Though the battle around her was bloody and cruel, Sadie MacGregor fought fair. That went without saying, perhaps -- that even in the middle of a bloody battle she was Marquis of Queensbury style, all the way. It made no difference to her conscience. She wasn't supposed to be involved at all. Not this way.
A Barnling ran shrieking at her with a weapon made from a broom handle and two garden forks, and she simply felled him with a well-placed sock to the chin. That was how you do it. The Barnling was unconscious, but would recover. Sadie checked the sleeping man's conscience and noted that he'd been padding his hours for weeks. That was morally wrong, and yet Sadie felt a brief flicker of sympathetic triumph on the man's behalf for ripping off the DIY Barn.
This mission. It had… It had weakened her. Watered down her resolve. Done something to her, anyway. The only consolation was that it had done the same thing to her sister.
Sadie's thoughts were cut short by the sight of poor Adam running from a silver-clad Barnling trooper, armed with a petrol-drive hedge trimmer. Sadie's doubts faded. She took chase, plotting how to tackle the trooper without anyone losing an arm.
Angela MacGregor was pinned down by sniper fire from the roof of the Barn. She was in a little cul-de-sac of abandoned pallets next to Gwen Harper, who we were all now calling the Phantasm, apparently.
"Young Axel was an even bigger shitheel than our Axel," the Phantasm muttered.
"True. The amount of moral improvement Axel has undergone in last few years of his life has been phenomenal," Sadie said. "But he still hasn't quite reached the level of 'basically good'. I admire that."
The Phantasm wrenched a length of wood from a palette, balanced her hat on it and pushed it up over the top of their cover. The soft wood was instantly cracked in two by a bullet. The Phantasm swore loudly.
"Those bastards! Kill a defenseless plank."
"At least your hat's okay," Angela said.
"So what's your deal?" the Phantasm said. "You some sort of demon?"
"No. But that's the closest you'll get to understanding, so… I guess, yes."
"Don't give me that 'best you can understand shit. I'm no human, I'm a bloody dryad."
A smile played across Sadie's thin lips.
"Well there's nothing between us and the loading dock but wood."
Gwen grinned beneath her white mask. "Good point."
The hedgetrimmer man was dispatched. Good. Sadie could see that the man was cruel to animals and... never phoned his mother? It was getting harder and harder to pick out little details like that in the roiling moral stew that surrounded her.
For a brief moment, no one was trying to kill her, so Sadie closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling rather than seeing the topography of sin and virtue. She opened her eyes again. Betrayal. Multiple layers of betrayal. Trickery, murder, revenge…
Where? Behind the dinosaur that Axel was falling off? Yes. Yes. On the other side of the Barn. It was...
It was Angela.
Angela was in trouble.
She hesitated, but only for a moment. Then fast as she could, she ran through the fight in the direction of the Barn. A Barnling tried to block her, but she kneed him right in the balls.
Gwen the Phantasm sang to the wood, and the wood listened and responded. Soon, there was a tunnel of pallets between Angela, Gwen and the rear entrance to the Barn. As they raced down the tunnel, the roof was struck again and again by sniper fire.
Angela stopped still for a moment. She saw splinters cascade off the brim of the Phantasm's hat, but none of the bullets struck the dryad. Sadie took a deep breath, shook her head and hurried on.
They reached the loading dock in seconds. Angela climbed the stairs, while the Phantasm leapt nimbly up.
"Moves pretty well, for a big girl," Angela whispered.
Inside the loading Barn, they ran into a silver guard. He looked more confused than anything and though he had a gun in his hand, Angela could see that more than anything he wanted to betray the Barn and run screaming away.
Angela shrugged at him. "If not now, when?"
The guard sprinted away.
"Over here!" the Phantasm called. Angela looked, and saw the younger Axel Platzoff fighting with Christian. Christian had clearly taken a hit or two, but Axel was seriously on the back foot, barely able to defend himself from Christian's fearsome blows.
"Help me!" Axel shouted.
"Christian! What did he do to you?" the Phantasm bawled, reaching for a nearby broom handle.
Sadie smashed through the enemy lines and ran for the Barn. The Barn carpark should have been full of the cars of the Barnlings, but it was empty save for a huge semi-trailer. Sadie ignored it.
There were no guards between the battle and the front of the Barn. Sadie wondered what the Barnlings expected to do if someone broke through their lines. Shout 'offside!' and wait for the referee's whistle? But a crunching sound and that odd sensation that mortals called 'pain' told her that there was some sort of defensive barrier.
Sadie looked down and saw that her leg was stuck in a bear trap. She frowned in annoyance. It was quite a powerful trap, and her shinbone was shorn nearly through. Sadie put a hand on either side of the jaws and pushed hard. The teeth met with a clank, sheering her leg through completely. The flesh fell to the ground, leaving nothing but a glowing white outline where it had been.
Sadie ran onwards to the Barn door. She kicked it off its runners with her glowing foot.
Angela watched the moral ebb and flow in confusion. Betrayal and loyalty. Freedom and oppression. Revenge and retribution. And an unfocussed desire to just blow stuff up, that mainly seemed to be radiating from Axel.
"I didn't attack him!" Axel shouted, pointing at Christian. "He's a slave of the Barn!"
The Phantasm looked at Christian. "Is that true?"
"Call me, maybe," Christian said. "Don't have a cow, man. Incentivation!"
"Good enough for me!" the Phantasm said, launching herself at Axel.
Not to be outdone, Christian piled on as well. Axel collapsed under the weight of his attackers, the three of them forming an undignified scrimmage on the concrete floor. There was not nothing and no one between Angela and the enormous hydrogen tank.
And it was down to her. Her alone. Set fire to the tank and destroy the Barn. Leave it be and risk the destruction of the Pavilion. What was to happen next was Angela MacGregor's moral choice.
A silver guard came flying out from an aisle of barbecue accessories. He hit the ground and slid across the floor, coming to a stop by the rear wall. The guard was followed by Sadie, in her ragged prison uniform.
"Sister," Angela said.
"I see you have injured your leg."
"Yes. My flesh-body will not last much longer. I see yours is well."
Angela laughed mirthlessly and opened her jacket. There was a hole just below her collar bone where the sniper's bullet had struck. It black smoke curled lazily from the wound.
"I am as doomed as you." Angela stared at the tank. "What should I do?"
"I… I don't… Know…"
"Nor I," Angela said. "I've never made a moral choice before. I'm the devil on the shoulder and you the angel. We say our lines and others make the call. But you made a moral choice, once?"
"To take the fall for Axel," Sadie whispered. "It didn't go well. I see why mortals are so loathe to make such choices. On the plus side, I think I helped some of my fellow prisoners to choose the path of reform."
Angela looked at the hopeless struggling mass of her allies. From the middle of the writhing pile, she heard the word "seriously?" but she didn't know who said it.
"Well we have to make a choice now," Sadie said. "For good or evil."
"Right or wrong. Which of us shall make the call?"
"Both. On three: one… two… three!"
At the same moment the twins spoke: "Blow it up."
The confused wrestling match had devolved into an exhausted tangle. Sadie took a fire extinguisher from the wall, and sprayed cold CO2 over the struggling Pavilionites. The fighters fell apart, complaining bitterly.
"Get out, all of you," Sadie said. "Old Laura is still out back somewhere, keeping the Barnlings pinned down. Find her and she'll get you to safety."
"I'm seriously injured," Axel sulked.
"I'm physically okay, but I'm still pretty brainwashed, you know?" Christian added, nodding furiously. "Purple monkey dishwasher."
"Two cases of man flu!" The Phantasm sneered. "I'll get them away. Good luck -- you odd, odd ladies."
As the Phantasm helped the others out of the loading dock, the sisters approached the giant container. Sadie produced an old-fashioned cigarette lighter from the pocket of her apron. Angela took a small hatchet from a display.
"I did not think it would end like this," Sadie said.
"It never ends, sister."
"You know what I mean. How it ends for us."
"It's not the end for us, either."
"It's the end of us and the Handy Pavilion."
Angela breathed in deeply. "Perhaps… Perhaps we should not have interfered in the Pavilion. Perhaps we should have let events run their course."
To Angela's surprise, Sadie closed her eyes and nodded. "Perhaps. But it is done now, and there is no going back. Lesser beings may play with time, but there is no escape for us in that direction."
Sadie opened her eyes again. "Time to face the light," she said. With that, she swung her axe at the huge tank. It dented, but didn't break. She swung again and again, finally making a small hole. Angela hesitated with the lighter. She didn't care for brightness as her sister did. But that was the wonderful thing about the darkness: it always returned, just as soon as the light went away.
She smiled with false bravado as she flicked the wheel of the lighter.