Cathedral of the Sky Excerpt
August 2039; Burano, Italy
The falcon watched its prey, eyes sharp in the darkness, from the rooftop of a building painted in bright, primary colors. The bird had been tracking this particular vampire for the last ten days. The Nightwalker had a specific hunting range, roving among the islands of the Venetian Lagoon. The falcon followed the Nightwalker across the backdrop of pastel houses. Periodically, it paused to tear off another piece of meat from a pigeon that had been too slow to avoid its talons.
So far, the vampire appeared to be relatively fastidious, always going for a solitary kill in the early evening, then immediately leaving the area for one of the other islands to meet up with his friends. The falcon hadn’t bothered to follow any of the others to see whether they were human or vampire, not wanting to lose sight of its quarry.
And so they had fallen into a rhythm, both sleeping by day and hunting by night. The falcon continued to watch, patiently waiting as the cycle repeated itself. The nameless vampire trailed his prey for the night: a young woman in her twenties, walking alone and carrying a bag of groceries. When she left the wider streets around the canals, she entered a narrow alley. The Nightwalker made his move, blurring into motion as he ran up behind her. He bared his fangs and wrapped his arm around her throat to stifle her screams. The falcon watched with detachment, one predator studying another, while the pattern played out again.
And then everything changed.
The woman was suddenly outlined in a searing white glow, and the Nightwalker’s arm burst into flames. Howling, he jerked away from her and stumbled backward, eyes wide. The woman turned around and smiled pleasantly, still sheathed in white fire. The vampire clapped his hands together and was immediately surrounded by a shield of green light, but he staggered backward when the woman’s next spell engulfed him in cobalt fire.
The falcon tensed and dropped the bird carcass. It spread its wings to fly down and attack, but the Nightwalker’s emerald shield collapsed under the mystical assault, and the flames imploded as the vampire was instantly consumed. The falcon settled back to watch, tucking in its wings as it turned its senses on the woman. Finally.
Then it was knocked down against the rooftop when an eagle backwinged above it, the larger avian coming to rest less than six inches away. The new arrival cocked its head, then took a bite of the discarded pigeon. The smaller bird of prey glanced back down at the street, but the woman was gone. Damn it! I was so close!
The eagle swallowed its morsel of flesh. “You seem disappointed,” it said in Arcolin, the ancient common language buried in the race memories of the Sentinel Gift.
The falcon stared at it in disbelief.
The eagle shimmered, shifting form to become a man in his early thirties, about six feet tall, with tanned skin and black, curly hair. He regarded the falcon with amusement as he sat cross-legged on the rooftop. He waited silently for a moment, then shrugged. “Customarily, a Sentinel entering an established territory is supposed to announce himself to the local groupings and offer tribute.” He grinned. “Between the meal and the target, consider the tribute taken care of, but don’t you think it’s about time you introduced yourself?”
The falcon shifted into human form, a young boy dressed in black jeans and a stained short-sleeved shirt that had once been white. The boy immediately hunched over in pain when his human body reacted to over a week without a meal sufficient to sustain his true form.
The older shapeshifter’s eyes widened as he raked his eyes over the boy’s grubby clothing and greasy hair. He let loose a stream of rapid-fire Italian, then seeing the boy’s lack of comprehension, he repeated himself in accented English. “You’re that American boy off the news, aren’t you? The one who disappeared last month? Michael Danvers.”
Michael swallowed his nausea, then nodded. “Yes,” he croaked. “I’ve been looking for you.”
The other Sentinel frowned when he saw Michael shudder then glanced back at the partially eaten animal lying on the roof between them. “When was the last time you ate a human meal?”
Michael tried to remember. “Tuesday.”
The other man’s jaw dropped. “Three days?”
The older Sentinel’s expression turned grim. “Why didn’t you just go to one of the safehouses if you needed supplies?”
Michael stared blankly at him.
“Oh, Christ. I know you’re young, but don’t you know anything?” Then he paled. “How long since you opened your eyes?”
“Fifteen days.” Michael straightened up, the hunger pangs finally starting to ease.
“You kindled and then walked away from your family?” The Sentinel’s face showed compassion, but not pity. “And now you’re hoping we’ll take you in?”
Michael held his breath. He hadn’t planned any farther than this moment. If the local Sentinels didn’t help him, he had no other options.
The older Sentinel shook his head slowly and got to his feet. “Michael, I’m Constanzo Allegri. Let’s get you something to eat first, and then we’ll talk.”