ONE: THE GALLERIES (AFTER JK)
We get to the space late and all together, in the evening, just as the sun is fully fading from the sky. It is a familiar scene - the gallery lights have been switched off and we can see straight in through the glass facade (this building was a store front) - there is 2d work spaced along the walls blank and inert and indistinct in the dusk - dark rectangular shapes that could be paintings or photographs. They could be holes cut into the walls. No one is moving inside because we have missed the opening and with it our opportunity to relate to this show directly, as good spectators and as allies. In the half light bleached of it’s colour clustered around the vitrine front we adopt another posture, one that we have composed on our own terms in wide, lateral movements across the surfaces and the opaque walls of the complex (these resist us). We are probing for some point of entry, moving across planes that are rougher or smoother, that take more or less skin, more or less energy, they take small tolls. Amongst ourselves we have developed communal mechanisms for recharging in the aftermath of these forays but tonight is all spending, spending time and attention and energy, focusing in on the how these rooms have been arranged and on what we can take from them. Understand that the gallery with its serried monochromes is only the spears tip of the tangled architectural volume that takes up most of this suburban block. It extends like a labyrinth above and below ground, and there is no way of knowing from this external POV how far back the rooms go. Inside, the construction materials are cheap and modular, and the spaces are built to be as neutral as possible, and so could equally house galleries, barracks, habitation, or industrial facilities as required. If you listen very carefully in the moments when the wind drops you will hear the soft movements deeper in, far back and away from these theatres of display and bad commerce; slow movements through rooms where that other game is played, where the light is cheap and white and very bright and where every single detail is inscribed for all time in exactly the mode that it was originally conceived.
But we are far too preoccupied with forcing entry to listen closely, to take in these minor details. The night is warm. A huge wind moves far above us in vertical sheets but at street level the air is extremely still. Spring rain (is it already Spring?) has scrubbed all of these surfaces clean. It is hard to imagine carving anything out from the inert mass of architecture in front of us - the machines would be specialised and much too large to carry easily by hand. Inaccessible then to our tight gang of gallery fans. All of our machines are portable, sleekly designed, more interface than hardware, more concerned with the games of light, sound and image, with optical tricks and feints. It is using these that we have organised our play into a series of social units as strictly formal as anything in usage in the USMC. Our compositions are deceptively simple. They are first: secretive, and second: adverse to drama.
A ragged hole has opened in the one of the glass panels - something heavy was thrown through and now lies inside the room on the polished concrete floor surrounded by a halo of shining beads of safety glass. There are no alarms and somehow you did not even hear the glass break though it must have been loud and frightening for anyone living close by. Wonder if the police are already on their way. See them, very far away, but moving closer rapidly, see the dark car carving through the rain and the hot city, sleek and huge and pointed straight towards us. The men inside in uniform are cool ones, checking again the straps of holsters and the actions of pistols, and their heads are leaned back from you, and their eyes are lost in the shadows and the darkness above the dashboard, no lights and no sirens, not even the ember of a cigarette to burn its brief afterimage into the scene that plays itself out around us. Nothing sentimental here. No buddy tropes at all. Archons and Powers drawn precise as statues. We all climb through together. The gallery is longer and thinner than it looked from the outside, almost a corridor, and we see that the monochromes are really thick and strangely opaque forms cast from plastic or some industrial ceramic, and spaced evenly along the one wall that seems to constitute the whole of the show. There are small biro drawings pinned to the wall next to some of these objects but we do not stop to look. We enter the back room, storage, paint tins, mops, stacks of paper, a laptop; and we find the next door and we keep going.
I take elaborate notes after every session I spend with the group to see how much further I can implicate each of them inside of a criminal framework. I was sent to this city almost three months ago to do precisely this, and was told then that these young and intense men and women were radicals, that their various projects were dangerous and even potentially violent or terroristic, and that in order to infiltrate their tight social circles I would need to adopt their lifestyle and mannerisms and even in a deeper sense parts of their worldview. I was told that they, perhaps more than any other group, were primed to recognise betrayal and ultra-sensitive to its various conditions and outcomes, and this understanding gave all my preparatory research, first in Canberra and then at the Sydney College of the Arts, a feverish intensity that I believe was responsible for the total success of my integration.
It is mostly at night, alone in my apartment, that I do the laborious work of note taking and taxonomy. I draw each of them a small prison. For each I have prepared a type of reveal, a trapdoor that opens into a horror story of detention and abuse; not out of hatred, but as sheer professional contingency. While I work I imagine a room somewhere far underground, a large room like a warehouse lit up in blazing electric light, that houses the rows and rows of the pain machines that my notes describe. Every single one of these machines is brushed steel, and each has its perfect occupant. All of these relationships are built around the individual. Again and again the individual. The room will wait for you, maybe forever. The men who staff that place are professionals, and they are patient and methodical. But I have not yet found anything at all in my time with the group that could be considered really criminal, outside of drug use, which I think I could use by itself to send most of them to prison for several years at least, if that order ever came.
Tonight we are moving together through one of London’s parks, quickly, over uncut grass, weaving through the small zones of illumination cast from the steel lampposts that stand around the boundary at regular intervals. Their bodies in front of me pass in and out of visibility; in and out of that absolute darkness at the edge of the pools of orange light; the sky is wide open above us; there is an awareness of depth pushed upward and of smallness; of wind and noise, insulated for now behind the neat rows of birch trees that are planted along the edges of the asphalt pathways; they are lit up golden; they take all of the fury of the wind and bend with it, they keep our bodies enclosed. From the hill that we climb I look back and see London laid out like a crystal matrix, a beautiful, limpid network of point light and glass transparency and the shreds of vapour trails caught in place, crowning the tops of the towers and throwing back to us the junk illumination that leaks out into the sky and makes it glow.
It has to be at night L said passing out the capsules earlier, it has to be on top of the hill - these are ancient forms and they are strictly formal - this our sad little Walpurgisnacht. As with lucid dreaming you can steer a trip in advance if you know what you’re doing. For this particular curated experience L’s preparations have centred almost psychotically around a particular set of images; of material and emotional comfort, of ease, of an endless uninterrupted desire that burns without sticking or hurting, of engineering a truly permanent escape from all of the shit cash working that L has convinced himself stinks of that failure that plays out over decades. He tells us that these are images of human dignity, and that living without dignity for too long poisons people permanently. Pre-production included an elaborate working through of fantasy roles and roleplaying, a regime of sleeping beneath different coloured lights for several nights leading up to this one, and exhaustively mapping out of each other’s character traits, affordances, and expectations. Eventually we come to the place, it is the shell of a brick municipal building from the twentieth century, small, like a caretakers house, and overgrown with weeds that push their way up through the concrete foundation slab. We sit together in a circle and hold each others hands as the psilocybin begins to take effect. I wonder how many props, chemical, theatrical, and others, that these serious games will eventually require - what the good conditions really are, how repeatable and how modular the narratives can be built, how many unique bodies can really ultimately be drawn from these recombinations. It does not matter how many variations of outfit, makeup, weaponry or magic you can devise - eventually they will all be played out to exhaustion and begin to produce monstrous doubles and replicas. This final number will always be precise and unchangeable even as it remains obscure.
L lights a small fire on the floor of the cabin in the centre of our circle of allies and collaborators. His fantasies of comfort are very beautifully described. We map out whole cities together on the hill, describe entire cultures that live without fear of emotional repression or bad faith, recount the military conquests of beautiful warriors whose ultra-materialist bodies have been made impervious to hurting. London is close by us as we talk and talk and let the fire burn down to an ash ring on the dirty floor.
The trip lasts for about ten hours and then the sun comes up and London recedes again and we all retreat back to L’s house to collect ourselves. There is an enormous table in his kitchen, wide and long enough to seat at least thirty, and probably carved by hand from some mystical oak by this country’s most ancient native inhabitants. L insists on cooking for us after each of the sessions as a type of grounding mechanism and segue back into waking reality. I have seen him, maybe the only time I have ever seen him truly happy, preparing monstrous feasts for friends and friends of friends, refusing all help, pumping Bernard Hermann and whistling along as he shapes by hand the perfect brunch that only he can see. Many of the group are in tears after their nights labour, and I can sense the community and small group love like a thick scent that covers my tongue and throat. But this morning, just as we are all beginning to get seated, there is a sharp banging at the door, loud and unafraid and incredibly hostile. Immediately all of my senses begin to scream COP. But I have received no orders. I cannot think of anything that has changed in the groups behaviour tonight that might warrant something like a dawn raid. The door is kicked in violently just as L moves to open it and men carrying weapons pour into the room and begin immediately to zip tie the hands of these doomed souls whose trust I have spent three months earning. I know immediately that these are not police. They are all very young, and they move strangely, with a mixture of brutality and self consciousness. Their eyes are so hostile that you cannot look at them. The weapons that they carry are eclectic and range from sports rifles to enormous handguns - one has hung a sword from his complex utility harness, replica or functional I cannot tell. Not one of the group speaks as they are led out into the bright, clear morning and the unmarked vans that wait for them, but when I announce my undercover status and produce my badge from inside my backpack L twists his shaggy head all the way around to lock his feverish eyes with mine, and chokes on his words, and calls me a coward.
THREE: PURE COUNTRY
When I email L I get no response. She has no online presence, a google search shows only pictures of her paintings and I realise that I can barely even call her face to mind even though it has only been a year since we shared a studio together. I lurk what content there is, I go over and over the pictures of shows that I already know every detail of. Severe, formal canvases in unlit rooms, at dusk, the windows open, or hung up in galleries saturated with white light so bright that the walls begin themselves to enter into the compositions. Brushed steel frames, and frames of timber bolted together, and canvases that have been brightly dyed for obscure industrial use.
I need to speak with her. I have been feeling her presence recently - have found long red hairs swirling in the shower drain or stuck to my feet in the water, sometimes in my food in the morning. In my studio and clothes. I have no idea how this is happening; L is still in Melbourne which is thirty hours on a plane. Still, traces of her (I suspect other less visible traces also) have somehow begun to haunt the domestic and professional spaces that I live in. It is the most pleasant gaslighting that I can imagine.
When I think of L I picture her most often in the studio that we shared together (though her face is still hidden in these recollections), an endlessly subdivided warehouse next to a freight train line and a power plant. At night the whole neighbourhood was lit up with industrial floodlights, which had the strange effect of making the huge buildings look like toys, tiny and precise. I think I remember that she had money from somewhere else and so could afford to spend her time concentrating on painting. Much of her process was really sourcing materials - the canvases themselves were stripped back almost to readymades, and this tendency toward formalism only increased over the time that we knew each other. When we were both much younger and studying together at the SCA she had been obsessed by colour, and had worked intensely through its implications on the strictures of ground and figure - using colour only she had her paintings move through the gallery (a sly walk, a villain’s walk), had them slouch and sit around and even share looks and communicate with one another, although never with any audience, all via these codes of intensity and repetition. The programme for these early shows looked like this: pure colour for undifferentiated stuff or content; the formalism of the readymade to situate and modulate it into a type of enunciation; and then a commitment to humour that would lift a show out from it’s conversational mode and into sequence and poetry. It was always this humour that I found most beautiful - how she could extract a sharp and humane comedy (I thought of Cervantes) out from the crystal rooms of the galleries where she showed, and that pursued her like bachelors.
It was only over years of friendship that I came to the realisation that, parallel to this, L was also constructing a second type of show, another mode of enunciation - one that became increasingly dominant until, by the time that I finally decided to leave Australia, it was this mode that I most closely associated with my friend. I think that she had always had this other tendency inside of her, and it only ever grew it’s complexity outwards beneath the perfect literary games of surface, trope, and theatre that she first developed (like a weapon) as a young female artist coming into contact with all of the intense small group dynamics of the post art school scene. I have never met anyone in my life as familiar with the practices of pragmatism, contingency, and discretion. If I know anything at all about these strange games of desire and distancing and refusal (and betrayal) it is only because I spent so much time sitting beside her on the wooden floorboards of our sheet plaster cubicle watching in fascination as she learned month by month how to comprehensively represent herself.
This second mode also described a communication between surfaces, but in this version there was no colour. Instead, the body of the readymade (which here was also the surface) combined content with its modulation to produce one gesture, a single uninterrupted transmission, a materialist scream with either a constant volume, or a volume that was raised higher and higher forever into perpetuity. All paintings, all surfaces, in transmission with all others at all times, and also bringing the surfaces around them into that same operation, so the walls of the gallery would begin the scream, and the surfaces of the buildings outside the windows, the thickness of the panes of glass, the way that sunlight or streetlight would occlude them, the way a wall would take the light and hold it, any given opacity beginning it’s own sovereign transmission. A horror story, without modulation or syntax, and so without any possibility for closure.
Was this already the beginning of the communication, even back then? The surface of the face of L already arranging its features into a directional unit like a searchlight or a laser beam, all skin pulled back from the front of the skull to expose eyes and teeth, the face itself focused via minute tweaks in expression, the brightness or clarity of eye contact, in modulations of breath, touch, and scent.
I could hardly believe it the first time I saw her early experiments. These prototypes were never shown in any gallery - I remember four small dark rectangles, one on each wall of the studio, dark enough that the actual material of the surfaces was ambiguous. I had come in late after work and the space was already swollen with evening, saturated with evening. In the half light for about a second I thought that she had cut four small and perfectly rectangular sections out from the walls that we shared. I finished working quickly and left the paintings there in the dark room, unformed but so obviously sending out their signalling beams that to spend even one more minute in that room with them at the end of the day would have been completely impossible. At least this was how I remember feeling at the time.
Not long after this I found her in the space working on several large panels made from a dark metal that seemed to keep light inside of it. She was treating the surfaces with cleaning products in broad parallel strokes, in the same precise way that a window cleaner makes sure that their surface is completely covered. Several failed pieces were leaning against the walls and L explained that she had tried using bleach which had immediately oxidised the surfaces and spoiled their reflections. The soapy stuff she was wiping across the remaining eight panels was an industrial surface cleaner and the whole space stunk of acrid chemicals. While I watched she used a short blade and a steel ruler to score the surfaces close to their edges, cutting in perfect frames of brighter metal (it must have been lead) that stood out brilliantly.
How deeply fixed inside a broader framework are these sending panels interior only to L and the faces that she has built - these technician’s tools tested against the furnace wind that burns up the rooms that you inhabit - that blasts at the brick and concrete shells that house you, that would cook you alive if only it could find some weak point somewhere to enter. There is nothing at all at human scale to join with here, all of these relations are entirely material and lack any interface. Nonetheless she has made use of them.
From here in London I can only really speculate as to what that final composition must have looked like. In my mind I see the panels propped against the walls (no hang) and arrayed in a semi circle like standing stones - the install is directional, and I think could be focused like a lens via small tweaks in the placement and orientation of the individual pieces. These surfaces hold no light at all. They are black holes; not tiny rectangles this time, each one is big enough to swallow up a human body easily. In my mind it is the old studio space that houses them and it is still dusk there - the light is still failing - it is swelling in the rooms and the panels and they are saturated with its charge. Another magic hour drawn in parallel but not to make the face more soft, not for a camera to take and work it’s transmutation. I realise that the light is as much a part of the sending machine as the paintings, that it draws other faces that have nothing at all to do with L or with my sentimentality; another language whose transmission would reach across vast distances - that would work only for our true transference - against the final impossibilities of language - in this hour and in these rooms and paintings it is telepathy and communion and the most direct possible intimacy. I think that it is love also but I am wrong.
Remember that last time that you spoke and she told you the secret of how it would happen.
I have absolute confidence that L will be able to tune the transmission from her end. It is likely that some small and easily overlooked decision or gesture was misaligned - maybe the detail work on one of the surfaces or maybe the precise placement of a panel in relation to the others. These installs are always so finely articulated. Obviously the composition is faulty somehow, because when I try to push those long red hairs into the honeycomb structure of my scalp they simply fall away and nothing changes - NO TRANSITION takes place. The follicles of skin may be sinking in, it is difficult to be completely sure.
She said that it would be in a pink beam of light that would curve around the earth. It would curve to us because its relationship to neurosis and psychodrama in some way approximated human compassion. But this was only ever an approximation since the beam obviously had no human qualities or organs and was alien even in it’ simple language of transference. It is enough for now that it would arc across the sky that traces out the boundary of our pure country - that it would join our two domestic spaces and afford one final chance to speak without mediation.
FOUR: MY CRITICAL EDUCATION
I remember L sitting very still in the first of the two small rooms that we lived in then. This is the texture of the day: sunlight comes in at the windows of the apartment; one entire wall is glass and lets in so much light that the air is saturated completely. The light is very clear. Through the glass you can see the line where the city and its securities give way to a tangled suburban territory where contingency is the rule, and where compromise and abuse both play out at domestic scale. The ex-husband of the woman who lives below on the ground floor has come several times in the two months since he moved out to smash every one of her windows. She has them repaired and he comes back; he comes early in the mornings and strangely I have never heard the glass panes breaking even though her apartment is less than twenty metres from where we sleep; only seen her in the mornings that are already stained with the heat of the day, before the sun is risen, when I am leaving early to make my time at the data centre, screaming at the police that nothing can save her from being killed. I remember her face very clearly, twisted up with fear and exhaustion that seem absolute.
L is speaking, but not to me. She says that she never wants to hear anything about that cunt CW again as long as she lives. Her hostility is like a bludgeon. She is speaking this way because she needs me to see that she is no longer responsible for her words and actions. Her movements have become jerky and strange. During this period I am femme for her, although we both know the strict conditions of this theatre and know especially who has the access to money if we need it. Wind moves through the apartment that we have opened up for the summer heat and lifts the gauze curtains so that they hang static in the air. I watch time and light dilate around L’s naked shoulders and across her collarbones. The blush of her skin is strangely metallic. She is saying that she has lost the coordinates of vision; her face is slack as she talks and talks and spits out such extreme hatred towards so many people and institutions that I know (we both know) that whatever shelter we have managed to build for ourselves here has already been compromised and will never be able to sustain us through either her illness or my multiple breakdowns; it is true that I also am to blame. As she speaks I watch bright thin hooks grow out from the pores of her face and skin.
When her symptoms first began to manifest we would spend whole days lying together in bed trying to develop some coping mechanism that might provide relief from the pain that she felt and tried desperately to transmit to me. She developed two separate communication strategies, one that functioned via lucidity and one by intensity. I slowly began to understand her body as she saw it, a type of physical hell, something that she could not escape. Physical, concrete, material; she would repeat these words again and again to ward against that other way we could have spoken through her symptoms; as illness or delusion, the hard growths of paranoia imperfectly expressed, grown out as fibres and tiny shards of glass and slivers of metal and grit that would rub open the pores in her skin, that would infect them, make them sag and weep and slacken the taught surface. She tells me that if you were to cut her arm with a knife it would have the consistency of dough because the honeycomb structure of the tissue had been saturated with an infected fluid; she says that these extrusions of plastics and minerals arrange themselves into the ropes and fibres that force their way through the integrity of her body, through bones and organs and eventually up through the skin. She lies very still on her back in the bed in the evenings. The organs are swelling and boiling together and the skeleton has been transpierced like rebar. All of this activity seeks escape through the pores; if only they could be forced sufficiently open it is possible that she could save the organs and the skeleton. I am listening in the half darkness, watching the shadows grow over her face and the brightness in her eyes flare, surprised again by how direct the actual mechanics of the symptoms are. They are easy to grasp in their full complexity and organise into coherent systems of cause and effect.
Repeatable and safe programme for opening up the body: run a bath as hot as your skin can bear and then swallow sedatives until you are barely conscious and submerge fully, wait for the muscles and tissue to begin to dissolve and watch thousands of tiny silver needles force their exit without wounding or causing any permanent damage. The needles will float for several seconds on the surface of the water and then they will dissolve.
Our relationship lasted less than two years and after it ended I would see L only every other week. It is still amazing to me how we can find ourselves living differently, again and again, as though we would always already outgrow those securities that we developed together for one another in common desperation. She stopped painting and told me that she was not middle class and had no safety net (which was true). This was levelled as an accusation but not an unfair one. She knew like everybody that she was better than the other students in her undergraduate course, and this fact also becomes woven into the story that she is telling me: yes I was better but you know that I cannot afford these indulgences. She is more emotionally stable during this time. I want to say that her intelligence was basically untested under any of the real conditions of keeping a commitment to practice, but instead I say that no one really understands exactly what is happening to painting right now, but that it is a shame that she stopped trying to decode all of the complex data. She laughs loud and hard and answers that it would deflate me a bit to get a job that didn’t involve writing for people that I will never respect.
When she was a student she would strip the ground of the images that she worked as far back as she could in order to arrive at a type of zero state of surface. Away from a canvas she said. This allowed the gestures that she layered on to detach and distort and sometimes come to vibrate with a hallucinatory intensity. No matter how small or inconsequential they would pursue their own survival in the most impoverished states and would be elevated this way - they would become more permanent, more capable of this survival at any cost. I remember very early installations where she would use acetone and bleach to rub the paint away from broad sections of wall in whatever space she was installing in - the rooms of her university, student projects, friend’s houses - and then work back over these prepared sections with cutting tools and scalpels and pen drawings. Her logics was those of a puritan. She had an ingrained understanding of trope and narrative that she took from her obsession with cinema, and the strict structures of material contingency from the strategic simulations that she played online. Over time these images would morph into a series of profoundly religious constellations of shame and guilt and grace and sacrifice, in which the bodies and faces of her subjects were finally fully recognisable as iconography. One night in my apartment she told me there is nothing beautiful in dependence and nothing militant or radical in desire or mental illness, or in sexual submission. Spectacle is not the thing that separates you from some authentic vision. I wondered how these had become the stakes of our compassion.
She began to spend more time online. When we spoke together about these new communities she was like an anthropologist or a deep sea diver describing whole new landscapes and infrastructures of domesticity and kinship. Money and emotional support hoarded in common and distributed in real time response to crisis’ as they emerge - cancer treatment, maternity payments, each one as deserving as the next. Her own symptoms could hook her also into these streams of capital. The people that she begins to associate with have complex relationships with the interplay of cynicism and vulnerability; their primary affects are sincerity and exhaustion.
Eventually L moved away from the city to live in a beach house in a coastal town with a population of about 200. The property had been owned by an aunt who died. The freezing sea along the coast was chopped up into grey waves that would flash into absolute transparency when the sunlight shone through them. I saw her only once after this move, for a weekend that we planned together a long time in advance. I remember running along the boardwalk that follows the crest of the enormous sands dunes that separate the town from the sea, just as the light was fading away but before the night came - there were no lights on the beach, and the night there is very dark - and I remember the smell of salt and feeling the arctic cold of the air from the water that moved over my face and limbs as I ran. During this visit I used amphetamines for the first time. I was trying to finish a story (the first that I would ever sell) and L wanted to have sex instead, and so she ran a bath and we took pills and I spent the rest of the night pressed into her listening to the blood rushing through the muscles in her chest and throat. We spent the final morning reading and writing and then I drove back to the city alone.
L loved to swim and would go to the beach every day but she hated to watch me or any of her friends in the water because one time when she was swimming far from the shore she was pulled out in a current and almost drowned. She told me that she was saved by a surfer. When we were first getting to know one another she would tell me about the dream that she had for months afterwards, of pushing her face and nose and lips up to take in air and having the freezing water come over her again so that she could not breathe, could only panic and get weaker looking back at the shore that really was not so far, but that she knew that she would die trying to reach. The woman who saw L out there in the surf and who swam out to save her offered afterwards to buy her some dinner, to take her back to the house where she lived alone to warm up and dry off and collect herself fully. After this L could not see anyone that she knew disappear beneath the surface of the sea or into the glare of the setting sun’s reflection without that familiar surge of revulsion and panic - she would begin to cry, half from embarrassment and half from fear. It took almost a year for her to work through this reflex. By the time that our relationship ended these were old stories that she could tell with detachment and humour.
You enter the old stone building just as dusk is coming down over the forest. Maybe a soft rain falls through the trees. There is danger in the darkness of the woods, but this fire lit room is a space of solace where you can come to collect yourself between patrols out into the hyperdanger that you must navigate with all of the others. There are the old crew seated at the low tables of the bar; some are gazing into the fire, some are talking and laughing easily and without repression. They have not noticed you yet standing in the doorway but when they do you will be welcomed. The tools of their profession hang from the walls in precise order, well kept and close to hand. We are armed but we are not soldiers; you know that the army is away fighting in distant wars and operations that have no bearing at all on this country or its governance; you have also heard that the soldiers they send off to fight are younger these days, that out there in the shit they are running low on supplies, that the securities of the state have proven (again) inadequate. The state can no longer protect its children, but this is not the concern of you or the others here. We have all come so easily into the role of keeping domestic order during these decades of crisis and chaos. Of course it is endless work to maintain the safety of the roads, but it pays well and you have practiced your sufficiency, here, among equals and sovereign comrades who also understand that the hard work does pay off, and that these moments of reprieve, these spring nights of comfort and shelter; these are are only the most superficial badge earned in profound sacrifice. If the one virtuous order ever came (and there are after all powers above the ruler who is compassionate but deceived, a boy king surrounded by corrupt advisors) you know that they would be the first to answer and you with them, and that all of this busy work would be recognised in an instant for what it is: affordable indulgence.
Your view shifts and tracks backwards through the entrance; away from this night time scene of ease and out into the ambiguous darkness of the forrest. It is still not completely clear what these bodies represent; sealed as tight as combustion chambers; faces and voices distant, even further now from the clarity of light and noise.
If there is one promise they can give you it is this: that eventually the fortresses will crumble and the army will be routed and blown to the wind and all of this will regress again into wilderness. And one of them will fix you with their eyes and tell you without any possibility for compromise how it is and how it has always been. This is also the pursuit of survival at any cost.
Louis Mason, 2019