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The "Reverend" Billy Fairchild (the title, like most of his other honors, was self-conferred) had risen up out of backwoods obscurity and touring tent-show revivals due to one fortunate circumstance: his beautiful blue-eyed daughter.

Heavenly Grace had been on stage from the very beginning—carried by her mother as a babe in arms, then toddling on alone as soon as she could walk. She'd always been a musical child, singing before she could talk, and if there was one day in his entire life that Reverend Billy had cause to bless, it was the day he got the idea to have her sing with the Salvation Gospel Choir.

An unbiased observer (had there been one) might have said that it was really Donna Fairchild's idea, or even little Heavenly Grace's, but Billy knew that all the ideas for the Billy Fairchild Salvation Gospel were actually his. Well, his and Jesus's, of course.

At any rate, Heavenly Grace—the Living Miracle and Pledge of God's Holy Love!—had come out to the front of the auditorium stage, dressed in her white Monkey Ward dress (the wishbook said it was a First Communion dress, but Billy Fairchild didn't hold with anything Catholic, and neither did his audience, because Lord knew, Jesus hadn't been any kind of a Catholic Roman) and looking like a little beauty contest bride or even Shirley Temple, and his heart had just swelled up with love. He had just known the collection plate would be extra full that day. She looked so pretty, it wouldn't have mattered if she'd sounded like a screech owl.

And then she'd opened up her mouth and sang, and the miracle had occurred.

Billy knew all about miracles. He'd been with Gospel shows in one form or another since his teens, and with a circus before that. A miracle was when the audience got up off its dead ass and put its hand on its wallet and came to Jesus, opening up those wallets so that Billy could go on doing the Lord's good work. He knew just about exactly how much there was going to be in the free-will love offering plates even before the audience sat down, just by eyeballing the crowd and figuring out how badly they needed to buy God's forgiveness, and how scared he could make them that they weren't going to get it without digging into the rent money.

But from the first time Heavenly Grace sang, all that changed. There was love in the air, and Billy was smart enough to know that the love wasn't for him, it was for that little girl with the golden curls and the golden voice. But when there was so much love going around, some of it just naturally slopped over onto him. And into the offering plates.

The take was a good twenty percent higher that day than he'd calculated. And it kept getting bigger. He had the sense to start the show with Heavenly Grace and keep her onstage as much as possible, and the audience just couldn't get enough of her and her singing. They opened their hearts and—more to the point—their wallets.

And Billy Fairchild never looked back.

By the time his daughter was six, he was able to put the traveling show behind him forever. He put down roots—bought a house in Tulsa—and Billy began building an empire.

At first it was guest appearances on other preachers' shows. Then a weekly half-hour of his own on a local cable channel. He'd worried at first that whatever gift Jesus had seen fit to give Heavenly Grace wouldn't work over the airwaves, but either it did, or once the studio audience got all worked up it didn't matter. He went from to a weekly show, then to a daily show on a regular local channel, and at last to a syndicated national show airing six times a week, and along the way he built up Fairchild Ministries, Inc., doing God's Holy Work with pamphlets, books, CDs, documentaries, and recorded samplers of the Billy Fairchild Crusade.

But it all took time. And while he was building up his temple in this Godless Babylon, Heavenly Grace was growing up. She never lost her looks—thank Lord Jesus for that—but she was turning willful and mean-spirited, just when he needed her most. He had plans for Fairchild Ministries. There was room for expansion. America was crying out for good Christian leadership. A career in politics was not out of the question. He had an impeccable past. No breath of scandal had ever touched his family.

He'd been too modest, too self-effacing, to see that God was calling him to such a grand purpose. If not for Gabriel Horn, he would have spent the rest of his days crying out in the wilderness, hiding his light under a bushel basket. But Gabriel had a way of making everything seem so clear and right. It was only right for a daughter to submit her will to her father, for example, just as she would submit it to the Lord Jesus.

Gabriel had appeared to help Billy run the administrative side of things, just when Billy needed him most. He was a man of vision and insight. He'd seen ways to make the Ministry even bigger and more profitable, to reach out to more people, so that Billy could go on doing God's work. And he'd been right to remind Billy that Heavenly Grace was the keystone of the plan. Wasn't Billy's little girl the living proof of God's Holy Favor? God had sent Heavenly Grace and her divine gifts to Billy for a purpose. He meant for Billy to use her powers, not let them go to waste. When the girl was older, she'd thank him for his wise guidance through the troubling storms of adolescence, when Satan was at his most powerful. Once Billy had moved to a position of national prominence—so Gabriel counseled him—the child would understand the importance of his work, and submit her will to his in a proper Godly fashion. Why, all you had to do was to read the Scripture—the Old Testament, of course—to see where, over and over, God gave his command to children, especially girl-children, to submit their will to the will of their fathers. Fathers even had the right to have rebellious children put to death, not that he would, of course, but God gave that right, and no law of man could take it away.

Even Donna had agreed, but Donna Fairchild had always been a proper handmaid of the Lord.

The only person who hadn't seen the light had been Billy Fairchild's rebellious daughter. She had all kinds of ideas that weren't fit nor proper for a Godly child—college, and not even a proper place like Bob Jones neither, but some state university or even an abode of pagans like UCLA. She didn't need college! She'd got all the education she needed, home-schooled by her mother! He'd told her so, in no uncertain terms, the same way he'd told her she didn't need a drivers' license.

But the Devil had gotten into his child, somehow. Heavenly Grace had disappeared one day. Run off. Vanished.

At first Billy'd thought she might have been kidnapped. A man in his position, doing God's work, had enemies. He'd kept the police out of it, of course. Scandal was the last thing Fairchild Ministries needed. He'd hired some very discreet, very experienced professionals.

They'd found nothing. No ransom demand, no threatening letters had ever come, and slowly Billy had come to realize that his Heavenly Grace had committed the ultimate act of defiance: she'd run away. 

He kept the professionals on the payroll. Gabriel had been a tower of strength. He'd sworn they'd find Billy's daughter, that they'd get her back. And meanwhile, her absence was easily explained: she was away at school—a good, God-fearing. private, Bible-based girls' school, away from all the temptations that the world posed for sensitive and vulnerable teenage girls.

It had to be done that way, Gabriel explained. It was important—for the future—that no breath of scandal be attached to her disappearance. There was Billy's future to think of. And Heavenly Grace's, of course. When she returned, their Prodigal Daughter, undoubtedly sorrowful and repentant over the tribulations she had caused them, naturally they would want her to be able to slip right back into her old life again without anyone knowing about her shame. That would be what she would want, as well.

Donna had been the hardest to convince, but she had doted on Gabriel Horn from day one, and finally she had given in. Gabriel had sworn to her that he would work day and night—over and above his duties for the Ministry—to find her daughter and return her to the fold of her family's love. Why, Gabriel had come to think of her as his own little girl as well. . . .

What could have been a more convincing argument than that? Nothing that Billy could think of.

* * *

Humans were really a constant source of entertainment—when they didn't vex one half to madness.

The being who—in this time and place—chose to be known as Gabriel Horn closed the door to his private apartment in the Fairchild Ministries Tower and activated the wards that sealed the doors. No human could pass them now.

With a sigh of relief, he dropped the glamourie that he wore among humans. It was necessary, but it was also rather demeaning to go about aping the appearance of one's inferiors. And the clothes! Gabriel shuddered. A second spell adjusted his garments to something closer to his liking; he inspected the embroidered velvet sleeve of his tunic critically, then headed toward the liquor cabinet and poured himself a large measure of a venerable single-malt Scotch.

Still, there were some things about the human world that Gabriel liked quite well. He stood for a moment, inhaling the complex scent and admiring the play of light through the facets of the cut-crystal glass.

He had come to the World Above to entertain himself, for what else was a Prince of Underhill to do? If one could not enjoy the pleasures of war among one's own kind, the next best thing was to make trouble among the Mortalfolk, yet in these degenerate days that was a delicate proposition, for there were always spies of the Bright Court ready and willing to meddle where they weren't wanted, as if all Mortalfolk belonged solely to them.

Finding Billy Fairchild had been a stroke of luck—the pompous fool was so easily manipulated, and came ready supplied with a coterie of foolish followers. But Gabriel would have taken him as a momentary pleasure—a quick scandal, and the destruction of his "Ministry"—if it had not been for the daughter.

The girl had Power. Gabriel had known it from the moment he'd first seen her. The Power to bend human hearts to her will any time she sang.

She hadn't known him for what he was, of course, but she'd known enough to fear him. He couldn't beguile her as he could her parents, but that made things all the sweeter, to Gabriel's mind. And so he had abandoned his plans for the quick destruction of Billy Fairchild, and settled down to a longer and ultimately more satisfying game. He would use the girl to give Billy real power—the power to make great trouble in the land. The one thing that was guaranteed to make trouble among the mortals was religion. Religion had caused more wars, more scandals, more pogroms, and more death and torture than any other aspect of humans' lives—save, perhaps, money. And even then, it was difficult to tell which caused the most havoc, for religion and money were inextricably tangled among the mortals.

And what could his high-nosed Bright Court cousins do about that? They would never make war upon a human child. And the girl was but a child, well under the control of her parents. A pawn. Helpless. And that was even if the Seleighe Sidhe realized that he was the power behind Billy Fairchild's throne, which they likely never would.

Later it had occurred to him that perhaps he could even enchant the parents enough to make them give him the girl. And then, with time, he would wear away her will, and take her power for his own.

Or so he had thought, a year ago, as the Earthborn reckoned time.

A flash of anger crossed Gabriel's face, and the glass in his hand shattered. With an absent gesture, he made the shards of crystal and the spilled liquor vanish, turning away from the liquor cabinet.

But the girl had run. Against all prediction, against all expectation, she had fled—and not all his spellcraft had been able either to summon her back, or determine her location.


A fact.

Gabriel began to pace the room, his scarlet cloak belling out behind him. He was a Magus Major, a Knight and Prince of Elfhame Bete Noir: as the Unseleighe reckoned power, he was a mighty force Underhill. There were only three possibilities that would keep him from finding her.

One—that she was dead. And if she were dead, by now his sorcerous allies ought to have brought him some word of that, so while it was still a possibility, it was a very unlikely one.

Two—that she had been found and taken Underhill by the Enemy.

This was much more likely—he knew how much his Bright Court cousins liked to meddle, especially among Children of Power, and it was a possibility he could never rule out. But Gabriel had spies in a number of places, and there was always the possibility he would get word of her. And if he did . . . well, then he could always arrange for her parents to beg for her return. His Bright Court cousins were as soft-headed as they were soft-hearted, and would probably return her.

Of course, if she had fallen into the hands of some other faction of the Dark Court . . .

Why, then, he would merely take her back, and she would undoubtedly be so grateful to see him that she would fall in with any plans he made.

The third—and most vexing—possibility was that she had managed to flee to one of the blighted places in the Mortal World where Sidhe magic simply didn't work at all reliably. Unfortunately, there were more of them every day. Seeking spells wouldn't work there, in the lands where there was so much Cold Iron that spellcasting, even when the mortals did their petty and foolish spells, went awry. None of the Sidhe entered such places without good reason. In fact, very few of the Folk were even able to venture into such places at all—and he did not command such numbers that he could afford to search all such places in the world.

But even if the girl had gone to ground in one of them, if she used her Gift, he would know. He knew the signature of her magic, the scent and taste of it, and if she practiced it anywhere in the World Above or Underhill, he would know.

He stopped before a large cabinet on one wall of his apartment. It was an antique Chinese apothecary cabinet, filled with many tiny drawers. He opened the one he sought unerringly and took out a small silver casket. From it he removed a silver ring wrapped with a single strand of long blonde hair.

Hers. And by all the magical Laws of Consanguinity, still a part of her.

He turned away from the cabinet and gestured. A patch of air began to ripple, darkening and solidifying until it gleamed as dark as any mirror, hanging before him in the air. He touched the ring to the mirror, but—as so many times before—nothing happened.

Hide if you can. Flee if you will. But you can only escape me for a time, Heavenly Grace Fairchild. And when you fall into my hands again, you will be mine forever.  

With a gesture he banished the black mirror. Slipping the ring onto his finger, he walked over to the desk. There was much to do to prepare the world for the coming of Billy Fairchild.


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