Sandra ducked back under the tree branch and paused for a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the gloom. Her partners (if that was the word) were still where she'd left them, waiting for her report.

"The Fellowship are heading this way," she said, gesturing back towards the river. "They've finished building their pointless bridge - held together by the Sue's bra strap, if you can believe it - and they're finally ready to head up the mountain."

Excellent work, the Sunflower Official told her. And how do you intend to excise the infestation?

Sandra shrugged. "Normally, with a Tenth Walker in Hollin, I'd get Freckles to distract the canons while I read the charge list out. That's not really going to be possible here."

Correct me if I'm wrong, the Coriander said, and please don't allow me to continue in error, but surely it is the case that your partner, Alison, who you also refer to as 'Blemishes', is in fact and in truth currently residing in Medical precisely because of, and indeed due to, the plan you have just outlined, wherein she distracts the characters and keeps them from-

"Yes," Sandra said, then swallowed. "Ma'am. But the point is, I can't exactly send you out there to-"

Whyever not? the SO asked. I'm quite certain I could provide an adequate distraction.

Sandra resisted the urge to scream, Because the whole reason you're following me around is because you don't know what it's like out here anymore! Instead, she took a deep breath, met the Sunflower's gaze - insofar as that were possible - and said, "Because if I get you killed, I would be out of a job. Sir."

Not at all, the Sunflower demurred, waving a leaf. The Queen Anne's Lace, for instance, would be delighted to have you, I'm sure.

Sandra gritted her teeth. The Flower had been antagonising her ever since he and the Coriander showed up in her RC, claiming that they needed to 'observe agent operating methods in the field, to determine what, if anything, need be changed'. She wasn't entirely sure it was deliberate, but on the other hand, she wasn't inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

If I might interject with an interruption, the Coriander said, her tone thoughtful, would I be correct in thinking, and voicing my conclusion, that this chapter is the final, ultimate, or last chapter of the story in which we are currently situated?

"... currently situated," Sandra mumbled, trying to parse the question. "Uh... yes, ma'am, it's the last chapter."

As I deduced, or perhaps recalled. The Coriander spread out her leaves, angling them towards the Words. And would it be both accurate and correct if I were to state my belief that the current time, being the portion of the story or badfic in which we are waiting, is in fact close to the final line and end of both chapter and scene, which could be said to be imminent, or indeed upon us?

"... come again?"

The Coriander shook herself irritably. To the Hole with this, she growled. Agent Cassandra: the story is almost over. Do you have time to do the Duty?

Sandra frowned and looked up at the Words. Her eyes widened. "You could have said something!"

I did, in fact-

"No time!" Grabbing her bow from where it lay, Sandra ran back through the trees, not heeding the branches that snagged at her hair and jacket. "Not gonna have time to charge her," she panted, leaping over a rock. "Come on, come on..."

She reached the bluff overlooking the old road and skidded to a halt, already nocking an arrow to her bow. She took a crucial second to aim at the distant Sue, loosed-

Laurel smiled as she watched Aragorn stride ahead of the Fellowship. This was going to be a grand adventure.

-and the arrow splintered in mid-air as if striking an invisible wall. Sandra let out an inarticulate cry and fired a second shot, with no better result.

I did try to warn you.

Sandra whirled on the Coriander, tears running down her face. "You could have said something sooner!" she yelled. "You could have stopped using that stupid redundancy!"

Some of us have reputations to maintain, the Flower said, and waved a leaf towards the departing Fellowship. This is only one story out of millions, child. The true Fellowship will barely notice your miserable failure.

Sandra glared at her. "And what about me? Will I barely notice?"

You will probably become exceptionally depressed and have to be admitted to FicPsych, the Sunflower Official said, emerging from the forest. I will, of course, find this course of events extremely troubling. Shall we return to HQ so you can get started?


Disclaimer: The PPC belongs to Jay and Acacia. The 'badfic' mentioned in this excerpt is entirely my own invention.

Author's Note: This story was written for the Fifth Monthlyish PPC Writing Challenge, 'Precedent', which challenged writers to break precedent. Precedents broken in this story: