan-what's-her-face exactly why it's not nice to make King Thranduil hit his kid."

"Uh-huh. Just lay off the Coke for a while, eh?" Mad H suggested. "Wouldn't want you to do anything crazy and get yourself fired."

"Nah. Big Thorn has a hard enough time getting people as it is," Dour K answered, heading over to the storage locker. She pulled her trusty green duffel out, unzipped it, and dug around inside for her hand-held disguise generator. "I think I'm gonna go as Elf-chick again. It worked well enough last time."

Rile X muttered something about "Attila the Hun," not looking up from the stack of files he was organizing. Mad H snickered.

Dour K gave them both dirty looks. "Gee, I'm overwhelmed by the support vibes here," she grumbled. "I was a little upset, okay? At least I didn't throw another Coke-bottle and stain more of the carpet!"

"That's true," Mad H conceded.

Rile X sighed. "Look, Dour, will you please remember to ask Upstairs about the techno stuff this time? I'm going insane here!"

"Sure, sure," Dour K answered with an acknowledging wave. She located the disguise generator, and in a twinkling of light had assumed her Elven-maiden camouflage. "Lessee here, need the portal generator, need the notebook, need the Canon Analysis Device . . . ." Having retrieved said items, the agent stuffed the latter two into her pockets, slung the duffel's strap over her right shoulder, and activated the portal. "Going now. Cheers!" Having said that, Dour K stepped through and was gone . . . .

. . . and rematerialized in a dark, ambiguously defined room. Dour K blinked, trying to get her bearings; the normal effects of portaling were only enhanced by the fic's exceedingly vague description of the surroundings. I can't even tell how big this room is, or what it's for, Dour K thought. She quickly exchanged the portal generator for the Canon Analysis Device and looked around.

The only things in the area that were clearly delineated were the two people situated several feet away from Dour K's position. As always, the canon characters were well-defined; it made sense, as Master Tolkien had already described them, and the authors were just borrowing them and placing them in different settings. Dour K grimaced at the sight. One of the figures was lithe and blond, clearly recognizable as Legolas. The other, a handsome human male, lay on the floor before the crouching Elven prince. Blood ran in copious quantities from cruel wounds in the man's flesh, and his eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling—wherever it was—in utter shock. Dour K tiptoed over to stand next to Legolas, pulling her notebook and pen from her pocket. The Elf did not notice her.

Holy mother o' pearl, Dour K thought disgustedly. The dead man was Éomer of Rohan. Carved into his sallow skin was the image of a winged figure with twin horns. Dour K glanced at the words scrolling across the Canon Analysis Device's screen. An angel with devil's horns, Psycho Legolas' signature. How original.

The expression on Legolas' face, however, froze the agent where she stood. He was smiling. Not the truly happy smile of the real prince, not the accursed "gosh-yer-pretty" smile of the Mary Sue hex, not even the abashed smile he often got stuck with in Bad Slash fics . . . this was a smile of pure, unfettered malice. It was chilling to behold. Dour K shook herself, bending her head to write in the notebook: Legolas is a psycho murderer; no explanation yet. Éomer dead. Cliché signature of angel with devil horns cut into victim's skin—despite the fact that there are no "angels" or "devils" in Middle-earth. Dour K took another look at Legolas' face, and added, Psycho Legolas grinning like Hannibal Lecter.

For good measure, Dour K then pointed the Canon Analysis Device at Psycho Legolas and took a reading.


No, really? Dour K thought sardonically. She scribed the results in her notebook.

Suddenly, the surroundings shifted, signaling a scene change. Dour K found herself in another dark, barely defined space, where two figures lay torn and bleeding on the floor . . .

. . . and then the scene switched to another similar locale, wherein lay another dead body . . .

. . . and another switch, with another pair of corpses . . .

. . . and then to the foot of a cliff—is that Gandalf lying there??...

"Holy shnikes!" Dour K yelped, staggering around, completely disoriented by the rapid scene changes. They were no doubt the product of mini-flashbacks, which were a real pain in the neck, because now she would have to rewind the fic and go back to investigate scene by scene, hitting the "Pause" button each time. Blast these authors and their need to hurry through history! Dour K thought bitterly. Not even a single word of explanation or description!

The agent hastily punched the "Stop" key on her Canon Analysis Device—which, thankfully, also functioned as sort of "emergency remote control" for the fic. The dizzying barrage of scenelets halted. Dour K shook her head, trying to ignore her queasiness, and rewound the fic until she reached the very end of the scene with Psycho Legolas and dead Éomer. As soon as the scene blurred and changed, she pressed "Pause," effectively freezing the action in place. That done, she was free to inspect the carnage at leisure.

Lucky me, Dour K thought. She paced over to the two bodies lying sprawled on the vaguely-outlined floor . . . and stopped, completely baffled. They appeared to be two exact copies of Lord Elrond, both splayed in their final death-throes, blood seeping from wounds similar to Éomer's. And each sported an angel with devil's horns carved into his cold skin.

Gross, and highly disturbing, Dour K thought confusedly, but why are there two Elronds? She glanced at the screen, read the fic's description of Psycho Legolas' musings, and raised an eyebrow at them.

[Elrond's twin brothers had been a lot easier that he had thought…]

A bit of leftover Coke-induced silliness bubbled up, and Dour K giggled. Twin brothers? The author had probably meant twin sons; but as it was, two identical Elronds—neither of whom, apparently, was the "real" Elrond—now lay dead. It was so absurd that Dour K wasn't too upset at the grisly murders; she was more amused at the outrageous error than anything else. She scribbled in her notebook, still snickering. Flashback Scene One: Elrond's "twin brothers" dead. Author apparently thinks Lord Elrond is one of a set of triplets. Cliché signature left in skin—eww.

That done, Dour K hit the "Play" button on the Canon Analysis Device and let the scene shift. Then, she froze it once more, and set to examining the butchery. An unfamiliar Dwarf this time, as dreadfully displayed as had been the previous victims, with the same signature marking in his flesh. Dour K thought he looked a little like Gimli, but not quite. A quick glance at the words rolling across the screen clarified the Dwarf's identity.

[Gimli, son of Gloin's son, had not been an easy task, but in the end he had triumphed all the same…]

Dour K sniggered again despite the bloody scene, shaking her head and making more notes. Flashback Scene Two: "Gimli, son of Glóin's son" dead. Uncertain as to where this particular Dwarf fits into the family tree, or why Psycho Legolas would want him dead. Cliché signature again—eww.

Still grinning, Dour K shifted the scene once more. Her smile faded, and she sighed unhappily. Boromir and Faramir were the victims portrayed, as brutally and violently dead as the previous ones. Too, they both featured Psycho Legolas' gruesome—but still cliché—signature. Dour K was glad Acacia couldn't see the mess; that particular Assassin, a known Boromir enthusiast, would've had a fit that would make the entire continuum shake. As well we all should, considering the magnitude of this idiocy, Dour K mused. As before, she scratched a few comments in her notebook: Flashback Scene Three: Boromir and Faramir horribly dead. More cliché signatures—eww. She then moved on.

The next scenelet was the bottom of the cliff again. Dour K narrowed her eyes as she knelt beside the crumpled figure lying broken across the rocks. Just as she had suspected earlier, it was indeed Gandalf, who—according to the text—had simply fallen to his death. The agent grimaced at the bleeding wound in the gray-robed Istar's cheek; it was the angel with devil's horns again. "If I see that blasted thing one more time, I'm gonna go postal," Dour K muttered. She glanced at the fic's ongoing narrative, and wrote her observations: Flashback Scene Four: Gandalf dead. Psycho Legolas pushed him off a cliff. Never mind the fact that Gandalf is a Maia of the West and defeated a Balrog and all that jazz. And the icky cliché signature is back—eww.

The whole thing was getting rather tiresome. Dour K still had no bloody clue why Psycho Legolas was, well, psycho. She desperately wished for a Coke, too. The caffeine was still trickling through her system, but she felt the need for a boost. Must be all the dead people. They depress me. The agent hit the "Play" button again.

The fic shifted back to the scene of Psycho Legolas grinning over Éomer's corpse, and Dour K rolled her eyes. A blurry image of another dead man flickered in the background—ah, the narrative continues. Psycho Legolas remembers killing King Théoden. Bet the good king got a nice little signature carved into his carcass. "Wouldn't even a psycho Elf get tired of this crap after a while?" the agent muttered to herself, recording Théoden's death in her notebook. Geez, that's eight murders already, and three of the victims don't even technically exist.

The sounds of approaching hoofbeats drifted in through a window—which had miraculously appeared in the still-indistinct wall—and Psycho Legolas hastily left his victim, moving to the window and jumping out of it. Dour K gave a last glance to poor Éomer, then bounded over to the same window, holding her duffel's handles to keep its strap from digging into her shoulder. She got there just in time to see Psycho Legolas fade into the shadows as Aragorn and a band of horsemen rode up.

Question, Dour K thought, narrowing her eyes at the text. Why in the bloody blue blazes would the King of Gondor be chasing after a serial murderer? Doesn't he have better—and less dangerous—things to be doing? Especially since, as the author had made sure to point out, no one knew that Legolas was the murderer. It didn't make any sense; but then again, neither did most of the fic's previous material.

Dour K shook her head and watched as Aragorn glanced around dramatically, as though looking for someone in the shadows. This is almost too stupid and tedious to be truly disturbing, she thought. The first chapter was almost over; she could finally go home. She scratched a few final notes in her notebook, then exchanged it for her portal generator and watched the ending lines scroll past on the Canon Analysis Device's screen.

And then the second chapter began.

Dour K stared at the thing in surprise. "Uh, aren't you supposed to turn off now?" she asked it. That was how it usually worked; once the observation period—a single chapter, typically—was over, the Device shut down, and the agent was then free to return to Headquarters. The mechanism paid her no heed, and continued to run the narrative. The agent shook the Canon Analysis Device, smacked it silly, but to no avail. The scene distorted violently, heralding a chapter change. No! Dour K thought frantically. I don't want to be here for another whole chapter of this crapola!

It was too late. The second chapter was materializing around her. It was against the rules to leave a fic before the observation period was over. True, Dour K had been known to storm out before the very last line rolled, but Big Thorn was somewhat lenient on that; after all, they were dealing with disturbing acts of violence.

But I can't just leave now, not when the second chapter is scrolling! Dour K thought in dismay. She looked up, just in time to see the hazy interior of a pub taking shape. As before, the fic's description was null and void, so the narrative took the shape of a standard pub scene, albeit a little indistinct due to the lack of author's definitions.

Psycho Legolas was fending off Aragorn's attempts at conversation. Dour K watched for a few moments, blinking. The two apparently didn't really know each other in this fic. The agent glanced at the words on her screen. Nope, they don't know each other, but they "always meet." Something from the summary of the story clicked in the agent's brain: it was going to eventually turn slashy between Aragorn and Psycho Legolas. "Why do I get the feeling the Department of Bad Slash is gonna get called in for this one?" Dour K muttered, continuing to watch the cool exchange between the two in the pub.

For that matter, why am I still here? She couldn't understand why the Device had continued to run after the normal observation period had ended. True, the first chapter had consisted of a total of two paragraphs—maybe the stupid thing didn't think I'd suffered enough on this one, Dour K thought, glaring at the Canon Analysis Device. She sighed resignedly and stuffed her portal generator back into her pocket, then moved her duffel's strap over to her left shoulder and retrieved her notebook. Whee, Chapter Two is mine to dissect.

The scene wavered and began to shift. Dour K groaned aloud as the setting fluttered yet again. This stupid thing has more scene changes than "Moulin Rouge," she griped silently. She watched as the next locale coalesced; it was another blurry room, similar to those in Chapter One. This one, however, contained a bed, and resting in the center of it was Psycho Legolas.

Dour K read the text rolling across the screen, and found that the Elf was musing about his frosty meeting with Aragorn. There was also a brief reference to the past, which was apparently not a pleasant topic of rumination for Psycho Legolas. Then came a sentence that caught the agent's rapt attention:

[The killing of Thranduil, king of Mirkwood, had been quite... interesting. He could remember as if it were only yesterday...]

Oh, great, not only another flashback, but one featuring poor Thranduil's murder, Dour K thought sourly. As the flashback flickered into existence, the agent braced herself for whatever horrible gore-fest she was about to witness.

Surprisingly, there was no half-mutilated corpse in sight. Dour K blinked at the shadowy room she found herself in. Like the previous ones, it was ill-defined by the text, and therefore possessed little in the way of furnishing.

It wasn't a total loss, however, because Thranduil himself was pacing around in the center of the room. Dour K grinned to herself. She'd always loved the Elvenking, and it was a nice surprise to see him pacing around, graceful and limber, his golden hair flowing down his back. This is way, way better than the "in-the-middle-of-smacking-Legolas" opening scene he usually gets, the agent thought appreciatively.

Unfortunately, the fic was determined to continue at its frenetic warp-ten pace. Psycho Legolas suddenly entered the room through a door that had seemingly sprung into existence when called for. Dour K stepped out of the prince's way; she didn't know what would happen if a canon character walked into her, but she really didn't want to experiment with this particular individual—after all, he is a serial murderer in this fic, she reasoned.

Strangely enough, Thranduil didn't notice Psycho Legolas until the latter cleared his throat, causing the Elvenking to jump in surprise. "As if," Dour K snarled under her breath. What, does the whole "superior Elven hearing" thing go offline when an enemy approaches? It was a theory worth noting, considering how many times Legolas himself had been jumped by Orcs because he was too busy drooling over some Sue or another.

Thranduil and Psycho Legolas engaged in some painfully lame banter, in which it was revealed that a) this Thranduil was a snobby, cowardly jerk; b) Psycho Legolas had all the repartee skills of a thirteen-year-old human girl; and c) Psycho Legolas really was missing quite a few screws. Dour K made a face as she listened to them, scribbling a few notes.

She looked back up just in time to see Psycho Legolas punch Thranduil full across the face. The Elvenking dropped to the floor without a sound. Unconscious. Dour K blinked. "That was it?" she asked aloud, incredulous. "That looked like a Three Stooges clip!"

Dour K scratched out a few notes as she began to follow Psycho Legolas—who was dragging the insensate Thranduil by the feet—out the door. Thranduil is a wuss. Conked out on the first round. No mention made of the fact that Thranduil is Legolas' daddy. I doubt the author even knows it.

Abruptly, the scene shifted again, and the agent found herself in a grimy little room. Thranduil was hanging upside-down by his bound feet; his wrists were tied behind him, and he'd been gagged for good measure. Psycho Legolas was there, as well, and he made a snide—albeit lame—comment as the Elvenking blinked back to wakefulness. Then, the prince pulled out a wicked-looking knife.

Heads up, everyone, the ick starts here, Dour K thought uncomfortably. She'd never actually witnessed a prolonged torture scene, and she didn't know if she'd be able to handle it if it got too horrible. Especially because Thranduil was the one on the receiving end. Why oh why can't these people just leave the poor guy alone? she lamented.

Psycho Legolas knelt before the trussed-up Thranduil and began to make long, methodical incisions in the king's bare chest. Dour K watched the crimson blood welling up in the wound and shook her head sympathetically. Psycho Legolas etched several similar gashes into the Elvenking's flesh, apparently uncaring that the blood pooling on the floor was oozing toward him and would soon soak his own knees.

Dour K saw the glare Thranduil was giving the younger Elf, and she silently cheered him on. That's right, your Majesty, give 'im the Evil Eye! she thought cheerily.

When he had finished carving the king up like a Christmas ham, Psycho Legolas reached up with the bloody blade and sliced through the ropes holding Thranduil up. The Elvenking crashed to the floor, landing "jelly-side down," as the expression went. Dour K winced when he struggled back up to his knees; his wounds had been pervaded by the dirt and grime on the floor.

"Follow me, I am not done yet," Psycho Legolas was saying. Dour K's mouth dropped open as Thranduil moved to comply. The Elvenking hauled himself to his feet and dutifully trailed his homicidal psychopathic offspring out of the room.

Dour K followed them, utterly shocked at Thranduil's sudden submissiveness. "Oh, I do not believe this," she muttered. "'Check me out, the Big Cheese of Mirkwood, been whuppin' Shadow since TA 1050, going skippety-hop all the way to my own murder!'"

The trio arrived at another room, wherein bubbled a vat of what looked to be extremely hot oil. Dour K made a face, too annoyed with the stupidity of the author's foibles to be very disgusted at first. "One French-fried Elvenking, coming up!" she announced. She did wince, however, when Psycho Legolas chucked Thranduil into the concoction; the king's face was contorted with very real pain, and Dour K was reminded that despite the "unrealness" of the fic, the canon characters fully experienced whatever the author put them through. Aw, man, sorry about the French-fry joke, she thought miserably.

By the time Psycho Legolas dragged Thranduil out of the oil by his matted hair, Dour K was livid. Whoever wrote this has a sick, twisted little mind, she thought, thoroughly nauseated. She forced herself to look down at her notebook and scrawl some comments, if only to avoid seeing the raw, seared mass that had been Thranduil's skin. The agent knew that she couldn't interfere with the story's events; to do so would be a hideous breach of protocol for a DAVD observer.

Dour K peeked back over at the two just in time to see Psycho Legolas pull out Thranduil's sword. The younger Elf grinned insanely and gutted the king so deeply that a steaming mess of organs fell out. Dour K dropped her notebook and clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a shriek. She expected Thranduil to die rather quickly after such a gruesome maneuver, but as the text specified—for the second time in the same paragraph, in fact—the Elvenking was still not dead.

This is beyond gross! Dour K thought in horror. Psycho Legolas spoke again to the eviscerated Thranduil, taunting him as lamely as ever. The agent wasn't sure whether to laugh at the stupidity of it all, or to retch at the ghastliness of it all. Poor Thranduil . . . not even allowed to die like a normal gutted Elf . . . .

And then Psycho Legolas dumped some salt on Thranduil's entrails-turned-extrails. Despite the Elvenking's distressed reaction, Dour K couldn't help but give a strained chuckle. Salt for the French-fried Elvenking, indeed, she mused, feeling terribly guilty for laughing at the king's awful plight. Compared to the previous activities, however, Psycho Legolas' salting wasn't nearly so horrific. It was anticlimactic, even. I think Thranduil has slightly bigger things to worry about than the fact that you just poured salt on his organs—which, by the way, are lying on the floor. "Come on, die already," she muttered unhappily, bending down to retrieve her notebook from where it had fallen. She was glad she hadn't dropped the Canon Analysis Device; it might have broken, and then who knew what might have happened?

Suddenly, the sound of swiftly-approaching horses drifted into the room. Dour K finished taking notes on the torture she'd witnessed and looked up, expecting Psycho Legolas to carve his cliché signature into the Elvenking's skin and then make a hasty exit.

Instead, Psycho Legolas chopped Thranduil's head off.

A high-pitched scream filled the room as the king's severed head rolled across the floor, leaving a bloody trail behind it. Dour K wasn't even aware that she was shrieking aloud until Psycho Legolas turned and looked straight at her.

Her mouth clamped shut. Oh . . . crap . . . .

"Who are you?" he hissed.

Dour K stared at the Elf and let out an undignified squeak. Psycho Legolas was still holding the blood-lathered sword in one hand. He can see me. Why can he see me? she thought frantically. She had heard of other agents attracting the canon characters' attention, either by accident—through excessively loud noises and such—or on purpose, in the course of slaying a Mary Sue. Dour K figured her scream must have broken through her PPC-agent invisibility.

Which left her alone and unarmed with a psychopathic murderer. Psycho Legolas took a step in her direction, crazed eyes glittering. "How did you get in here?" he asked, low and dangerous.

Dour K backed up, trying to discreetly tug her portal generator out of her pocket. "I'm . . . uh . . . uh . . . ." The portal generator was stuck. Dour K hurled silent curses at it. "I'm the, um . . . ." The generator came loose, and the agent yanked it out. "I'm gone," she said triumphantly, and with a press of a button, she jumped through the glimmering portal . . .

. . . and banged straight into Rile X, who yelped in surprise and dropped the entire stack of reports he was carrying. "Dour!" he hollered, righting his off-kilter spectacles and glaring at her. "What in the name of Kenobi's Blue Ghostie are you doing? It took me an hour to sort those!"

"I'm sorry, Rile, really," Dour K hastily apologized, glancing behind her to make certain the portal had closed. She shivered a little and knelt down to help the other agent gather up the scattered papers.

"You seem to like running into people on the return trip, eh, Dour?" Mad H remarked from her desk. "Last time you got back from the Lord of the Rings continuum, you nearly smoked me, too."

Dour K shrugged, flinging aside the strap to her green duffel and tossing both the portal generator and her notebook onto the bag for the moment. "I was fleeing from a homicidal maniac this time. I really didn't have a chance to look where I was going."

Rile X paused. "You were doing what?"

Dour K felt her cheeks color. "I sort of gave myself away. Wouldn't you make a little noise if someone's head was hacked off right in front of you?"

Mad H got up and came over, looking strangely concerned. "This psycho-whatever-his-name-is, he saw you? And chased you?"

"Pretty much," Dour K replied warily. "Why?"

"That's not good," Rile X said, shaking his head, the mussed reports forgotten for the moment. "You interfered in the story flow. You know you have to go back in now and fix it, right?"

Dour K stared at him. "I have to what? Why?"

"This is a strictly observational department, Dour," Mad H explained. "We aren't supposed to meddle with the fics at all. When we do, it falls to us to go back and set things straight ourselves."

"What do you mean, 'set things straight'?" Dour K asked. This wasn't in the job description! she thought.

"Usually it's done by the other departments," Rile X clarified. "The Assassins slay their Sues, the Bad Slashers exorcise their demons, the Crossover specialists extricate their crossover elements, etc. etc. Observational departments like the DAVD defer to the Upstairs when it comes to fixing the various canons."

"But when we stick our noses into a fic and interrupt its flow," Mad H chimed in, "it's then our job to fix whatever the problem is."

Dour K nearly fell over. "But . . . but . . . I don't have any training in anything like that. Besides, what'm I supposed to do? Slay Legolas? He's canon!"

Mad H leaned in and patted her fellow agent reassuringly. "I've had to fix foibles before. Don't worry, it's not so bad. Here, lemme show you some of the other toys in the closet."

Leaving Rile X to finish cleaning up the reports, Dour K got up and followed Mad H over to the storage locker that her duffel was normally stored in. She realized that she was still wearing her disguise, a fact that had completely escaped her notice until just now. The other two agents didn't seem to care overmuch. Dour K shrugged to herself and swatted her long Elven hair out of her face. I suppose I'll probably need the disguise again in a bit, anyway, she thought.

Mad H opened the storage locker and reached past the other two duffels inside—her own red one, and Rile X's blue one—then pulled out a long black box. Setting the box carefully on the floor, Mad H unfastened its lid and opened it. Dour K blinked in surprise; nestled carefully inside the box was a weapon of some kind with a long, skinny barrel. A small clear box lay beside the weapon, and Dour K readily saw the feathered darts it contained. A tranquilizer gun, then.

"Where did we get this from?" Dour K asked in amazement.

Mad H smirked, hefting the weapon. "From Upstairs, back when I was new to the DAVD," she said. "I wasn't quite as sane back then as I am now."

And that's saying a lot, Dour K mused privately. "What am I supposed to do with it?" she asked.

"Firstly, take out your psychopath before he can slice 'n' dice you," Mad H told her matter-of-factly. "And then, you have to take care of any victims in the immediate vicinity."

Dour K thought of the dissected and beheaded King Thranduil, and she shuddered. "Um, what if the victim is dead?"

"Talk to the Fizz about that," Mad H said dismissively. "He'll tell you all about it."

"Who's the Fizz?" Dour K interjected.

"Physician Fizz R the Bizarre, the DAVD's own personal practitioner," the other agent explained. "He takes care of situations like this."

Dour K nodded, trying to look as though she understood. "Uh-huh. And why, exactly, do we need to fix the victim at all?"

Rile X answered, calling out from the other side of the Cell. "Think of it like this, Dour: a kind of 'nexus' formed at whatever point in which you interrupted the fic's flow. In order to dissolve the fic's universe and restore the canon—as we of the PPC are supposed to do—you not only have to mend or remove the source of the discrepancies, but you also have to repair any damage done within that nexus. After that, the fic's reality will break up, and the canon will snap back into line. Does that make any sense?"

Dour K shrugged. "I guess so." She plucked at her green dress. "Question: do I have to wear this, or will it matter if I change before I go?"

"I'd change, especially if your victim is a mess," Mad H suggested cryptically. Her grin had turned somewhat fiendish, and Dour K was not at all comforted.

Heading back to her duffel and unzipping it, Dour K looked back over at Mad H, who was busily loading the tranquilizer gun with a pair of darts. "What do I do after I change? Do I go see Fizz R, or do I go knock Psycho Legolas out first?"

"I'd go see the Fizz first," Rile X supplied from his desk, where he had returned with the pile of continuum reports he'd dropped. "He'll have a better idea of what to do when you revisit the fic."

Dour K pulled out her disguise-generator and activated it. Within seconds, she had reverted to her normal self, complete with short brown hair, a Sonic Flood T-shirt, and cargo pants. "Much better," she remarked. "That long hair gets to be a pain."

Mad H walked over and handed the tranquilizer gun to Dour K. "Just aim and pull the trigger," she said. "Only be careful not to hit the Fizz, or me, or even Rile."

"Thanks a lot, Mad," Rile muttered.

"Not a problem, Rile." Mad H grinned at her bespectacled fellow agent, then turned back to Dour K. "The Fizz's office is actually Upstairs. All you'll need are your portal generator and the gun. Quick now, get a move on!"

Dour K took in a breath and nodded, pulling out her portal generator and programming it appropriately. "Here goes nothing," she muttered, and activated the generator.

Just as she stepped into the gleaming portal, however, Rile X's voice floated through: "And don't forget the techno stuff!"

Dour K reappeared in a large laboratory with gleaming metal cabinets, a pair of metal tables, and strange devices situated haphazardly all over the place. It looked like something out of a bad Frankenstein movie. "Hello?" she called out tentatively. "Physician Fizz R?" The Bizarre, she remembered, and suddenly wondered what Mad H had meant by that.

A reedy middle-aged man with unkempt gray hair and large glasses swept into the room, appearing quite suddenly from a doorway on the other side of the lab. "Why, hello!" he called cheerfully. "What can I do for you, dearie?"

"I'm Dour K from the DAVD," the agent explained, going to meet the man halfway. She stuck out a hand. "Are you Physician Fizz R?"

"Fizz R the Bizarre, that's me!" the physician replied, giving Dour K a hearty handshake. "But you can call me Fizz. Are you new to the department?"

"Pretty new," Dour K answered. She was starting to like the chipper physician, despite the strange stains on his white lab coat. I Don't even want to know what this guy does all day.

"Well then, welcome! You've caught me in the middle of a project, but I can take some time out. What brings you up to my humble little habitat?" Fizz R asked.

"Well, Mad H said I should come see you. I kinda screwed up and muddled a fic," Dour K told him. "It's a torture-murder piece, and I interrupted right after a murder. Mad said you would know what to do about fixing it. The continuum, I mean."

Fizz R nodded, stroking his pointed chin with one hand. "A murder, eh? Messy?"

Dour K grimaced. "Yeah. Very."

"Then we'll probably have to bring the victim back here to fix him or her up." Fizz R went over to a metal cabinet and swung the doors open, revealing an interior packed with all kinds of supplies. He pulled out two sets of rubber gloves, two face masks, and a pair of yellow smocks. "We'll need these," he muttered, handing two gloves, a mask, and a smock to Dour K.

"Sir, I think I should clarify something," Dour K said hurriedly. "The victim is dead. As in, sliced, diced, and beheaded."

"That sounds most unhealthy," Fizz R clucked. "Come on, dear, get your gear on and open the portal. We should get straight to business!"

Dour K shrugged. Maybe he'll get a better understanding of the word "dead" after he sees the mess Psycho Legolas made, she thought. She wasn't sure she'd be able to operate the tranquilizer gun with the gloves and smock on, so she handed them to the physician. "I'll put 'em on once Psycho Legolas is down and out," she said. The mask, however, she donned immediately; she hadn't been able to really smell the torture room before she'd left, since she'd been in it for a while, but she sure didn't want to get hit by a blast of stench on her return.

That done, Dour K cradled the tranquilizer gun against her right hip and held out her portal generator. "Here we go," she announced.

They stepped through the portal . . .

. . . and ended up back in the room with the vat of oil. Dour K swiftly caught sight of Psycho Legolas, who was at the opposite end of the room, busily carving his angel-with-devil's-horns signature into Thranduil's burned flesh. Thank the Valar I didn't arrive standing in a pile of guts! Dour K thought morbidly. She brought her tranquilizer gun to bear, then pulled the trigger, eager to knock Psycho Legolas out as quickly as possible.

She had intended to hit the prince squarely between the shoulder blades, but her aim was off, and the dart sailed over to embed itself in Psycho Legolas' shoulder. The Elf leapt to his feet and whirled around, glaring furiously. He took one step toward Dour K and Fizz R, then collapsed in an undignified heap, barely missing the edge of the oil vat as he fell. He did not move again.

Dour K let out the breath she'd been holding. "That was fast," she muttered, lowering the gun and shoving her portal generator back into her pocket.

Fizz R was already moving past her, pushing the gloves and smock into her free hand. "Nice shot. Put those on, dear," he said absently.

Dour K leaned the tranquilizer gun against the wall and complied. "See what I mean?" she asked. "King Thranduil is pretty much a goner, isn't he? What are we supposed to do about that?"

"Oh, nonsense," Fizz R answered her, stepping over a pile of cooling entrails to kneel beside Thranduil's headless corpse. "He's a canon character, isn't he? They can't really die."

Dour K laughed uneasily. "Um, that would be his head lying over there against the wall," she pointed out. "Traditionally, people who have lost their heads are dead."

"Not in the realm of fic," Fizz R insisted. "Trust me on this. Canon characters can be made to think they're dead, but they can't really die. Watch." He reached down, and to Dour K's horror, he shook the corpse's shoulder. "King Thranduil, wake up! I know you can hear me. Wake up and show the nice young lady that you aren't really dead!"

Dour K stared at the physician. She was starting to really freak out. Fizz R the Bizarre, indeed! The guy was nuttier than a fruitcake! "Fizz, I'm telling you, he's not going to wake up! Even if he did, how would he hear you? His head is all the way over th—" Her words froze in her throat. She was looking at King Thranduil's head, which was lying so that she could see part of his face.

And he was looking back at her.

Dour K screeched and jumped backward, smacking straight into the wall. "It's . . . it's . . . " she sputtered.

"Alive?" Fizz R supplied.

Dour K nodded jerkily, feeling as though her eyes were about to pop out of her skull. Her mouth hung open most impolitely; not that anyone would have noticed, as the entire lower half of her face was obscured by the mask. To make matters worse, the head's glazed eyes blinked at her, looking mightily confused. "Stop that!" the agent shrieked.

Fizz R glanced over at her. "Stop what?" he asked.

She pointed at the offending object. "It's blinking at me! Make it stop!" she shrilled.

The physician looked over at the head, then back at Dour K. "What shall I do, dearie?" he asked kindly. "Kill him again?"

The humor blew past Dour K completely. "Well, what else can we do with it? It's a head! A dead head!" she piped, her voice still several notes higher than was its wont.

"We need to take him back to the lab so we can put him back together," Fizz R replied, remarkably cheerful considering the circumstances. The physician finished piling Thranduil's guts on top of his mutilated carcass, then grabbed the Elvenking's limp hands. "Okay, dear, if you would fetch me a portal, we can be off. And grab his head, will you? My hands are rather full."

Dour K stood up, shaking her head violently. "Ooooh, no, I'm not touching that thing."

Fizz R sighed. "If I have to come back and get it myself, Dour dear, the poor king here will suffer that much longer. Do you really want that?"

"I am not. Touching. That. Head!" Dour K shrieked.

The physician directed a surprisingly snappish glare at the younger agent. "Dour K, subordinate mine, open a portal, fetch the head, and be quick about it! We don't have all day here!"

Dour K gulped, surprised at his abrupt change in tone, and yanked her portal generator out of her pocket. Her hands were somewhat unwieldy in the gloves—which were two sizes too big—but she managed to activate the generator. A glittery portal appeared near Fizz R, who nodded appreciatively. "Thank you, m'dear," he said, carefully hauling the corpse toward the portal. "Quickly now, grab the head, before the portal closes behind me and you're left here alone with it."

Those words were enough to make Dour K squeak with fright. She grabbed the tranquilizer gun and hastily walked over to the adjacent wall, then stiffly bent down and slipped her gloved fingers through a clump of the Elvenking's matted hair. She squeezed her eyes shut and straightened up, holding the head out in front of her, walking as steadily as she could toward the portal, where Fizz R and his burden were just vanishing. This is not a head, this is not a head, this is a potted plant, a nice potted plant, Dour K chanted to herself, willing herself not to open her eyes and look at the object she was carrying. This is not a head . . . .

Dour K felt a rush of familiar tingling, and a gust of cool air blew across her face as she rematerialized in Fizz R's lab. She was so relieved to be out of that awful torture room that she momentarily forgot what she was holding, and opened her eyes.

The head blinked at her.

Dour K shrieked so loudly her own eardrums rang. She nearly flung the head away, but Fizz R was there immediately to take it from her. "Thank you, dearie, thank you much," he murmured. "I'll handle it from here. You may as well stay, though, because you'll have to neuralyze him and return him to the continuum when I'm done."

"Can I take off the smock and stuff?" Dour K asked shakily, looking everywhere but at the head in the physician's hands.

"You can take off the gloves, but you may want to keep the smock and mask on for a few more minutes," Fizz R answered, walking over and carefully setting the head on a tray next to the corpse, which had been laid out on one of the tables. "Just until I cram his organs back in, you see. After that, it should be safe to take off the protective gear."

Dour K had just finished peeling off her gloves, which turned out to be a good thing, because at that moment she clapped a hand over her mouth. Her face abruptly turned a unique shade of green. "I think . . . I'm gonna puke . . . " she moaned.

"Bathroom's that way, dearie," Fizz R told her, gesturing with one blood-covered glove.

Dour K had never run so fast or with such urgency in her entire life.

By the time Dour K had recovered sufficiently to return to the main lab, Fizz R had finished patching together Thranduil's body. He had even used some dermal regenerators and other medical equipment from the Star Trek continuum to repair the tissues without leaving any scars. The corpse looked, for all intents and purposes, intact.

Except for the head. Dour K studiously refused to look at it. She sank down on a stool and leaned against the counter farthest from the table where Fizz R was working. "What now?" she asked faintly.

Fizz R looked up. "Ah, you're back. Are you feeling any better?" he asked.

"No," she answered bluntly. "What are you going to do about . . . about the . . . ?"

"The head?" Fizz R finished for her. "I'm going to re-attach it, dearie, what else?"

"How?" Dour K asked.

Fizz R's eyes crinkled above his mask, and Dour K realized he was smiling. "Trade secret, dear," he said cheerily. He held up a large squeeze-bottle filled with a white, viscous fluid. "I'm going to glue it back on."

Dour K almost laughed at the absurdity. "Right. You're just gonna slap a gluestick to that sucker and call it a day?"

"Essentially," Fizz R agreed. He picked up Thranduil's head and turned it upside-down, exposing the fibrous red innards of the neck, and applied a generous amount of glue. Once that was done, the physician flipped the head over so that the face was turned upwards, and then—as casually as one might plug a cord into an outlet—he pressed the head to the shoulders and held it there. "Now, to let it dry," he said with a grin. He looked mighty pleased with himself.

Dour K stared at the physician. "You are the weirdest person I've ever met," she told him.

"Comes with the job, dear," he answered, winking at her. "So, was this your first job?"

"No, actually," Dour K said. She felt her cheeks coloring with embarrassment. "I've been with the DAVD for a while now. I just hadn't ever witnessed such a gory scene before."

Fizz R nodded sympathetically. "Yes, the first time is hard on everyone. Just be glad you haven't been sent to one of the horror-flick continua. You wouldn't believe some of the patch-up jobs that've come out of those places." The physician thought for a few moments. "Matter of fact, I've had to mend a number of agents, as well."

Dour K looked at him in horror. "You didn't ever have to . . . you know . . . glue an agent's head back on, did you?"

"Oh, no, of course not!" Fizz R chuckled. "I'm afraid that any agent who loses his or her head in a continuum will remain quite dead. The no-dying rule only applies to fictitious canon characters."

"Good to know. I think." Dour K pulled herself to her feet and wandered over to the table. She wasn't nearly as grossed-out now that Thranduil's head was more or less attached to his body again. "How long until the glue dries?"

"It's fast-acting. I think it should be just about done," the physician replied. He carefully took his hands from the Elvenking's head. "Don't bump the table, Dour dear, or his head might fall off again."

Dour K backed up a few steps. "Is he . . . um, awake?"

Fizz R shrugged. "Should be." He looked down at the seemingly insensate body on the table. "Your Majesty? Don't try to move your head yet, but open your eyes and say something. The poor young lady here is worried sick about you." Dour K shot him a glare for the wordplay, but Fizz R feigned innocence.

Thranduil's eyes fluttered open, and he blinked up at the physician. "Who are you?" he asked. His voice was a scratchy whisper. Dour K figured his vocal cords had taken quite a shredding. She hoped that Fizz R's weird glue would repair the damage.

" . . . not important, really," Fizz R was saying. "Suffice to say, you'll be ship-shape in just a few moments, and then we can send you home."

The Elvenking obviously wasn't satisfied with that answer. His dark gray eyes narrowed, and he shifted as though trying to sit up. "Where am I, and how did you bring me here? Where is my son?"

"Not here, which is a good thing for all of us," Dour K muttered. She caught Thranduil's confused glance. Ah, yes, the famed Elven hearing finally kicks in.

"I think you can sit up now," Fizz R told the king. "Just be careful. Don't want to jar your head loose again."

Thranduil gave him a raised eyebrow, but sat up gingerly and looked around. "Is this Valinor?" he asked dubiously.

Dour K almost laughed. "Hardly," she said, rolling her eyes. "Welcome to the place furthest from Valinor."

Thranduil shook his head slowly. "I do not understand. The last thing that I recall is Legolas pouring salt on my . . . ." His eyes flared with shocked memory. "Why am I not dead?" he demanded. "Are you wizards of some sort? Where are we?"

"Calm down, your Majesty," Fizz R said soothingly. "Everything will be made clear in a few moments."

The Elvenking seemed about to snap out a reply, but was suddenly convulsed in coughing. Dour K winced at the hoarse, gritty sound; it was so unnatural for an Elf. Thranduil was as surprised as anyone, especially when his hand came away filled with flakes of dried glue.

"Slight side effect," Fizz R explained matter-of-factly, holding out a small wastebasket for disposal of the glue flakes.

Thranduil slowly brushed the flakes from his hands and gave Dour K a hard stare. The agent let out a tiny meep. She'd joked about the Elvenking's Glare of Death™, but when it came down to it, Thranduil's stare was nothing to laugh about. Fizz R was rummaging in a drawer, oblivious to his younger colleague's predicament.

"Who are you?" Thranduil asked, narrowing his eyes at Dour K.

Before Dour K could even begin to formulate an answer, Fizz R found what he was looking for. Coming around to stand beside Dour K, the older agent gave her a pair of sunglasses. "Put these on, dear," he ordered, replacing his own spectacles with shades. He raised a metallic tube between himself and Thranduil. Dour K recognized the neuralyzer from the Men in Black universe. She hastily shoved the sunglasses onto her face.

"Now, your Majesty," Fizz R was saying. "This is a device that will answer your questions very simply and easily. All you have to do is look right here for a moment."

Thranduil looked puzzled, an expression that didn't sit well on his sharply chiseled features. Dour K suspected he didn't often have cause to be confused. "Is it some sort of wizard's charm?" he asked, looking where the physician had indicated.

He would never get an answer. Fizz R activated the neuralyzer, and a bright flash of light illuminated the room. Dour K saw Thranduil's eyes widen, then relax into a glazed trance-like state.

"There," Fizz R murmured, sticking the neuralyzer into his pocket and removing his sunglasses. "Dour dear, give him a new memory, and he'll be free to return to his canon."

Dour K looked from Thranduil to Fizz R and back again. "A new memory? What should I tell him?" she asked.

Fizz R shrugged. "Whatever you like. Just make it halfway plausible."

Dour K scratched at her head for a moment, thinking. "Okay, um, King Thranduil, this has all been a really horrible dream. If you ever do remember anything about it, you'll laugh it off and tell your son what an absurd dream you had, and you'll both think it's hilarious, because I'm sure this will all be much funnier a thousand years from now." Thranduil blinked dazedly. Dour K looked at Fizz R. "How was that?" she asked.

The physician came over, wiping his hands on his lab coat. "It was all right, dear. Now, did you bring along the tranquilizer gun? Good, good. Then you can just open a portal and shove him through it, and your job will be done!"

Dour K hastily pulled out her portable portal-generator and activated it. "In you go, King Thranduil," she said, feeling much more cheerful than she had in recent hours.

The Elvenking slipped off of the table and approached the portal slowly. "What is it?" he asked, somewhat bewildered.

"Doesn't matter," Dour K answered. She herded him through it, quite a remarkable feat considering the fact that Thranduil was at least a foot taller than she was. The neuralyzer must have thoroughly stunned him, she thought. The king disappeared through the glimmering portal, and was gone.

Dour K switched off the portal generator and sighed. "Well, that's over." A sudden thought hit her, and she looked over at Fizz R. "Wait a second. Isn't he back in the torture room now with the drugged-up Psycho Legolas? Maybe I should have—"

The physician shook his head. "No, no, dearie," he chuckled. "It's one of the rules of canon. You knocked Legolas unconscious, thereby removing the active center of the canon distortion. You—or rather, I—reversed the nearest effect of that distortion, which was Thranduil's murder. Now that he's been returned, the entire canon has snapped back into place."

Dour K thought for a moment. "I'll take your word for it," she sighed. "Although I wonder how long the canon will stay in line."

"Not for long, dear," Fizz R replied cheerily. "Don't worry, though; if you ever need me, I'll be here, ready to glue on heads as necessary!"

"Uh, thanks." Dour K picked up the tranquilizer gun and reprogrammed her portable portal-generator with the Cell's coordinates. "It was nice to meet you, Fizz, and thanks for fixing up Thranduil."

"My pleasure, dear," the physician told her warmly. "Do enjoy the rest of your day, and try not to upset your stomach again!"

Dour K gave a feeble smile. "Sure. See you later." She opened a portal and stepped through it. As glad as she was to be going back to more familiar surroundings, she was going to miss Fizz R. He may be the weirdest kook ever to walk the face of the PPC, but at least he was nice, she thought. In a strange way, she hoped she would have a reason to see him again sometime.

Back in the Cell, Rile X folded his arms and glared at the newly-arrived agent through his spectacles. "Don't tell me," he growled. "You forgot to ask about the techno upgrade. Again."

Dour K grimaced morosely. I wonder if Fizz has any more heads he needs me to carry . . . .

Many thanks to Madame Cam for hosting the DAVD on her lovely site, and as always, thanks to the brave souls at the original PPC for their hard work.

Also, an update on my previous venture into "If I Die Before I wake" . . . the story was finished a short time ago, and no, it did not improve. The author threw together a hurried "an-evil-counselor-impersonated-Thranduil-so-it-wasn't-really-Thranduil-beating-up-on-Legolas" explanation at the very last moment, and of course, the Mary Sue was present in all her pregnant glory right up until the very end. Gag me.

If anyone finds a story worthy of the DAVD's attention, please email my nicer alter ego at katharinethegreatlady@hotmail.com, and she will pass along the message to me. Thank you all for your support!

~Dour K