by GR "Maya" Cogman
I turned off the by-street, and walked beneath the shadow of the wall, up to the old gate: paint was flaking off it, and rust pitted the joins and cracks. The metal whined as I opened it to step through into the dryness of the cemetery.
Inside, the buzz of the London traffic was muted to a thin drone, and the air was still and thick with the trapped heat of summer. Long grass draped itself over the edges of the graves, overgrown and coarse, mingling with the few flowers that had been left there, and moss lodged in the crevices of the gravestones, hiding the inscriptions. A cloud of butterflies rose from the purple spears of buddleia that curved by the gate, a fan of colour that spread and then closed again as they resettled.
I stepped past the bushes, turning to see the doors of the church. A low flight of five long flat steps led up to them, worn granite. He was sitting on them, as relaxed as the five cats that sprawled around him in the sunlight.
He did not acknowledge my presence, but then I had not expected him to.
The path beneath my feet was almost bare of gravel as I walked towards him. He was still in the same Vessel as before, long-bodied and loose-jointed in a faded denim shirt and jeans, trainers scuffed and dusty, hair falling over slitted eyes. I stood so that my shadow fell up the steps towards him.
One of the cats rolled, stretching hindlimbs, then body, then forelimbs, yawning like a miniature cheetah.
Another minute passed before he said, "Go away."
I had chosen my words very carefully beforehand. "I am here on my Archangel's business, not my own."
His eyes opened slightly wider. They could have been a cat's eyes, a trick of the light turning the pupils vertical. His yawn was as insolent as the cat's.
Pushing on, I hurried out the words. "We need sanctuary here. It's for a man who's on the run from Kronos' people. This place is quiet, they won't know about it."
A flight of sparrows wheeled above us, scattering down like dead leaves to settle on the lead church roof. He breathed, slowly, then said, "No. This is no sanctuary for humans."
"I'm not asking you to fight for him." I was pleased at how smoothly that came out. "Just give him somewhere to stay. They know our usual safehouses."
He said, again, "No." The cats stirred, nervously, and he extended a hand to stroke one, tracing its skull and backbone.
I put my foot on the first step, feeling my temper snap. "He'll die, then. Are you ready for that? Are you going to let an innocent human being die because your Archangel dislikes them so.."
He rose in the same instant that I stepped forward, his shoulders rippling, and shook his head to throw the hair back from his face. Gliding down the steps soundlessly, he faced me, and I felt something twist in the stomach of my Vessel, some atavistic fear of great hot prowling beings that walked under the noonday sun. I tried to keep my foot where it was.
"Are you," he breathed in my face, too close, too near, "challenging me?"
I heard the breath choke in my throat before I could reply. "No." There wasn't the space for more.
I lurched backwards, staggering, then caught myself. My steps towards the gate were almost steady. As I looked back, one hand on the worn latch, he was lying among the cats again with his eyes half closed.
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