The Tribunal: The Smallest Schuster

 

Peter Schuster

 

Peter Schuster 2022

 

Peter Schuster San Francisco

 

Peter Schuster New York City

 

Petey Schuster

 

Pete Schuster

 

  1. Schuster

 

Drusilla and Petey had never been close. One was the bad seed, the rogue child, the boy unwilling or incapable of doing the right thing — or that’s what everyone told her. Drusilla, by contrast, was the golden child, the sweet girl. That virtue, the lack of sin in her heart, needed to be virtuously guarded after Peter had left.

 

And then Benjamin. Bartholomew went with him.

 

And Susanna.

 

So now all she could do was search for her lost siblings on the web. There was a grainy photo of Benny in some social media profile for a coffee shop social that had taken her hours of dedicated searching to find. Susanna was on the staff page for some restaurant. That was it.

 

There used to be traces of Petey, too. Nothing recent, nothing that showed where he was, but a birth certificate. Childhood records.

 

One day, those all vanished, and Drusilla couldn’t tell why.

 

It wasn’t like she didn’t have family. There was still Paul, who had taken up the trial of watching over her. There were still a few Schusters left, even if the rest were sinners who had been scattered to the wind.


Drusilla’s name was meant to be a reminder of that sin. Drusilla was a tempestuous woman in the Bible who had lied and cheated. It was in her nature, and that why she had seduced men and brought ruin wherever she went.


It was in Drew’s nature too.

 

Paul was watching the TV downstairs, and so Drew took the risk of poring over that grainy photo, that restaurant staff page, and her Google searches.


It was all she had left of something that had once meant the world to her.

 

There was a crash. Drew jumped to her feet, wondering if she should explore or stay put. If it was Paul, she didn’t want to be anywhere near him. Not when he was like this.

 

“Drusilla!” Paul’s voice rang with that note of command, the one he’d inherited from their father.

 

She closed out of the browser, opened a text file about schoolwork, and slammed the laptop lid shut. “Coming!” she shouted back, scrambling to her feet and down the stairs.

 

“Good,” Paul’s voice had a dangerous edge to it. He was angry. Not at Drew, but he was angry.

 

She turned the corner into the living room, trying to smile and look pleasant. And then she saw the TV. It was hewn in half, as cleanly as if a laser had cut through it. “Oh my God -” Drew clasped both hands to her mouth, eyes wide.

 

Paul lifted one hand and stared at it, not turning to face her. “Speak not the Lord’s name in vain, Drusilla.”

 

“Yes, Paul. Sorry, Paul.” She squeaked. Something was definitely wrong. “Did you… E-emerge? Should I call… 911? The Legion?”

“No,” he growled. “The Legion has betrayed us. The Oathkeeper embraces sin, endorses it. She’s my enemy now. Our enemy.”

 

“I… I don’t understand, what happened?” Drew’s hands were shaking. “I… you always liked her, liked the Legion, I –”

“The ‘Oathkeeper’,” Paul spat the name, “is a homosexual and bigamist. Admitted this on national television, with no apology. Said it wasn’t sin.”

 

“Oh.” Drew said, standing there with no idea of what to do, or say. First there was Petey, then Benjamin and Barthlomew, and Noah, and then Susanna… And now the Oathkeeper was out, as fringe as she was to Drew’s life. “And she’s wrong, right?”

“She is so wrong,” Paul clenched his hand into a fist. “Drusilla, for a moment I was filled with righteous anger, and the Lord gave unto me power and symbols of faith, a sure sign. Moments later, these symbols, the strength– they were gone. But my path is clear, my enemy has revealed itself. I need only find the Lord’s strength again.”

 

“…Let me see it.” Drew said, turning towards the stairs. “Let me see the conference. I’ll load it. Maybe you just need to watch it again? Maybe that’s your um, Emergence thing? You just have to watch that video?”

“No, that is not the way,” Paul muttered. “The power came from inside me and outside me, in response as it happened. But you should watch the video, Drusilla. See how false righteousness parades itself all over the highest echelons of our society. And see how far our prodigal brother has fallen. Peter was there.”

 

“Peter?!” Drew turned, unable to hide her excitement. “You saw Peter? He was there? Oh my God, Peter, thank God, I thought he was dead!”

Paul turned to face her, his eyes blazing with rage.

 

“Paul, this is a miracle.” Drew pleaded. “I’ve been looking for him for years, I just… isn’t this good? We’ve found him? Maybe if we… if we talk to him…”

“Watch the video, Drusilla. You will understand.” There was a hidden threat in that statement. You will understand… or else.

 

“…Okay. Okay.” Drew turned and scurried back up to her room. She pulled her laptop under her pink and white duvet and typed Oathkeeper controversy and then hit News.


There was a press conference. The crowd was silent as Oathkeeper stood on stage, talking.

 

“My name is Alice McGowan, and I’ve been married for twenty years, but I’m queer, and I’m in a polyamorous relationship with another woman.”

 

Drew’s heart skipped so violently and her world lurched from the shock. By the time she recovered, Oathkeeper was still talking. “There is no sin in being queer. There is no Hell, and if there was, being queer wouldn’t send you there. I encourage everyone to be open and honest with themselves, and I can’t do that unless I lead the charge.”

This was…

 

This was a sin. Right?

But she was the Oathkeeper, and she… she looked happy.

 

And then a small figure flew onto the stage.

 

The creature wrapping skinny arms around the Oathkeeper’s neck, hugging her like a family member, pride in their eyes. Looking at her like she’d seen other children look at their parents, with unreserved love and vicarious joy.

 

He’d grown up, certainly. He didn’t look quite the same as that spindly pre-teen that Drusilla remembered, but… it was him.

 

That was Petey. Hugging the Oathkeeper like he never once hugged his own mother.

 

She looked happy. Petey looked happy. This didn’t make sense. Drew began to type.

 

Peter Schuster Oathkeeper

 

Petey Schuster Infinity Legion

 

Nothing. She paused, typed again.

 

Oathkeeper kids


Oathkeeper stage companions

 

Oathkeeper friends

 

Oathkeeper sidekick

There! His face, attached to an interview. But the name was all wrong. ‘Nat Zygoptera’? There was a Legion codename, too. ‘Damselfly’. This was all wrong, but there was Petey’s face. Grinning, charming, covered in elaborate makeup. “I never would have expected to make friends with the Oathkeeper,” said the excerpt text.

 

Her heart was slamming against her rib cage. There were… weird typos on the text page. “Ey said”. It didn’t matter. She was so close.

 

Nat Zygoptera contact


Nat Zygoptera phone number

 

Damselfly email

 

Damselfly contact

 

There. On his public Legion Profile page, just below a video of him contact juggling a clear plastic ball.

 

damselfly@legion.gov

 

Drew swallowed hard. Paul would expect her to come down any second now and start talking about how terrible this all was.

 

She typed a subject line: DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR LITTLE SISTER?, addressed it to the Damselfly, and took a deep breath.

 

I miss you.

 

What else was there to write? She wanted to spill a novel of secrets.

 

“Drusilla!” Paul’s voice was closer. At the bottom of the stairs. “Did you watch the video!”

 

Oh no.

 

I want to talk to you, even if its just once. I don’t have a phone. But you can email me. I love you.

 

She hit send and shut the browser down. “Yeah!” she calls, moving to the stairs and trying to look angry. “It’s terrible.”

 

The reply arrived within the hour, but Drew didn’t see it until she’d made dinner for Paul and cleaned up.

 

Her heart leapt as she opened her e-mail and saw ‘Re: DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR LIT…’ waiting in her inbox. She opened it to find a curt reply:

 

I remember you.

Please don’t tell the others about me, especially mom & dad.

Love you too. Hope you get out soon.

 

~Nat

 

P.S. – Especially don’t tell Paul.

 

She wasn’t allowed to be on the computer this late. Tears sprung into her eyes. Was that a rejection?

She typed back, trying to make the click of key pressing against finger as quiet as possible.

 

Paul saw you on the TV. He cut the TV in half. He said God helped him do it.


I don’t think you’re horrible. I miss you so much. I’m sorry I messaged you if you don’t want to talk to me.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get out.

 

She pressed send and listened for any movements in the house.

 

What she heard wasn’t movement, it was muttering. Paul was… chanting? Reciting bible verses. Old Testament ones, mean ones. He didn’t used to do that. Maybe he thought they’d give him the power he had before. Whatever the case, he was awake but it didn’t seem like he had noticed that Drusilla was up.

 

By the time she returned her attention to the computer, there was a reply.

 

Do you need me to rescue you

 

What? Sure, heroes rescued people when they were in distress, but she was fine.

 

I don’t think so, she typed. I just want to talk.

 

The reply came quickly.

 

I can’t. I’m sorry.

I can’t go back to Glenwood Springs and I can’t risk Paul or your parents finding out that we’re talking.

I love you and miss you, Drew. If you get out or need help getting out, please let me know.

 

P.S. I’ll get the Oathkeeper’s autograph for you.

 

This hurt, but it was better than the alternative – thinking that her brother was dead. She paused, sniffed, and then typed.

 

I’ll be 18 in four years. Can we talk then?

In less than a minute, the reply:

 

I’ll mark it on my calendar and circle it four times.

 

Petey had said that when mom and dad forgot Drew’s birthday. He promised to make a cake the next year no matter what. He did. It was an awful cake, but he did it.

 

She sniffled and the tears fell freely now.

 

Okay. I’ll see you then. Love you.

 

And for the first time since Petey left, she didn’t dream.

 

TWO MONTHS LATER:

 

Drew’s frantic search for her laptop was cut short by a command from downstairs.

 

“Drusilla Marie Schuster! Come downstairs. Now.”

 

Her heart froze. She couldn’t breathe. She had wiped everything, right? Her brain racked through everything that was on there. She couldn’t move. Maybe she could just run out, through the window

 

“Five,” Paul began. “Four.”

 

She sprinted down the stairs, skipping them three at a time, and skidded to a stop in front of Paul. “I was just doing homework.” she lied. “I was doing homework, why, what’s wrong?”

Drew saw her laptop, then, open on the table. In front of Paul. He was glaring down at her. He knew something. He’d seen something.

 

“Do you have something you need to tell me, Drusilla?” He asked.

 

“That’s mine.” the words burst out of her mouth, defiant and completely unexpected. “That’s my laptop, mom got it for me, you can’t look at it.”

Paul stood up, shoving his chair backwards, and seemed to get taller, and bigger, and for a moment he was clad in shiny greyish armor, and there was a bright white halo around his head–

 

But then he was just Paul again, still scary but no taller or more armored than usual.

 

“Sit down,” he commanded.

 

She sat in a chair, eyes wide. “You… you… you had… armor –”

“This is your last chance to be honest in front of me and God, Drusilla,” Paul said. “Do you have something you need to confess?”

 

“I talked to Petey.” she whispered, staring at the grey tile floors.

 

“You did. Why did you do this?”

 

Her lip quivered, and then it all came rushing out. “BECAUSE I LOVE HIM! Because he’s nice to me. I don’t care if he thinks he’s a girl, or if he’s with ten million people, or if he doesn’t go to church! I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care! I don’t care because he’s nice to me and he isn’t a rancid dick like you!”

She knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left her lips.

 

She felt it before she saw it, something strong and forceful bunching the front of her shirt, lifting her up bodily so her feet dangled and her head swam. Then she looked down at the huge platinum gauntlet, her brother’s armored form, the shining white disc behind his head, the way his eyes glowed. He looked just like The Oathkeeper, but… but scary. But angry.

 

When he spoke, Paul’s voice was like an intoning, ominous bell that rattled the windows and vibrated in her ribcage. “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”

 

“Paul,” she whispered. “Paul, please, please, I’m sorry, I’ll never talk to anyone again, I’ll just stay here, I’m sorry –”

“Yes,” Paul smiled, and the light in his eyes flared…

 

…and then he set her down and it was just Paul again. But there was something different about him, a kind of frightening energy, like his eyes were still glowing without really glowing. “Good. You will seek, little seeker, but you will do so for your family. For me. You can atone for your sins and mistakes, Drusilla. As you found salvation with the Lord in Jesus Christ, so too will you find your salvation with me by helping me lead the lambs of our town, our country, our world… back into righteousness.”

 

She sat on the floor, staring up at him in a mixture of awe and sheer terror. “I… okay. I’ll help. I’ll help. Of course I’ll help. I just… I don’t understand, I don’t understand what you’re doing, what you want me to do? I don’t…” She swallowed hard. “I need my laptop if you w-want me to research…”

“Fine,” Paul pushed the laptop to the other side of the table. “But I had better not find out that you’re hiding anything from me. Ever. Again. Do you understand?”

 

“Okay.” she whimpered. “I’m sorry. I won’t.”

And she wouldn’t. How could she? He was a demiGod, in their kitchen, holding her up like she was made of paper.

He had never hit her before, and he hadn’t then, but if he did

 

There would be little Drew left, she was sure of that.

 

“Good,” Paul took his seat again. “Now. Find me more information about this… Damselfly.”

The Tribunal: The Smallest Promise

THE SCHUSTER HOUSEHOLD
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, COLORADO

 

When Drusilla’s name was called in the house, it was typically a forceful and commanding affair. It was very unusual for anyone but Paul or Gideon to call her, so it was surprising and strange to hear the voice of her mother, Lily, calling from the bottom of the stairs.

 

“Drusilla?”

 

Drew closed the browser window full of information on the Faerie Glen and came to the stairs. “Yes, mama?”

“I would speak with you privately.”

 

Drew’s eyes widened. Lots of her siblings got that line, but never Drew. Things were… weird around here, these days. Head down, the smallest Schuster followed her mother into the sewing room.

 

Lily turned sad eyes onto the smallest Schuster. Her emerald-green eyes always seemed sad, so much so that Drew tried to avoid looking into them when she could.

 

“Drusilla,” Lily’s voice was quiet, measured, thoughtful. “Paul spoke to me about your behavior yesterday. About how you raised your voice to him. Talked back.”

 

“Yes.” Drew admitted. “I’m sorry, mama, I lost my temper.”

“Little one, you must never do that again,” Lily sounded more mournful than chiding, “you must always do as Paul says. Your father can no longer lead this household, so Paul must.”

 

“Yes, mama. I’m sorry.” Drew pauses, rubbing her toe into the carpet. “Did he tell you about…” Her voice trailed off, wondering how to capture the surreal situation.

 

“About what, child?”

 

“His… new mission. His… hatred of the Oathkeeper.” She refused to say ‘He Emerged’. It would kill her mother.

 

Lily shook her head. “It is not hatred that drives your brother. It is righteousness. God has made him special, but there is always a balance. Drusilla, you and I… we need men like Paul, for the Devil resides inside of us. Without guidance, the Devil would get out.”

 

“I’m sorry.” A Devil inside Drusilla? Maybe that explained it: the guilt, the shame, the fear, the anger. “I don’t… I’m sorry I yelled. I won’t yell again. I won’t… talk to… anyone you don’t want me to again. I promise.”

“No, Drusilla, you must understand. I will show you. I must atone for it later, but you need to see.”

 

Lily held out one hand, palm up. For a moment, nothing happened, though a look of intense concentration was on her face. After several seconds, her hand began to change. The fingers elongated, nails turning into wicked talons, her skin becoming taut, glossy, cherry red. A Devil’s claw.

 

Drew screamed in panic and scrambled back. Her eyes were transfixed on that claw. Then she took a few, shallow breaths.


She had seen so many Emergences at this point that…

 

“Mama, you’re a… Paranormal?”

“The Devil takes many forms, Drusilla,” Lily said, allowing the claw to turn back into a human hand. “Learned words only excuse his presence. The Devil resides in me and I must fight him every day through principle, virtue, and obedience. Do you understand?”

 

“Do I have a Devil inside me? A devil like… like that?”

“Satan can take many forms. In your brother Peter, his face was deviance and sexual perversion. He resides in you, but he may not appear the same as he does in me.”

 

“You think Paranormal abilities – that’s our Devil? I…” Her head was spinning. “Does that make everyone who’s a Paranormal a sinner, I…?”

“Jesus gave his life precisely because we are all sinners, Drusilla,” Lily noted. “But as we find salvation in Christ, so too can we atone for the Devil in us by deferring to the righteous. Your brother was granted a gift from God, manifested as the Oathkeeper revealed her base nature. You see? These powers are a seed planted by Satan, but if the righteous tend to the sapling, the tree that grows will be righteous rather than sinful.”

 

“Oh.” All of the air escaped from Drew. Her mom knew. There would be no last intervention to get her out from Paul’s plans. Not that it was a surprise — mama always backed Paul when it came to Drew. But the fact that her mother was a Paranormal, and… how many siblings, now?

And it seemed that she would Emerge too, some terrible curse that wrested her away from her family.

“I’ve barely seen Dad since… Petey left. Is… is he a P-para…?”

“No,” Lily sighed. “He keeps to himself. As each of his children stole away, a part of him went with them. He is consumed with drink and despair, little one, as he is abandoned by his own flesh and blood. That’s why we need Paul.”

 

“And it’s why I can never leave.” Drew said, still sitting on the heavy shag carpet next to the door.

 

“Yes. Your place is here, with your family. You are a good girl, Drusilla, when you do not allow Satan to speak through your mouth. You can help Paul. Help this town and the world.”

 

“Okay.” Drew said, trying not to sound upset. “I understand. I’ll… go back upstairs. I was helping him.”

“Yes, go do that,” she nodded, “and attend to your older brother. Succeed where I failed, and he will go on to do great things. It is a shame that Peter led so many of our children away from the light.”

 

“Yes, mama.”

Do you need me to rescue you?

 

“…I won’t follow him.”

The Tribunal: The Smallest Task

THE SCHUSTER HOUSE
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, COLORADO

 

“Drusilla! Come downstairs at once!” Paul’s bark didn’t have an edge to it, so he probably wasn’t in a bad mood.

 

She sighed, irritated. Every time she hit some sort of stride in researching the Damselfly, Paul would interrupt with some demand — cook, clean, listen. She closed her laptop and slouched downstairs, wondering what he wanted this time.

 

Once Paul’s face came into view, he scowled. “Do not glare at me, Drusilla. Have some respect.”

 

“I wasn’t –” She put on her best smile. “I’m sorry, Paul. What do you need?”

“You’ve spent all day upstairs, staring at that screen,” Paul said, “you need to spend some time with your family.”

 

“You asked me to research the Damselfly. That’s what I’m doing, I’m trying to help.”

“Don’t talk back!” Paul snapped. “And yes, that was what I asked of you, but not to the exclusion of your family. Go spend time with your father. He is lonely.”

 

Drew managed to hide her grimace. “Yes, Paul. Sorry, Paul.” She trudged off to basement stairs that led to her father’s den. As she passed Paul, he shouted again, but not in her direction:

 

“Esther! You too.”

 

On one hand, Drew felt some small measure of satisfaction that the Golden Sister was finally getting yelled at as well. On the other hand, it was… worrying. Paul always let Esther do as she pleased. The fact that he was bossing her around meant something, and Drew wasn’t sure what, but she knew it  wasn’t good.


Esther, the tall girl with white blonde hair and dark eyes, popped up from the kitchen table, smoothing her skirts. “Of course, big brother, I’d be happy to.”

 

And so, the smallest and most gilded of the Schuster sisters descended the stairs into Gideon Schuster’s basement lair. Once upon a time, Drew knew this as a rec room, where the kids of the family played, watched television, and socialized. After Noah’s wordless nighttime departure, however, the room belonged only to Gideon’s broken soul. It stank of cheap whiskey and occasionally of urine, dust and moth-eaten couch covers. The only light came from a damaged Tiffany lamp in the corner and the glow of the television, where Father Schuster spent his time alternately watching evangelical television and reruns of Andy Griffith and My Three Sons on an ancient tube television with a McGowan Network Converter perched atop it.

 

Today, it was an episode of Father Knows Best. There was no indication anyone was even in the room, except for the top of Gideon’s balding head, barely visible over the back of his easy chair.

 

Esther moved forward first, giving Gideon a kiss on the cheek that the man barely acknowledged. “Hi, Daddy. You shouldn’t use that gadget. If Paul sees it, he’ll break it. He already got rid of the blender and the microwave for being McGowan.”

Drew hung back, silent.

 

“If Paul doesn’t like—” Gideon coughed violently for a few seconds, then continued. “—doesn’t like it, he can buy me something else that’ll let me watch my shows. If he don’t do that first, he ain’t too old for me to take him over my knee. Never done it before, but it’s a good reason to start.”

 

He paused.

 

“Why are you bothering me, Esther?”

 

Esther opened her mouth, a pretty lie prepared, but Drew cut in first: “Paul told us to come down here.”

Gideon scoffed. “I don’t need Paul’s pity. Leave me alone.”

 

But before they could leave, he spoke up again. “No, wait. I changed my mind. Come here. Sit.” He indicated the floor near him, and muted the television.

 

Both girls sat, Esther primly with her knees together and Drew sprawled out.

 

“I listen, you know.” Gideon’s voice was once like Paul’s: low, commanding, evocative. These days, a combination of disuse, misuse, and alcohol abuse had made it into the aural equivalent of bare feet on a gravel driveway. “None of you ungrateful children think I listen, but I do. I listen. I have heard Paul saying names he ain’t said in years. I hear him saying ‘Peter’, and I know he don’t mean the saint. I listen.”

 

Drew glanced at Esther. Esther’s lips curled into a smile for just a second, and then she turned to Gideon, her face the picture of concern.


“Drusilla tried to talk to him. He pretends to be a superhero these days.” Pause. “I’m surprised Paul didn’t tell you.”


Gideon turned a gimlet eye to Drew. “You’re doing research for him, on the internet,” he spat the word the way one might say ‘pustules’. “Tell me what you’ve found.”

 

“He thinks that he’s a girl, or both a boy and a girl, I guess.” Drew said, quietly. “Um, he likes… ey. Ey and eir and em. Instead of, um, he and him and her. And ey – he dances. At a club. And he calls Alice McGowan his mom. General Mom. In interviews, I mean. And he can fly.”

“Obscene,” Gideon sneered, “there always was something wrong with that boy. What about the others? Bartholomew and Benjamin. Noah.” He didn’t bother asking about Susanna. Susanna was married.

 

“Benny works at a coffee shop. Um, I don’t k-know what happened to Bartholomew. There are pictures of N-Nat – I mean, Peter, with a girl named Buster, but I can’t… find Bartholomew.”

“Then why tell me that,” Gideon leaned back in the chair. “That’s all you know?”

 

“I – I – I think Buster might be Bartholomew.”

Gideon squinted at her for a few seconds, then turned to Esther. “What in heaven’s name is your sister talking about.”

 

“It’s a thing sinners do.” Esther said, confidently. “They think they can switch around, live as something else. I’m not surprised Bart did that.”

“Disgusting. What went wrong? I raised you kids by God’s word and a firm hand. I kept an eye on your mother. You all went to church, in rain and snow. How did your mother birth children that would go so astray?”

 

“I don’t know,” Esther said, picture the face of pained innocence. “Maybe a more direct hand is necessary. I’m glad Paul is helping with that.”

Drew stared at her sister. What was she doing?

Gideon scowled. “Why. What is he planning.”

 

“I don’t know, daddy, he won’t tell me or Drew. He just tells us what to do. Drew researches, and I keep going to school and practicing my fencing. But he’s planning on announcing something at Church this Sunday. Will you come with us, daddy? I want to have you there.”

“No!” Gideon barked, then shook his head and said more quietly, “no. No.”

 

Noah’s departure marked the day that Gideon stopped going to church. He still vehemently insisted that the rest of the family go, but something about that day marked a milestone in his life, and now no amount of wheedling would get him through the church doors, and he only left the house at all a scarce handful of times a year.

 

“Okay.” Esther said, quietly. “I understand, it’s fine.”

Drew curled in on herself. She hated it when her father yelled.

 

“Would you like to watch a show?” Esther finally asked after a long, awkward pause.

 

“Go to Church on Sunday, Esther,” Gideon commanded, voice low. “Come back to me and tell me what Paul said and did. Drusilla, if you find anything about your brothers, you come to me first. Not Paul. Understand?”

 

“Yes, daddy.” Esther said.


“I understand.” Drew said, head down.

 

“Good girls,” Gideon leaned back in his chair. “Now let me watch my show.”

 

The girls left the room, but Drew tugged on her sister’s sleeve on the stairs. “What were you doing?” she hissed. “You’re going to start a fight.”

Esther smiled over her shoulder at the smaller Schuster. “We all have a Devil inside us, Drew.”

The Tribunal: The Smallest Schism

ROARING FORK CATHOLIC CHURCH

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, COLORADO

 

Drew remembered a time when the Schuster clan took up an entire pew, lined up from youngest to oldest siblings with mother at one end and father on the other. Now there were only four: Paul, Esther, Drew, and Lily. And… things were different than they had been a few months ago. Ever since the Oathkeeper.

 

Church wasn’t reassuring any more. Paul’s face seemed smug, now, like he was above the preacher. Above the sermon.

 

Still, Drew tried to be a good sister and a good daughter and followed along with what she had been taught. She knelt for prayer, stood for hymns, put her allowance into the basket when it was passed around, and did her best to listen to the sermon. It was about respecting your elders. She listened, ashamed of her own behaviour. She was just making everyone so angry lately.

 

And she was dreading the end of service, when people could stand and make announcements, when her fellow worshippers were going to hear about a lot more than bake sales and wedding dates.

 

Evidently, however, Paul felt no need to wait that long. He stood before the sermon was even over, stepping out into the aisle, and Father Jarnes’s voice faltered.

 

“Do… you need something, Paul?” He asked.

 

“Father, I do not disagree that one’s elders must be heard and obeyed. Family is the cornerstone of community, our bulwark of righteousness. But what of elders in our community who lead us astray? In the book of Matthew, did Jesus not overturn the tables of the moneychangers and usurers? Were not some of them elders?”

 

Father Jarnes frowned, unsure what to make of this. The decline of the Schuster family was no secret, and Gideon’s decline was much-whispered-about in the parish. “What are you suggesting, Paul?”

 

“So many of us have looked up to icons like the Oathkeeper for so long. But are these icons true elders of our community, of our society? Or are they graven images that we worship?”

 

The crowd murmured.

Esther stood, moving to just behind Paul, not daring to stand by his side. “You all saw that press conference, right?” She said, voice ringing high and clear. She had been in the choir, back before Gideon forced her to stop. “Where she said Hell isn’t real?”

“Now, Paul—Esther—” Father Jarnes stammered.

 

Paul’s voice got louder. “Are we to accept as our global representative, accept as a so-called agent of God a woman who casts aside the words of the Bible, the words of our forefathers, to live in sin? As a hedonist? Are we to accept the word and leadership of an elder too cowardly to speak out, to stand against this abomination?”

 

As the implications of Paul’s words dawned on Father Jarnes, he scowled deeply. “Wait just a moment.”

 

“Wait for what?” Esther took another step forward. “Another wishy washy sermon with no action behind it?”

“Esther –” Drew squeaked from the pew. “Paul –”

“Why wait when we have a new leader, a new direction?” Esther barrelled on.

 

“Or perhaps I judge our elders too harshly?” Paul lowered his voice slightly. “Will you denounce the Oathkeeper, Father Jarnes? Will you pledge to stand firm against the encroaching sin?”

 

“I—the Oathkeeper has done much for our country, for the world—”

 

“I think,” Esther said, her voice suddenly low and very dangerous. “I think it’s time to show our community just what you’ve become, Paul.”

Paul smiled back at Esther, then took one step up the altar, then another. For the first two steps, it was his fine leather dress shoes that trod on the red carpeting. On the third, a huge platinum saboton made the step instead.

 

Next to Father Jarnes’s podium, looming eight feet tall over both, Paul said in a quiet voice that was nonetheless audible to the entire room:

 

“Step aside, Father.”

 

Father Jarnes stepped aside.

 

Drew hunched in on herself, refusing to move from the pew. This was a nightmare. This was going to be on the news. Paul wasn’t going to heal people and stop gas station robberies like the Oathkeeper did when she started. He was going to enforce his personal laws.

Oh God, it was going to be on the news. People would find out. The Legion would come.

This was bad, this was bad, this was —


“Wait!” Drew sprang to her feet, and the entire room turned to face her as one.

 

Anger flared in Paul’s eyes for a moment, and they almost seemed to glow white—but then he calmed. “Little sister. Is there something you need?”

 

Her mouth worked for a second, every eye on her, and then she came up with something that would deflect Paul’s anger. “There are… many ways to… look powerful, but true power comes from a-action. If you could demonstrate the g-gifts that God has bestowed upon you, y-you would silence every d-doubter before they could s-speak heresy against His choices.”

Paul’s expression was hard to read, but it didn’t look good. “Did you have something in mind, Drusilla?”

 

“T-The O-Oathkeeper may be a f-filthy sinner, but w-when she stood up she… healed people. It made people listen, it was proof. And s-since you’re her replacement, it… you could do something good like that. Help people.”

“Drusilla,” Paul’s voice intoned like a bell, “I do not stand here to emulate the Oathkeeper. I stand here to bury her legacy and usher a new one in. I do not go forth to ape her methods, I go forth to pave new roads with a firmer hand.

 

He raised his gauntleted hand and a shining white greatsword appeared in it, catching the sunlight streaming in from the stained glass window. “This Parish will be the hallowed ground on which a new Tribunal is built, and I its first Inquisitor.”

 

He then pointed the sword out between the crowd, down the center aisle and at the church door. “If you believe in me, stay. If you do not… leave. And never come back.”

 

The crowd murmured around her, growing more agitated. Most of them seemed inspired by Paul’s words. They were… they were really going to do it.

 

“Now—now hold on, Paul,” one voice spoke up: Deputy Howe, a gradually and gracefully aging man who got along with nearly everyone. He was standing and slowly moving down the far side aisle. “what you’re suggesting is, it’s not lawful. Now it’s not that I don’t… believe in what you’re saying, Paul, but I’m a lawman, and—um—”

 

“Drusilla means well.” Esther said, voice low but carrying through the entire church. “She’s young, and naive, and still looks up to the false prophet a little… but she’s not entirely wrong. A demonstration of strength would silence any critic, like silly Deputy Howe here.” The white-blonde girl smiled at Howe.

 

Paul frowned, and for a moment Drusilla could read it: he didn’t know what he could do. Paul didn’t know how strong he was, or how fast, or whether he could heal or fly. He’d moved too quickly. He wasn’t ready.

 

But he stepped forward nonetheless, down the pew, toward Deputy Howe. “You don’t want to do this, lawman.”

 

Alarmed, Howe reached to his side, putting a hand on his service revolver. “Now—now Paul, you can’t say those things and approach me with a weapon. I don’t want to arrest you, and I don’t have to, yet, but—”

 

“Arrest him?” Esther crowed from behind Paul. “Would you arrest Jesus Christ, if he were among us, Howe? Would you try to ascend to the heavens to arrest God?”

Drew looked at Howe. She had to stop this, this was her fault. She couldn’t figure out what to do that wouldn’t make Paul angrier.

 

“Confound it, Paul, don’t make me do this!” Howe drew his pistol, his forehead glistening with sweat, and pointed it at Paul.

 

Paul hesitated.

 

The gun fired.

 

Esther moved, faster than anyone should be able to move, directly into the path of the bullet. White armour, so bright it hurt to look at, bloomed. The armour absorbed the bullet, sending it plinking harmlessly down the aisle. She was like a knight, wearing that bright white armour, a narrow fencing sword in one hand. The other hand reached out for Howe, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and lifting him effortlessly.


“What did we tell you, Howe?” Esther’s lower face was exposed under the visor that hid her eyes, and she wore a terrible smile.

 

“God have mercy,” Howe stammered, his pistol tumbling from suddenly nerveless fingers.

 

“It is not God’s mercy you need most right now, ‘lawman’,” Paul spoke down his nose. “It is ours. And you shall have it, this once, for you knew not what you did. I will not be so merciful a second time.”

 

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry, Paul.”

 

Paul smiled.

 

“Come up here, Drusilla. Join your family.” Esther commanded.


Drew obeyed.


The three Schusters stood in front of the church, and all knew that their word was law.

The Tribunal: The Smallest Honor

THE SCHUSTER HOME

 

As soon as the Schusters got home, they went their own ways. Paul stormed up to his room, all intensity and thunder. By contrast, Esther almost floated off, so smug and self satisfied that it rolled off her in waves.

 

Drew tore open the door to the basement and sprinted down the stairs.


She had been given an order by her father to keep him in the loop, and so that was her plan.


“Dad. Dad!”

“What!” Gideon barked, startled at the interruption. He fumbled for the remote control and muted the TV. “This had better be good.”

 

“C-Church! Esther Emerged at Church and Paul’s Emerged and he thinks he’s a God and I swear it sounds like I’m making this up but they just got the entire Church to listen to them and follow them and Esther’s a sociopath she picked Deputy Howe up and she had this armour and this sword and I think they’re going to hurt someone, Dad, I –”

“Drusilla, slow down,” Gideon said through his teeth, “get those emotions under control and explain in plain english.

 

Out of breath, she finally managed: “Did Paul tell you he Emerged?”

Gideon squinted. “No. He did not. He’s got the Devil in him, does he?”

 

“He thinks it’s a God, he looks like the Oathkeeper, but all grey instead. And Esther Emerged too, right at Church. They think that they rule the Church now, that they’re the leaders!”

“I might’ve known it was too good to be true that they both stayed,” Gideon growled. “I thought they were virtuous, but they’re just like the others. Too big for their britches. This ain’t how I raised them. This ain’t how I raised any of you little ingrates.”

 

Drew was openly sobbing now. “I’m the only Schuster without powers, I’m the only normal one, and I can’t stop any of this from happening, and –”

“Stop your whining!” Her father scolded. Just like old times, but with higher stakes and a more broken man. “I’ll fix this. By God, I am still the head of this household and if I have to whip those children into shape I will do it.”

 

She hiccuped and sniffed, wiping her face.


There was a voice from the top of the stairs. “Drew? Where have you gotten to?” Esther’s voice.

 

“Esther!” Gideon barked, not turning around. “Come down here.”

 

Esther traipsed down the stairs, unbothered and unafraid. “Yes, daddy?”

“What’s this I hear about you Emerging.”

 

Esther gave Drew a look that promised retribution, then smiled sweetly at her father. “You heard the good news? We’ve been blessed, with the –”

“The Devil inside you!” Gideon interrupted. “If your abilities were God-given, you’d use them in His service only, not to seize power. I expect you and your brother to behave, d’you understand? Expel Satan from your heart, deny his offerings.”

 

The gilded Schuster smiled again, all sweetness and light. “I think we should see what the real head of the household thinks about this. Paul! Paul, there’s an issue down here!”

Paul’s arrival was heralded by heavy, thudding footsteps and the clank of magical armor. His haloed head nearly brushed the ceiling as he walked over to Papa Schuster’s chair, looked down on him with cold eyes, then said: “What’s the matter, Esther.”

 

“Poor Drew.” Esther said. “Our father asked her to report to him, so she did. She can’t be blamed, she was just trying to help. But father’s throwing a bit of a fit about our new blessings, I’m afraid.”

Gideon was very still, clutching the arms of his chair white-knuckled, but there was a determined set to his jaw and his eyes showed more anger than fear. “I’m told that you bullied your parish into appointing you leader. With your… powers. The Devil is in you, boy. Those ain’t Godly actions, and as the head of the Schuster household, I won’t allow it.”

 

Paul stared at Gideon for a few seconds, then spoke with a particular finality. “You sit down here, guzzling whiskey, watching television, withering to a husk, and yet you have the gall to call yourself head of this household? No.”

 

“How dare—”

 

“Gideon. Father. I tolerate your existence solely out of respect that you sired me and raised me. Your value to this family now is nil. Watch your shows. Drink your whiskey. But do not play at a role that you no longer deserve. I am the head of the Schuster household. Do not challenge me again.”

 

Paul Schuster’s armor disappeared, then, and he gave Gideon one last baleful look before turning and walking away.

 

Esther followed after Paul, stopping only to pluck the McGowan product off the top of the TV. “Come along, Drew.” she commanded as she left.


Drew trudged behind the two, head down.

The Tribunal: Flat White Knight

THE BEAN SIDHE COFFEE HOUSE
SOUBRIDGE ROUTE 1, ROCK CITY

 

Benny was on closing shift and the store was nearly empty. As a result, he was engaged in his favorite task, particularly in these complicated times: cleaning. Restocking. All of the busy work that made the morning crew happy was what Benny loved to do.

 

And of course, it made the time fly by.

 

He was so focused on lifting the sacks of coffee beans and adjusting them on the shelf that he didn’t notice the pool of light in the stockroom blossom next to the schedule sheet. It was only when he heard a voice that he was stirred from his fugue.

 

“Benjamin?”

His heart jerked at that voice. It was familiar. And no one called him that any more. He straightened and turned, eyes wide.

 

His little sister, Esther, was there in the Bean Sidhe back room, cloaked in white armour that stood out starkly against the green walls and brown mugs. The armour, and the pool of light beneath her, faded away, leaving just the girl.

 

“You look so… you look exactly the same. Wow.”

“E… esther?” Benny stammered. “I… how did…”

 

“It’s wonderful.” Esther smiled, radiant. “I’ve Emerged, Benny. I’ve joined the rest of the family. Father is furious, and…” she looks away. “So is Paul.”

“Oh my God,” Benny blinked rapidly, shaking his head. “Are… are you okay? Do you have somewhere to stay? Your power, it… it looks just like…”

 

“Like what?” She paused. “No, we have more important things to discuss. Paul’s Emerged as well, Benjamin.”

“But he’s mad at you?” Benny sounded confused.

 

“He thinks he’s the new Oathkeeper, he’s God’s voice on Earth. He plans to…” Esther’s lower lip trembled for just a moment. “Benjamin, he thinks that I’m his servant, and so is Drew, and he’s a new God on Earth.”

The bag of coffee fell from Benny’s hands. “Oh no,” he murmured, “oh no.”

 

“He sent me to… pass on a message.” Esther’s voice was now a pained whisper.

 

“Message?” Benny seemed almost too afraid to ask.

 

“He… he said that you, and all the other siblings… need to stay away. He’ll leave you alone if you leave him alone. And I can take care of myself, but…”

The name hung unspoken in the air: Drew.

 

“Wh– but–” Benny stammered. “Nat works for the Legion! How is ey supposed to–“

 

“Nat?” Esther asked, suddenly confused.

 

“I– I mean Petey.”

 

“I don’t know. You all might need to lie low for a while. I wish I had a better solution, but… Benjamin, he looks like the Oathkeeper, except in platinum.”

Benny set his hand against the shelf to steady himself, paling. “He’s… another Oathkeeper?”

 

“Different colors, and a sword instead of a warhammer… But otherwise? Yeah.”

“Esther, my own brother is trying to replace the Oathkeeper and we’re not supposed to move against him, and in a vacuum I’d understand, I wouldn’t risk it, but what happens when Alice finds out? Are we supposed to lie to her? Make excuses? She’s the Oathkeeper!”

 

Something — uncertainty? Fear? Anger? — flickered across Esther’s face. “You talk to her?”

“Nat– Petey –is practically her adopted kid. I haven’t talked to her lately, but yeah. I’ve been to dinner at her house. Smoked a cigar with Scott McGowan. My life has been very weird, Esther, but I guess I’m not really alone in that.”

 

“No. You’re not.” She turned away for a moment. “I… should get back. Paul expects this to be a short visit. I… wish things had turned out differently.”

“Wait!” Benny reached out. “Esther, I– isn’t there anything we can do for you? Nat’s really strong. Ey knows powerful people. Maybe–“

 

“I… I wish I could ask for more, I do, but Drew… she doesn’t have armour or a sword. She’s defenseless, and Paul…” Esther turned away. “Goodbye, Benjamin.”

That pool of light opened up again, and she stepped through it.

 

“Wait! Why do your powers look like–“

 

“…my boyfriend’s…” he said to the empty stockroom.

The Tribunal: Schuster Emergency Meeting

EDEN

LOS ANGELES

THE PRIVATE BOOTH IN THE BACK

 

While the Faerie Glen was home, Eden was a better place to conduct business — the staff were respectful of Nat’s request to give them distance, and so ey waited in the back booth for the rest of eir siblings to be teleported in.


“Scott and Alice are very worried.” Scanner buzzed through the chip in Nat’s jaw. “…It’s hilarious.”

“I’ll find it funnier once I know what it is,” Nat subvocalized, ‘seated’ on the back of the booth. “I’m gonna be shutting off transmission for the meeting itself, in case it’s personal.”

 

“That’s not fair, I’m Scanner, I get to lis–” The signal cut, and Nat was back to waiting in silence, smiling a bit in spite of emself.

 

“Daaaamn, sib,” Buster marveled at the surroundings as she walked in. “This place is tight.”

 

“You ready to meet your long-lost sister?”

 

“Does it matter?” Buster asked, sliding into the booth next to Nat.

 

“Nah.”

 

A lean, loose-limbed figure approached, hurriedly dressed in a slighly rumpled button down blouse and a long ankle length skirt in muted blues and browns.. She had a hand in her long blonde hair, pushing it back in a familiar gesture. Her cosmetics were minimal, maybe some spf foundation, but that was it. She stopped a few feet away. “Hey. It’s me,” said Susanna. “What’s the emergency?”

 

“Don’t know,” Nat shrugged, “but I’ve never seen Benny tell people what to do like that before, so I’m taking it real seriously. He should be here any moment.”

 

“Um,” Buster said, trying and failing to make eye contact, “hi Susanna.”

 

“Hi.” She’d never gotten along with Buster and clearly didn’t expect that to change now. Susanna slid opposite her siblings. “Don’t order the pad thai today. Matthew told me that Chef Nerone had an argument with Chef Wai.”

 

“I’m here!” Benny shouldered through the door, waving. He looked as much like he had when he left home as Buster looked different now. “Thank you all so much for coming on short notice, I’m so sorry to inconvenience you. Sue! It’s so nice to see you again!”

 

You too, Bunny.” She gave him a restrained hug. “What’s gotten you worried?”

 

As Benny sat down, Buster’s attention fixed on him. He took a deep breath, then another. Buster extended her hand across the table, and Benny took it, met her eyes, nodded, and spoke.

 

“Paul has Emerged,” he said. “And he’s forming a cult.”

 

“Fuck,” Buster whispered.

 

Nat’s eyes widened, then narrowed.

 

Susanna paled beneath her freckles. “Drew…”

 

“Yeah,” Benny nodded to Susanna. “Esther snuck away to come see me. She’s Emerged too, and her powers… she’s… she’s like Callister, but white instead of red. She has armor, she can teleport in pools of light. She said that Paul thinks he’s the new Oathkeeper, and that he’s treating her and Drew like slaves.”

 

“I’ll kill him,” Nat whispered. “I’ll fucking kill him.”

 

Susanna picked up the salt shaker, put it down, picked it up again, and fumbled clumsily before setting it firmly on the tabletop and sat on her hands. “I should have taken Drew with me,” she whispered.

 

“Esther… she… she passed on a message,” Benny whispered, “that we… have to stay out of his way. Or…” he just trailed off.

 

“Fuck. No. No no,” Buster shook her head. “Not Drew, you don’t– no.”

 

Nat took a deep breath, processing the implications of that.

 

“…We have to get Drew out of there.”

 

“But how?” Buster shook her head. “She’s still a minor, and we don’t have proof that Paul’s broken the law.”

 

Nat nodded, scowling. “…and we don’t know what he’ll do if we start a Legion investigation. And if Alice hears about this, she is going to flip her shit.”

 

Susanna took a deep breath. “Maybe I can go back for a visit. Would that be too suspicious? I…I can’t bring Isaac with me. I won’t.”

 

“I… I don’t know. Esther said that we had to stay away, all of us, but… I know he’s madder at the three of us than he is at you. We ran away. You did everything right.” Buster scowled at that.

 

“I’m divorced. Zach found out.” Glumly, she stared at salt shaker and slowly moved it an inch or two across the table. Without her hands. “I just told mom and dad I moved out for school and took Isaac with me because Zachary didn’t know how to look after him. Maybe. Maybe we hire a private investigator? I don’t have much money, you can have what I got.”

 

“If money needs to be spent, that’ll be on me,” Nat stated flatly. “But yeah, a third party going in on our behalf may be our best bet. If I report this to my direct superior, she can keep it quiet and, um. Away from Alice. For now. We need recon before she goes in there in full armor and halo, and the Black Ops team may be able to provide it.”

 

“I know a guy who has a specialized remote viewing ability,” Buster added, brightening. “I can talk to him, maybe.”

 

“You do that too. Sus, this place is clearly a haven for people with connections. Who owns it?”

 

“Oh. That’s Mr Smith-”

 

Sin’s voice could be clearly heard, even through the privacy booth, apparently addressing someone outside the Schuster’s private booth. “Mr. Evans. This is your second, and last, warning. I pay my girls and boys very well, but each one has their limit. I respect their limits. They’re good employees.” There’s a whimpering gurgle heard outside.

“Oh god, of course it’s him,” Nat buried eir face in eir hands.

 

“If you’re going to use that, like that, with those, you need to declare it before you start, so we can cater to your needs. Do we understand each other? Nod if you do understand.” There’s a pause, and a thump of someone falling to the floor. “Miss Allan, please, get yourself cleaned up and thank you for being so patient with Mr. Evans.” Sin sighed. “Someone take Mr. Evans home, please.” There’s a clatter of footsteps rushing to do what Sin asked.

 

Sue cleared her throat. “Mr Blake Smith. I think he’s more commonly known as Sin?”

 

“Yeah,” Nat wiped some sweat from eir brow. “I, uh. I’ve heard of him.”

 

“Oh geez,” Benny looked distinctly pale, “I’ve met him. He used to work with my boyfriend.” “Yeah, I saw the news.”

 

“You fucked him, didn’t you Nat.”

 

“NO.”

 

Sue gave Nat a look both horrified and relieved.

 

“Well. Okay. Maybe we don’t ask your boss for help then,” Nat said, “and maybe he doesn’t walk by the booth and see our little reunion–“

 

“Ah, Sue, right? You’re not working today, is everything all right? Nat, Benny, pleasure to see you again. And you must be…?” Sin paused, looking at Buster.

 

Buster blinked, smirked, and held out a hand to shake. “I’m Buster, Benny’s identical twin. Couldn’tcha tell?”

 

“Hi Sin,” Nat actually managed to smile. “Nice to see you on the other side of… the thing.”

 

Benny mumbled something unintelligible.

 

“Yes, sorry, family emergency, Mr Smith.” She looked confused that most here had already met her boss.

 

Sin waved one hand in a dismissal of the excuse. “That’s what PTO is for, Sue, you’re fine. Really.” He shook Buster’s hand with a smile. “A pleasure, and there’s a resemblance, but it was mostly the hair throwing me off a little.” He winked at Buster, then looked at Nat, and grinned. “You as well, Nat.” There was a distinctly sharklike quality to the smile, though.

 

“Is there anything that I can get for any of you, while I’m here?“

 

Sue looked like she wouldn’t dare to ask her boss for anything.

 

“Nah, we’re cool, but thanks.” Buster was still smiling, apparently finding this kind of fun.

 

Nat sighed. “By the way. I’m, uh. Sorry for all the shit I said that one time. I was mad, and I was right to be mad, but I ain’t holding a grudge. Okay?”

 

Sue hunched over, staring at Nat, willing the words don’t get me fired into her sibling’s head.

 

“Water under the bridge. Grudges were always bad for business, I always told my past employers. Never really got it into their heads, but now? They’re fighting for Detroit with Pariah, and they’re gonna lose.” Sin shrugged. “Bigger picture, and all that.”

 

“Cool. Thanks.”

 

He paused, thinking, reading the Schuster clan’s faces. “All right then. Once again, Eden’s services is at your disposal. Hope the family thing gets solved.” Sin smiles, somehow turning a well wishing into something sinister, SOMEHOW, before a slight nod and heading off to talk with one of his assistants/sycophants about Mr. Evans.

 

Buster raised her eyebrows. “That dude knew that Nat was your sibling, Sue. Like, ahead of time. Did you know that he knew?”

 

Sue stared at Buster. The little salt shaker she was playing with trembled, then stilled. “I…am not surprised.” She looked slightly scared though.

 

“Yeah, sorry, if I’d known,” Nat glanced out of the booth for a moment, then said, “your boss and I kiiiind of have a rocky history. He kind of sort of nearly murdered me and instead put me in the hospital for a week. And then he did the same to the Oathkeeper, and I threatened to kill him. But he helped us out with the Anathema thing so it’s all good.”

 

“He what?” She looked like she was going to climb over Benny to confront her boss.

 

“Sue nooo,” Benny whispered, eyes wide.

 

“It wasn’t anything personal, exactly,” Nat shrugged, “he was trying to kill someone else for cheating him, and I tried to knock him out, and he hit me with a barbed chain and a bunch of debris and I bled a lot and had surgery and now I’m fine.”

 

“Christ, Nat, way to be reassuring,” Buster shot em a look.

 

“Brat, I swear, I’m going to pull a Carrie right here.” She had one hand on Benny’s shoulder, the knuckles were white. He could probably hear her racing heart.

 

“Take it easy, sis. It’s gonna be okay.”

 

There was a pause while Nat looked chagrined, then said, “sometimes I forget that most people aren’t in life-threatening situations on a regular basis.”

 

“No kidding.” Sue settled in her seat, probably writing up her resignation letter in her head.

 

“Please don’t do anything drastic. We’ve got this whole Paul cult thing to worry about, and to be honest I feel better knowing that someone I know has an eye on Sin. Besides, he’s amoral and opportunistic but he isn’t gonna mess with us unless there’s something in it for him. Just… be cool for now, okay Sue?”

 

“This is a weird family,” Buster noted. “But I still like it way better these days.”

 

“Yeah. Okay. That…I can do that.” She nodded at Buster. “You know what else is nice? No one saying that they’re in charge because they’re the oldest.” She looked like she wanted to say more but didn’t.

 

“Exactly! I’m in charge, because I’m the coolest and sexiest.”

 

“Uh scuze you, bug, I’m in charge because I have the coolest hair.”

 

“I am not in charge,” Benny noted happily.

 

“Order us ice cream and booze, Brat. If you’re in charge.” Sue smiled, wanly.

 

“I like your suggestion,” Nat said magnanimously. “I shall appoint you my chief advisor. Ice cream and booze for everyone.”

The Tribunal: Salary Man

Callister sat in his car, idled in a park, and sent a text to Benny.

 

Yo. Hey. Everything all right?

 

Benny replied:

Yeah. Sorry to worry you. I’ll explain when I see you, but I’m not in danger.

 

I’m an hour from your place. Want me to drop by? I got news. Bring you out to dinner?

 

That sounds wonderful. See you soon. 🙂

 

Callister was sitting outside near entrance to  Benny’s apartment building, a covered area with a few benches. It was difficult to say how long he’d been there, but he didn’t look like he minded. There was a tablet in his hands, and he was browsing through it.

 

“Oh damn, that guy’s hot,” Benny said as if to a nonexistent audience, standing nearby. “I wish I had the guts to ask him out!”

 

“Pffft.” Callister said to his tablet. “Too bad I only like guys who don’t ask me out.”

 

Callister’s tablet remained silent and a tablet.

 

“Oh, I guess I shouldn’t offer you that blowjob I had saved up, either?” Benny sauntered up to Callister, smiling, his dire news forgotten for the moment.

 

Callister snorted, tucking his tablet under his arm as he stood. He wrapped an arm about Benny and pulled him close. “Well, in that case.” There was a deep smooch. Probably there was tongue involved.

 

Definitely tongue. Scandalous. Isn’t this a family superhero universe.

 

Callister was pretty sure that this kiss was more family friendly than the one he intended to perform later.

 

Nice.

 

ANYway, eventually they weren’t kissing any more, and then Benny was like, “sorry I ran late. One of the elevators that goes from my hall to the surface is out, so it gets really backed up.”

 

“Urgh. Boy, am I glad that this city is in a mostly earthquake proof zone. Sounds like a deathtrap. Whatcha feel like for dinner?” He began to move them towards where the streets where restaurants were.

 

“I could take the stairs, but it’s really a lot of stairs. Like really, really a lot of stairs. And, um, I dunno, I could go for just about anything. Except ice cream, which I pretty much just had a couple hours ago.”

 

“PIzza?” Callister squinted down the street. “Dumplings? Korean Fried Chicken? That last one, yeah?”

 

“Korean Fried Chicken,” Benny nodded. “Yeah that sounds… that sounds good!”

 

“To chicken!”

 

Later, with various flavourings of deep friend chicken in front of them, Callister said in between crunchy chicken bites. “I signed up with the Freelancers.”

 

“Oh! Babe, congrats!” Benny mopped his hands and face with a napkin, futilely. “You’re gonna do great over there. Tell me all about it!”

 

“Good salary, good health, and good medical for Grandmother. Not sure where I’ll be based at, but I’m looking at hospices for Grandmother, visited a few today outside Rock City.”

 

Benny perked up. “Does… that mean you’re gonna be based around here?”

 

“Ï don’t know…but it’s easy having her here. Don’t need to travel far to visit the both of you, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Benny grinned widely and then dug into another drumstick.

 

Callister deftly deboned a chicken wing, munching on the tender pillow of chicken. “So, what was up earlier?”

 

“Oh,” his lover’s smile fell away. He set down the drumstick, wiped his hands and mouth, took a deep breath, and said, “my brother Paul thinks he’s the new Oathkeeper. He’s starting a cult.”

 

Callister finished his wing, wiped his hands and said, “Sorry, your brother thinks he’s the new Oathkeeper and is starting a cult.” He looked at Benny, dead serious. “If I knew you told mean jokes like that, I’d sock you one and you’d never see me again.” It hadn’t even been a month since his mother was imprisoned. “Tell me what’s gone on.”

 

“I’d never joke about this, Cal, and you know I can’t deadpan a joke for shit anyway. But it gets weirder. I found this out from my sister, Esther. Haven’t seen her since I left home, and she just shows up in the stockroom and drops this on me.”

 

Callister frowns a little. He wasn’t saying anything, but there were wheels turning behind his eyes. “What else?”

 

“She showed up by rising out of a pool of light, wearing white armor, which vanished to nowhere. I swear. I’d gotten enough sleep, I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t overworked. She was a fucking… White Knight.”

 

Callister picked up a discard wing tip, and crunched on the soft crisp bone. “Huh. And Paul?”

 

“I didn’t see him myself. But Esther said that he looks just like the Oathkeeper, but with, like, whitish armor instead of gold. And a big sword instead of a hammer.”

 

“Okay. Who knows? And what are you doing about this?”

 

“Nat, Buster, and our sister Susanna—who apparently works for Sin, of all people?—are the only people I told. As for what we’re doing about it… we’re thinking of sending someone to Glenwood Falls incognito. Paul made it clear that if we go after him… we’d be putting our youngest sister’s life in danger.”

 

“…What’s your sister doing working for Sin?” He crunched crispy wingtips, fascinated by the story like it was some kind of horrorshow.

 

“He owns this club in LA. ‘Eden’. Really nice place. She was a sous chef for him before she had any idea.” He picked up the half-eaten drumstick again. “She looked like she was ready to kill him when Nat mentioned the whole thing where he almost killed em. But she calmed down.” That said, Benny resumed eating.

 

“So. My mother set herself as the Oathkeeper’s rival. And raised a cult. Your brother is doing the same. What the ever living fuck?” He went back to the interview with Michael Cheney and ripped into the nibble part of the wing. “I think..I need to talk with Mother.”

 

“You don’t think that parallel’s a coincidence, huh,” Benny said between bites. “It does seem… real weird, even for my family.”

 

“What are the chances that someone, y’know, rises up to challenge the Oathkeeper a month after Anathema gets defeated?” Callister gestured with a drumstick. “This is just too fucking weird.”

 

“You think your mom might know more about what’s going on?”

 

Callister wiped his mouth and hands before answering, leaning in to talk softly. “Mother has this theory that there are these beings called Avatars. They inhabit hosts, right? She believed that she was the Avatar of Dominance and that Alice McGowan is the Avatar of Faith. Mother wanted me to take up the Avatar of Faith after we killed McGowan. I don’t want that. Power comes from within, not without. Thing is, she’s been telling the Freelancers that, and they want more info. Now this with Paul? I’m starting to wonder if she’s not right.” He shrugged. “Keep this to yourself. It’s just a theory for now. But I need to talk to her. Who are you going to send to your old home?”

 

“Dominance,” Benny murmured, his eyes getting distant as he recalled unpleasant memories. “That… sounds like Paul, all right. Fuck. Um. We don’t know yet. We’re trying to be careful about who hears all this, because if word gets to Alice, um. She’ll probably ruin everything. We can’t risk Drew getting hurt.”

 

Callister stretched his lips. “If McGowan had killed mother, I’d have taken up Mother’s cause. Dominance I can do.” He shrugged. “And yeah. McGowan. I’ve seen smarter goldfish.” He was silent a moment. “I may know a guy. Dellen Samedi. Nat knows him too, get em to contact Dellen. I’ll work on Mother on my end.”

 

“I will. Thanks, babe. I… hope this doesn’t end up being a huge thing. But I’m worried. Buster and I really thought we could leave Glenwood Springs behind.” He sighed and tucked back into the chicken.

 

“Yeah, and I thought my mother couldn’t hurt anybody anymore.” He shrugged. “Okay. We got a plan. And once I confirm with Mother, I need to debrief to my Freelancer bosses. I’ll be telling them about this.” He lowered his head, looking at Benny. “No one wants another Anathema.”

 

“I… I know. Just please, let’s… try to deescalate this first? Paul is awful but he’s… I don’t want him dead. And if Drew got hurt…” he shook his head.

 

“You send your guy in first, then.” Callister reached out and held Benny’s greasy hand. “Can’t promise you that things will be okay, but I’m gonna be right there with you.”

 

Benny sighed and smiled. “I love you so much, did you know that?”

 

Callister grinned. “Yeah. I figured. Love you too.” His eyes flicked to the waitstaff. “We should order more chicken to take back to your place for snacks.”

 

“You say that like my mouth isn’t gonna be full the whole time,” Benny deadpanned.

 

“Mm. Yeah. I know you love cock, that’s why I’m getting more.” Equally deadpan.

 

“Okay. Yes. Order to go. Oral sex. Let’s mobilize.”

 

The Tribunal: Schuster, Scan You Spare an Eye

THE CORE
THE FLYING FORTRESS

 

These days, when Nat floated through the doors to the Core, it was no longer with any kind of trepidation. Ey and Scanner had sOKtruck up a loose friendship, talking mostly about surveillance and sex and the cross-section of the two topics.

 

Today, though, it was business.

 

Scanner was near the ground of the Core, turning the crank of some handmade wooden contraption that sent wooden spirals spinning through each other. When she saw Nat enter, she opened a small compartment in her chassis and stashed what she was holding in there, and then turned to face the Damselfly.

 

“Nat,” she said, a touch coolly. “I hate being in the dark.”

“I’m here to enlighten you, geez,” Nat rolled eir eyes. “I only muted you because I didn’t know what Benny was going to say.”

 

“Well, then, I guess I can forgive you.” She made a grabby motion with her metallic hand. “Clue me in.”

Nat floated in and settled on the vaguely stair-steppy part of Scanner’s chassis that ey typically settled on. Ey took a breath, organizing eir thoughts, then spoke:

 

“What I’m about to tell you is extremely delicate, and while I’d rather you didn’t share it at all, definitely don’t let Alice hear about this.

 

“Two days ago, Benny got a visit from our second youngest sister, Esther. She appeared in white armor, rising from a pool of light, like some kind of celestial version of Callister Rayne. She told him that Paul had emerged, looked just like the Oathkeeper in platinum armor, and declared himself a God. He’s apparently taken over our old parish in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.”

 

Scanner listened carefully. She showed no reaction, except for her bright blue and green mechanical eye. The segments of her eye began to spin, shifting quickly, eventually speeding up so rapidly that her pupil was just a blue-green whirl. “First of all,” she said. “This entire conversation has to be off the record. I cannot officially agree to lie to a Legion-General. I’m sure you understand.”

Nat quirked a brow. “I’m sure you never keep anything from Alice. Hey, did you like the show we put on last night? Alex couldn’t even get out of the bath after Vin and I had our way with him, he was so worn out.”

 

“First of all, it was… interesting. Almost enough to make me interested in having legs again. Then again, legs just seem to come with a lot of bother.” Scanner flushed a little. “Secondly, I said off the record. Of course I keep things from Alice. I just do it in a very calculated process.”

“Well, go ahead and calculate what you gotta, cuz there’s more,” Nat sighed. “Paul genuinely believes himself to be the new Oathkeeper, put on Earth to replace Alice. Benny spoke to Callister, and then me, and… can I assume that you’ve heard about these ‘avatar’ speculations?”

 

“No one’s told me directly, but I’m everywhere, and I have that specific term highlighted.” Scanner’s eye was still spinning at mach speed. “Glenwood Springs. A confrontation in a Church, a family of three – a man, two girls. That’s an Emergence, alright, and it sure does look like Alice.” Her eye suddenly stopped, going still and fixated on nothing. “Looks like Helen, too.”

“We think that Paul may have inherited the Avatar of Dominance. The one that Anathema lost when Callister confronted her. Apparently it’s trying to… look like the Avatar of Faith that Alice still has?”

 

Scanner’s voice changed, became more flat. “Calculating. Emergence data along that timeline.” A loud click click click click click click came from the golden half of her face. “Cosmic energy surge on the date of Alice’s press conference. Flat readings up until…” Click click click click click. “Twin Falls.” Scanner paused, and the humanity returned to her voice. “Quite the coincidence. And the Freelancers have Anathema. Hm.”

“Cal says that the Freelancers are really interested in this avatar thing. Not… sure to what end. Oh, one more thing, and it’s really important. That little girl in that report you just cited? In the family of three? That’s our youngest sister, Drusilla. Paul said… Esther told us that Paul said that if we didn’t stay away, she’d pay the price.”

 

Sigh. “And that,” ey concluded, “is why Alice absolutely cannot hear about this. She wouldn’t be able to hold back and our little sister would end up dead.”

 

“Drusilla Schuster?” Scanner asked, voice slipping back into that robotic monotone.

 

“Yeah. The Schusters still in Glenwood Springs are Drusilla, Esther, Paul, and our parents Gideon and Lily. Unless they’re dead, which would be nice I suppose.”

 

“No obituary reports for Gideon or Lily Schuster.” Scanner’s eye spun. “I mentioned a confrontation in a Church. Would you like to see it?”

“I would, yeah.”

 

Every monitor, previously showing scenes around the world, shut down. They reignited, every single one of them, with footage from the Glenwood Springs Church and Paul’s mad bid for power.

 

Nat watched the surveillance footage with eyes narrowed and flickering between Paul, Esther, and Drusilla. Ey winced as Esther took the bullet for Paul, but otherwise didn’t show an overt reaction. When it was over, ey nodded slowly.

 

“Esther’s trying to play both sides,” ey murmured, “which is about what I expected. Even she probably doesn’t know what side she’s on. Drew… fuck, I’m worried about her. She doesn’t want this, and she’s too scared to try and leave. This just makes me more determined that we should send somebody in undercover. Join the parish, join the cult. Get intel.”

 

“The Legion doesn’t necessarily have an agent I’d recommend for this task, although it’s clearly important.” Click click click click click click. “There is a Freelancer who would be perfectly suited to this style of undercover work.”

“Who—oh, do you mean what’s her face? Throwaway?”

 

“Everyperson, now. But yes. Unless you have another suggestion?”

“I don’t, not really,” Nat admitted. “If we can get good info out of Everyperson, I’m willing to subsidize her hire if it’s necessary to keep it off the Legion books.”

 

“Would you like me to set up a meeting?” Scanner shook her head, and sounded like her regular self once again.

 

“Nah, I can do it,” Nat smiled. “But don’t worry. I’ll keep you in the loop this time.”

 

“Good.” Scanner said, smiling slightly. “I don’t like curiosity. That’s for humans. But thank you, Nat.”

“You still on about not being a person, Selena?” Nat grinned, slowly floating out of the corridor.

 

Scanner made an irritated noise in the back of her throat and fell silent, the screens around her lighting back up with visions of two dozen spots on Earth.

 

“You know it’s bullshit anyway, right? You’ve met the Lis, haven’t you? They’re not human, and they’re the most curious people I know.” Nat turned, floating backward now.

 

“I haven’t met them. How could I? I can’t fly the Fortress into some random place of employment to say hi.”

“I’ll have to bring one by, then. Oh hey! One last question.”

 

“Yeah?”

“There’s still one sibling we haven’t found,” Nat said, “and um. I feel like he deserves to know. Can you try to find Noah?”

 

“Noah Schuster? Fine.” Click click click click. “Chicago. He’s taking online courses, and has a PO box in Chicago. Still using his birth name for that.”

“Oh for real? Um send the PO Box to my inbox, please. I’ll drop him a line.”

 

“Beep, boop.” Scanner said sarcastically, and Nat’s inbox dinged with the info.

 

“Thanks! You’re the best.” Wink.

The Tribunal: The Smallest Biggest Gig

VERA’S HOUSE
ROMULUS, ILLINOIS

 

“Love, you got an e-mail on your work address!” Pariah yelled, her voice carrying a metallic rattle. “Also, you left your phone in the kitchen!”

 

“Aw, jeez, my work address?” Vera stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around her. “Please tell me it’s not from Cheney.”

She padded down the stairs barefoot, green hair dripping onto the tile floor.

 

“No,” Mariah leaned over to look at the screen. “It’s from… The… Damselfly??”

 

“…What.” Vera took the phone, swiped and unlocked it, and read the message.

 

To Ms. Everyperson:

 

Hi, nice to talk to you again! The last time I remember seeing you was when you helped rescue me from that fire guy. Of course, you might’ve seen me since then.

 

Anyway, I have an intelligence-gathering job for you. Short to mid-term but onsite. I’ll cover transit, food, and incidentals, within reason. I can offer slightly higher than your standard rate (with bonuses available obviously).

 

Can meet up with you more or less whenever to discuss further if you’re interested. This is not a Legion matter.

 

Cheers!

Nat Z

 

“…You need me in Detroit in the next… short to mid-term?” Vera glanced up from her phone. “This is uh… a job that could potentially pay off our upcoming wedding. And it’d build contacts.” Pause. “It could also be really fuckin’ obnoxious.”

“Porque no los dos?” Pariah asked. “I say take it, sweetie. Having friends in the Legion can only do good things for you. For both of us, honestly. Tallboy and the Hound and I will hold down the fort, and help Ted get his sea legs.”

 

“Yaaaaay.” Vera monotoned back, and then furiously thumb typed in response.

 

Sooner is better. Where should I meet you?

The response came in less than five minutes.

 

I can be in your neck of the woods by tonight; Scanner lets me abuse my teleporter privileges like you wouldn’t believe. There’s this highly-rated lesbian bar on the west side of Ann Arbor called The Queer Shear. Hit me with a day/time and I’ll be there.

 

Vera sighed. She would have to wear a difference face. She and the bartender at the Queer Shear had had a… thing. Tonight. 9PM. I’ll be the girl with black and pink hair and too many piercings.


She paused and considered, considering the Queer Shear’s clientele, that might not be enough detail. God knew neon hair and piercings were on trend.

 

And a dorky sweater vest.

 

The response arrived quickly.

 

You sound like my type. See you there.

THE QUEER SHEAR

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN

 

At 9:05, Vera slouched into the bar and took a booth in the back. Sure enough, there were two other girls in the bar with piercings and black and pink hair. No sweater vests, though, and for good reason — Vera was already sweating. She dropped off her bag, grabbed a cheap beer (while avoiding eye contact with the bartender), and then returned to her post to watch for the Damselfly.

 

At 9:12, a woman about as short as Vera walked into the bar, wearing a slouchy tam and a fitted coat. It took her a minute to realize that she was looking at the Damselfly in very basic but effective disguise—ey was walking on heels that made em taller, and had tucked all of eir hair under the hat. That coat had to be hot, though.

 

Nat looked around for a few moments, squinting at one of the other women with black and pink hair, then turned and ordered something at the bar.

 

Vera gave Nat a little wave, sipping her drink. Ey would have to be careful, she mused, or ey would find emself with a friendly patron trying to get em out of that coat. Still, she appraised the Damselfly and tried to get as much of a read on the situation as possible.

 

Nat was… not an easy read. Ey laughed and flirted like it wasn’t a thing, had a free drink forced upon em by the blushing bartender, left a five-dollar tip, and turned around again, eyes scanning the bar as if looking for someone to go home with. Finally ey spotted Vera, smiled slightly, and traced a platform-heeled beeline toward her.

 

“First of all, how do you know my usual rates.” Vera launched into the conversation with as much grace as a panda scaling a tree. “Second, how much more are you paying? Because if this is off the books work, I could get in some shit.”

“Your rates are easy to query,” Nat shook eir head, “there are enough records in the Archaven Accountability Act logs that it’s easy to extrapolate a range over time. Also, I have friends who are really good at research.”

 

Ey slipped out of the coat, but left the hat on. Ey was clad in silky pallazzo pants and a spaghetti-strap top. “And no, this does not have to be off the record for you. Just for me. The one person who needs to not catch wind of this job is a Legionnaire, and keeps an eye on what I do.”

 

“…Can I guess who it is?”

“Got it in zero,” Nat shot her finger-guns. “This whole thing is gonna be big in a little bit, I’m pretty sure, but for now, we need to be a little more delicate. Does this sound all right from where you’re standing? Sitting?”

 

Vera drained her beer. “So far.” She said. “But these are all big picture things. I need to know what I’m walking into.”

Nat rummaged around in eir jacket and pulled out a manila folder. “There’s a new cult in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Led by an unstable and potentially powerful Paranormal with another para as the second-in-command. There’s also someone I know personally up there and whose safety I consider important.

 

“I can give you more details,” Nat met Vera’s eyes and set the manila folder on the table, “but not until you accept the job, which is to infiltrate the cult by joining it and report back to me with whatever intel you gather. Does that sound all right?”

 

“Cult.” Vera considered for a moment. “One question. Do we know if mind control’s at play here? That’s something I need to know before I accept.”

“It doesn’t seem to be,” Nat said, “since there’s already been some resistance to the leader’s coup and their tactics seem to involve groupthink and intimidation. If they had mind control, I’m pretty sure they’d have used it by now.”

 

“Alright. I accept. Do I gotta sign something or is this a handshake kinda deal?”

“Handshake for now. Signing later. Here.” Nat set down the folder. “Take a look. It fills in the gaps, and should give you an idea both of why this concerns me, and why it’s personal.”

 

Vera scanned the folder. She just read for a couple of minutes, then let out a low whistle. “So this is moderate risk, alright. You think your brother’s the suspicious type? If an out of towner hears his glorious message and comes to investigate, do you think he’ll be happy for the ego boost and ignore the timing?”

Nat thought about that. “I think you could get away with it, if we set you up in the tourist trap part of the town first. Glenwood Springs has always been very segregated between the quiet townies and the resorts in the northwest section of the town. It’s not at all implausible that someone might cross that border and get swept up in his message.”

 

Vera scanned the folders. “Give me… three days. Three days and I can get in position and sell that. Are you comfortable leaving your sisters with him for that long?”

“I don’t have much of an alternative,” Nat shrugged, “but… yes. Esther’s shrewd. She’ll be fine. And Drew, well, she’s whip-smart and a survivor. This is well past anything she’s had to deal with before, but I think she’ll be okay. For now.”

 

Now in full Freelancer mode, Vera closed the folders. “I’ll move out at 8am tomorrow. If I encounter Drew or Esther, anything I should tell them?”

“Absolutely don’t blow your cover to Esther. I’m 80% sure she’s playing both sides, even if she doesn’t realize it. You… can tell Drew that you’re a friend of mine, but that she needs to keep quiet about it. I’m pretty sure she won’t tell. She wants out.”

 

“Roger.” Vera sighed. “I shouldn’t have another drink. Hangovers don’t mix with covert ops. And I’m going to be billing you through the Freelancers, so we’ll take care of the paperwork after teenagers are out of danger and the second, evil Oathkeeper is taken down.”

“I appreciate it,” Nat nodded. “To be honest, I’ll probably be able to secure you a decent bonus from Tabitha, but the Legion needs to not be involved until we have our intel. Gratz on the new handle, by the way.”

 

“Yeah, it’s kind of nice not to be a walking trash heap.” Vera managed a smile. “Alright. I’ll bring a burner phone and stay in touch. Take care of yourself. Tyrants rarely stop at one town.”

“Yeah. Good luck out there, I’ll be rooting for you.” Ey stood. “Oh um. What are good hotels around here? I’m probably taking the bartender to one.”

 

Vera gave Nat a looong stare and then shrugged. “Your funeral. Later, gator.”

“Oh. Hmm.”