Swift turned away from the window, his face carved from stone for all that I could read him. Hack swung around to look at me and sagged. His mouth quivered and an eye twitched, and then he was coughing in wet, heaving racks that bent him double. I rushed over to him and he batted me away, sidling himself around to collapse into his recliner.
I stood back and waited until the fit subsided and Hack lay there for a while sucking in gulps of air with a hand clutching at his chest. That kind of thing had been happening more and more often.
Hack wheezed and his eyes flickered from me to Swift. He was gulping in air, and I could see wet, red flecks in his beard around his mouth. He looked at me and frowned before turning back to Swift. “You tell him,” he said. “You tell him or I swear I’ll ruin you.”
“Swift,” I said and looked at him, “what is he going on about?”
Swift had, at some point, changed his clothes. He kept a few spare sets here for occasions where it was necessary, such as these, and he’d composed himself and even found a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones that had been destroyed. In all it meant he’d become, yet again, unreadable. A blank stone wall for all the good it was. I could only tell he was looking at me because the force of his gaze was a palpable thing, and he was fairly cloaked in an aura of undulating power like I’d rarely felt off him.
He was exerting a prodigious amount of energy, and control, and I had to slide my vision across the Other Side to see that Swift had projected his will out to envelope the entire house in a swirling nimbus of white light. I could see patterns, countless fractals, moving through the energy and reinforcing it, the working itself a fractal layered countless times over itself.
Swift had created, near as I could tell, an impenetrable shield around my entire home.
“We will be safe in here,” he said, “for a time.”
“Get talking,” Hack rumbled from his chair.
“Quiet,” I snapped without turning away from Swift.
Swift waited a moment. The house was dead quiet. “The creature you saw is named Bloch,” he spoke in his usual measured tone, as if commenting on the weather, “and he is my brother.”
I wasn’t even sure how to comprehend that.
“A malakhim, I mean, messenger?” I asked, brow crunching together, brain whirling. “Like you?”
“Not like me.” Swift’s mouth twitched down a fraction. “Not anymore. Once, though, he did serve a higher order as a herald of endings, a harbinger of Creation’s finality.”
Hack made a sound somewhere between a wet cough and a laugh. “God’s murderer.”
Swift continued before I could say anything. “The end comes to all things, as it must. And for eons Bloch served faithfully, until he didn’t. He became fascinated with endings, and then obsessed. The malakhim have few laws, but what few we have are adamantine, to so much as question them is to raise the wrath of all the hosts and invite annihilation - no malakhim may murder a human.”
“So what happened?”
“Something noticed the change in Bloch, and it made him an offer: serve it, and he would be given the power to defy the laws of the malakhim. How could he refuse?”
“What could possibly give something the power to resist the entire celestial host?” I gaped. My stomach had twisted into knots and there was a throbbing behind my eyes. I didn’t actually want to know the answer.
It was one of those rare moments in life that felt like it should have been accompanied by a dramatic musical score, drums and strings or something.
“No,” I said.
Swift cocked his head at me.
“No,” I said again, “that’s ridiculous.”