So I’m finally introducing you fully to Shei. This is maybe pointless, because like everything here is dependent the story he comes from: my personal epic, Lion Teeth. I say epic because— that’s what it is. I have other stories— smaller stories, subtle stories— but this one…isn’t one of them, haha. This will probably be outrageously long. Shei is evasive and flawed and there’s a lot to talk about. Broken into parts with images for your attention span. :D;;
Shei (“shay”). Grey-romantic asexual. No surname because— name culture is a little complicated in the AU that Lion Teeth takes place in, especially since the central setting - a stratocratic city-state called Azimech - is largely a melting pot. I’ll write more on the city’s sociopolitical structure someday, ‘cause I find it really interesting and fun. :) Briefly: surnames are more house/people/homeland references (when one is not an Azimech native), or else political or military titles one receives in adulthood. The northern village Shei comes from was small and his family wasn’t particularly significant to the community, so a surname was never necessary; nor was the village significant enough to reference in a name after he left. However, I would also say his lack of a surname/referential title is definitely a conscious choice on his part. His feelings towards his homeland are… abundantly negative. It’s a passive way of severing himself from it.
Introverted and charming, Shei is one of three central protagonists (the other two being a pair of magnificent goobers called Juno and Bek). Some context, because there’s no way around explaining this stuff if I’m going to be talking in depth about him: the story revolves around a kind of— post-apocalyptic organization of mercenary-ghostbusters called fireflies (I don’t have an LT-language word for this yet, but I will, because it’s silly and outdated as is - anyway it’s why Azimech is frequently referred to colloquially as the City of Fireflies). Their choice of title is derived from a cultural motif which alludes to fireflies as the spirits of deceased warriors. A few hundred years ago shit hit the fan in a big way, and the demon population exploded. Most spirits fled the living world. The world’s mortal population was devastated, as much by massacre as by the outbreak of something which I ambiguously call Infection. Azimech came about as a kind of crossroads-turned-stronghold after things calmed down, and the firefly military later grew out of that. They have a heavy grip on almost every major city remaining on the continent due to their specialization, and their city functions mostly on a strict system of tribute in exchange for protection. It’s a ugly setup, but for those located in more dangerous territories (which is pretty much— all of them), there isn’t much alternative. At fifteen, Shei is a firefly recruit, as are his two aforementioned best friends.
Character Overview: Spoilers abound!
Shei was a quiet and introspective child, and this has not changed with adolescence. He was/is best summed up as intense. Placid on the exterior, he has a natural atmosphere of introverted passion that many find intoxicating— what he feels, he feels severely, and often finds himself overwhelmed. He started speaking very late (which generated a lot of anxiety in his parents), but was remarkably articulate when he finally did. Intelligent and even-tempered, he was gifted with a brilliant imagination, and the self-awareness he possessed at such a young age was maybe his most striking attribute.
Around the age of six, his mother began to show signs of mental instability. She became frustrated with him often, and it became increasingly evident that she resented motherhood. Shei - empathetic and perceptive as he was - internalized this profoundly. As she grew progressively more volatile towards him, he dedicated every waking second to his performance as the Perfect Son. It became an obsession, especially as his efforts only seemed to antagonize her further. Fissures appeared in his parents’ relationship, but while his mother avoided him, his father frequently spent time with him, telling him stories, weaving dreams of a better future. Making promises.
When Shei’s father finally left, something inside him broke. It was the same for his mother; left alone - enraged, betrayed, scared - she turned the blame on Shei, and regularly became physically violent with him. He, in turn, took his father’s abandonment and his mother’s violence as verification of his worthlessness. The departure was his fault, because he was not able to make her love him; her further resentment, and everything she did to express it, was something he deserved. He stopped trying to please her. Stopped speaking. Did little but sleep and cook. His mother developed a “punishment” of locking him in closets and, in particular, a dark spare room with a single picture window and an old, beaten black piano.
He reasoned Kain off as an imaginary friend when he first appeared: a white-faced child with dark hair and small black eyes that glittered coolly when he smiled, thin lips stretched over too many tiny, needle-like teeth. An heirloom of his mother’s sickness. His mind giving him someone to talk to, in the long hours of silence when he was too tired, too desolate to sleep. Kain was cold, cruelly honest and falsely sympathetic, and Shei spent most of their time together lying numbly around on the floor, listening to Kain lecture casually about his uselessness as he painted pictures on the walls, disinterestedly mutilated Shei’s possessions. When he tired of his own voice, he played the piano. On rare good days, taught Shei how to mimic the dancing of his fingers. Eventually Shei began to lock himself in the spare room, to escape his mother and wait for Kain to alleviate his loneliness. Prison revised into sanctuary.
Shei’s mother worsened, and so did her abuse; the confinement periods lasted longer. The bruises multiplied, grew darker. Shei stopped leaving the room entirely. Malnourished, exhausted, no longer possessing the energy to feel sorry for himself, he became frequently ill. Slept almost continuously. Time lost its relevance. His will to live waned.
Eventually, as people tend to do, he snapped. Eleven years old, cornered again by a madwoman, goaded by a ghost-boy’s accusations of weakness, and fueled by years of bottled terror and self-hatred, he rammed a kitchen knife into her eye socket. Punctured and carved, until he could no longer recognize her as the icon of fear who taught him to hate.
That was the night that Kain appeared, for the first time, as a man instead of a child. The blood never came off Shei’s hands. They turned black, cold, entirely numb. Seared living tissue like acid. A textbook instance of Infection, dead flesh reaching slowly for the heart. He has reoccurring nightmares of decomposition and infestation. Imagines maggots as the culprits of itching he shouldn’t be able to feel.
He and Kain left the house that night and never returned. Shei appeared again four years later in Azimech, enlisting in the firefly military. Graceful. Mild-mannered and reserved, but not to be mistaken as shy. Enigmatic, clever, and kind. A gloved black fox with a frequent smile, a relatively unremarkable case of claustrophobia, and a disposition like warm snow.
Might as well start with this one, while I’m still huddled in some dark corner feeling awkward and terrible about putting him through that kind of a childhood. There are a lot of things about this relationship that I’ve tried for a long time to ignore or deny, afraid of— shaming him. But uncomfortable as it is, this stuff is there. And it’s pivotal to understanding Shei as a character, and why he eventually does such an explosively brutal swan dive off the handle later on in the story.
To switch perspectives for a moment: here’s Kain. The emotional aftermath of a man who died screaming at the center of an execution pyre several centuries prior to Shei’s birth. The Kain who appears to Shei is not this man, but a kind of echo of him. A reverberation of pain, of anger so intensely experienced, it burned itself onto reality and was left behind. The human Kain died, but his guilt and his hate lived on. It gravitated towards other burn marks, swallowed them to sustain itself, accumulated, until it was alive. Until it began to shape itself into a Thing, a form. Until that form became self-aware. And then, conveniently came across a living torch, radiating the same kind of negativity that had been helping it to grow. Green-eyed boy all covered in guilt, soul blindingly aflame with it like a dark beacon. The form latched on and fed. Developed the ability to project itself. To use its voice in ways that could extract even more from its host. Until suddenly one night, it had a body.
Shei, however, initially interpreted Kain’s presence as a hallucination, a construct of his loneliness. The more he hung around, the more Shei became aware of his existence as independent from him. And despite Kain’s abuse, he clung to him. Desperately grateful. Because despite the terrible things the Thing said in its kind, quiet voice— it stayed. Tolerated him, no matter how deeply Shei repulsed it. No matter how pathetic he was, how awful a child. With no friends, no home, nothing he could consider a family, Shei had Kain. There was always Kain. Callous and consistent.
With his mother’s blood still warm on his hands, Kain held him, wearing the meat of the woman’s corpse. Acknowledging fully what Shei had done, what that made him. Accepted him as a monster. And because of this, Shei believed Kain loved him. And loved him intensely in return. He had never wanted anything in his life but warmth; Kain unwaveringly supplied. Grotesque symbiosis - one creature liberated by a violent act, the other, given life.
Their relationship only grew more warped with time. There are many aspects of it I find hard to face directly, because it’s so drowned in shame. But they’re there. Shei’s feelings towards Kain are more childlike than anything. In Kain’s presence, Shei displays a persona vastly different from the one witnessed by other characters in the story; he is… exceedingly fragile, when the masks come down. Kain is a comfort object. A parent, a best friend, a master. He is everything at once, because from the beginning he was all Shei had. He was every figure, every role. And Shei’s sexual relationship with him is deeply rooted in Kain’s mother-aspect. The acknowledgement, the physical affection he never received from the mother he had. It’s a passive source of security for Shei, and a psychological game of comfort and manipulation for Kain. A pacifying trauma, which Kain utilizes to his advantage. To regulate Shei, as a… well of negative energy. It is not something Shei seeks out, nor is he necessarily a willing participant. It is simply… something that happens to him. Something he is deeply ashamed of, but continues anyway, because attention from Kain – whatever form it may take – is what keeps him alive. Just another affirmation of his own monstrosity, necessary to justify his continued existence. Shei has to consistently destroy and disappoint himself in order to live with the things he’s done. To maintain an Identity. Kain nurtures this compulsion. Feeds on the pain that results. It’s an indissoluble part of their gross interdependence.
I’ve simplified. My head hurts and I can only handle so much of this part of Shei’s life. It is not a sexy relationship. And I worry that it will be interpreted that way once I start this story. But anyway… on to the happier stuff.
Lion Teeth’s main protagonist. Abomination half-spiritdog scrub orphaned by a certain godfather’s jealous tantrum. Scruffy, relentless, intrepid. Stubbornly and rebelliously optimistic. Gender anarchist. Unexpectedly emotionally intelligent, but utterly lacking in tact. Shei’s palemate in a big big way. Juno’s existence is— contrary to everything that defines Shei’s. And simultaneously, they are the same. In every aspect. Counterparts. They are my Twins, two intertwined facets of one brightdark cosmic being, sun and moon in an orbiting dance.
Juno wears her heart recklessly, in a posture of defiance. Salvaged as an infant from the wreckage of a nearby village, she quickly came to be ostracized for a number of idiosyncrasies – particularly the ones that were too supernatural for the rest of the population’s comfort, despite repeated affirmations of her humanity. She learned early on just how widely to grin to shut people up. How to assert her existence, when walled in by a sea of downcast eyes. She burns furiously with a light meant to Show Them All; instead of backing off in hurt or shame when met with indifference or hostility, she pushes harder. I Was Here. I’m Still Here. And you’re gonna recognize that whether you like it or not. Because being hated is infinitely preferable to Not Existing. She’s aware that her happiness bothers people. So she wears it flashy as possible.
Juno is one of eight other recruits in Shei’s platoon. Shei finds her… incredibly disarming. Her spirit is enormous, and it’s got a gravitational pull to match. When someone burns that brightly, it’s easy to become lost in it. To be blinded, to believe in things that just— aren’t rational or possible. And he’s so susceptible to those kinds of things; his perception of beauty is so acute, so powerful. And he knows that, so he’s wary, noncommittal, often exhausted by her, but there is a part of him that wants so badly to believe in the world he sees illuminated by her light. And most of the time words aren’t even necessary for him to betray himself. At the same time— she’s quieted by him. She trusts him entirely, instinctively, and - being Juno - it never crosses her mind to question why. She’ll listen to him when nobody else can talk sense into her. He’s able to pacify her with a single word or look. It’s observable, the differences in their behavior when they interact on their own. Bek often notices her adapting to Shei’s conversational habits; talking with Shei means less wild gesturing, an ease with long silences. He, in turn, is significantly more open in body language around her; he doesn’t flinch when she touches him. Smiles in a way that reaches his eyes. Like they’re hearing a language between each others’ words that only they can understand. They share an intensity of spirit; while his is introverted, hers is extroverted. But I think they sense that in each other, subconsciously, and they don’t have to work so hard at maintaining the masks. The facades don’t matter because they can already see what’s underneath - and what they see they recognize, as a piece of themselves.
Imagine you have these tall stone walls around you. Maybe you put them there, maybe some other people did, maybe they just appeared one day and you don’t know how to take them down— and you poke your head out over them and yell down to other people, but they all stay where they are. And they don’t come in. And then one day you notice somebody else with their own set of big grey walls, and they’re yelling down at other people, and you recognize that. Instinctively you know what they’re doing when they’re back behind them, hidden away, even if you don’t know why they have to be there. And somehow in the process of decay and rebuilding, those walls become the same, merge into each other until at some point you look over and that person is right next to you. And you’re both peering over the stone at the world, but together, the two of you, inhabit another one separate from that. A place that only exists for you, because you created it, Felt it into being. It’s like a radio frequency that only the two of you are equipped to hear, or a color only the both of you can see. Because you made it together. Like a language. Shared dreaming. There’s a plane behind the walls that no one else can access, even if the walls were to collapse, and from that place you face the world together.
It’s no wonder that Bek feels amazingly incompetent in Shei’s presence. His capacity to love is magnificent— but he’ll never quite understand. A lot of things. And that’s okay. He’s been No One, but he’s never had to be a Monster. That silent recognition of loneliness will never be a part of Juno and Bek’s relationship, the way it is with Juno and Shei. There are other things that bind them together. But with Jhei, it’s— looking into another person and recognizing yourself. Understanding, without words, so intensely that it scares you awake at night. A mirror— familiarity and love without speaking, without touch. Without sight. Glass in between. Just their heartbeat somewhere in the dark, the warmth you know it has even if you can’t feel it. Knowing someone else is There.
And for Shei, her fire is as much a cleansing force as it is destructive. There’s so much duality inside both of them, in addition to what exists between them… They both have those black hands. The product of Action. We’re the same, she jokes, palms charred and blistered after hurling explosives all day, and he resents her for it. For a time, until he begins to understand the strange symbiosis it reflects. Her hands are dirty, scarred; his are dead. Soaked through with the memory of hate. A little like their hearts. Or at least, the way they picture their own hearts. Cold water washes the soot from her fingers, cleans the burns, soothes the calluses. The flames cremate the rotten pieces of him. Purify. Clear the Death away. Leave him capable of cultivating new life. She’s like that. A brushfire in his blood and he screams because it’s pain like he’s never felt and he hates her hates her hates her until he realizes that— it hurts because he’s actually Feeling something again.
The problem with it is, it gets to challenging everything about the way Shei understands himself. As a monster. His whole life has been—this drawn-out pageant of futility and worthlessness. The only way for him to be okay with the things that have happened to him is to believe he deserved them. That he’s not capable of love, and that because he is a monster, it is not possible for him to be loved. And why should he want to be. He exists to hurt and be hurt.
He finds himself letting go too often. Falling into the lie. He laughs it off to himself, but the smiles are genuine. He tells himself he’s in control, that she knows only what he wants her to. And that’s true. The trouble is, what he wants her to know is more than he’s supposed to. His world has been Don’t Close Your Eyes, Don’t You Forget What You Are. And because of Juno, he almost does. So he has to make her go away. Reaffirm his right to exist. Because if he’s still human – if there’s still light, still love in him – he would have to take responsibility for his actions and experiences, for his own happiness. He’d have to splinter everything he understands about himself and the world to pieces. Face the empty child lying lonely at the core. Take its hand and lead it Up.
Because… there’s all sorts of weird messiah stuff going on in the way he views Juno as well. His smallness, self-hatred, causes him to elevate the people he loves to god status. Despite his composed and level-headed demeanor, he’s a highly emotional person, and when people get through like that—they become something more than human. When Juno fails to kill him, she ultimately fails him as a Savior. She verifies that she is not, in fact, the Figurehead of All That Is Good. Because Good is always supposed to win.
This is a positive thing. Eventually, when he figures it out. Because suddenly, she’s human. Her belief in him is no longer an ineffable Force; it’s a Choice. Which means something even more turbulent for him: that a human being finds him worth loving. And that— in as much as she is not the Figurehead of Good, maybe he isn’t the Figurehead of Bad. And, once he realizes this, stops abstracting people to fit into his fucked up worldview—he understands. How it’s not about someone acknowledging you, Saving you. It’s about digging down inside yourself and making the conscious decision to Be Okay. Make Life Better. Defining your own worth, for yourself and for them, because your pain causes them pain. Understanding that it’s all a cosmic balancing act: shadows cannot exist without a light to cast them, and light cannot exist without a darkness to fill up. Jhei’s relationship is like that. They need each other to exist. One is not Itself without the other to define its edges.
So in the end Bek and Juno don’t even come close to saving his life.
What they do give him is the incentive to save himself.
Juno’s reluctant sidekick best friend. Med school drop-out gone awkward soldier. Only son of a prominent military healer. Heterosexual. Skeptical, sarcastic, unlucky, and consequently prone to theatrics. A persistently pessimistic optimist. Possesses several kinds of inferiority complexes, but a strong heart. Which he is adamant about ignoring.
Bek is sort of Lion Teeth‘s everyman. Tall and gawky - one of those boys in the stages of being all elbows and knees - with gold eyes and a wide coyote grin. He’s a little bit like a lens through which we watch the other characters circle each other, and his relationship with Juno and Shei as sort of the third wheel to their cosmic moirallegiance, is often something he himself has trouble understanding. I’m going to try to cover a little of Shei’s asexuality here as well, since Bek is the context in which it most frequently surfaces/becomes an issue.
Let’s get something out of the way: Bek is pretty sweet on Juni. He doesn’t realize this yet, nor will he have the emotional maturity to understand it until years into the story. Which is a good thing, because neither will she. For now, they’re all tangled up in a Bromance of Epic Proportions, and they’re quite happy participating in the Most Inane Arguments Ever, splitting each other’s knuckles, fleeing angry mobs, falling over each other laughing at inappropriate moments, and being generally belligerent in public spaces.
Anyway: Shei and Bek. This relationship is a strange one, because it’s one that under any other circumstances probably wouldn’t exist. In no universe would these two ever be friends, except for the one that has Juno in it. Because the amount of charisma that Shei possesses approximately equals the amount that Bek lacks. He is sarcastic, wry, exasperated, and the first to hang lampshades and point out that the Emperor Ain’t Got No Pants. Being the story’s butt monkey has made him extremely genre savvy, haha, and he’s usually the only one to notice ironies and absurdities. He’s turned facepalming and dubious eyebrow-raising into art forms. If bad timing were an Olympic Sport he’d have a wall of gold medals. Naturally, Shei’s effortless combination of charm, talent, and good looks ignites a smoldering inferno in Bek’s ego.
Jealousy, for the most part, defines Bek’s side of the relationship. Shei is this icon of Stoic Warrior Ladykilling Perfection - exactly everything Bek tries really hard and fails to be. So his posturing reaches god tier levels of ridiculous around Shei, much to Shei’s baffled embarrassment. It’s a painfully one-sided rivalry, and one that makes Shei squeamish and uncomfortable. Especially in the way it manifests in relation to Juno.
It’s… very difficult for Bekkumare to be around the two of them when they’re doing their queerplatonic celestial twin thing. For a long time he just— can’t understand that their relationship is not a sexually romantic one. Because for him, of course it’s like that, even though it initially appears that Jek is the more platonic of the two. Jhei is certainly a romance in a way, but it isn’t a sexual one. Neither of them wants to mack on the other— they just want to look out for the other one. To See them, be changed by them. And as the the sole conventionally “sexual” member of the triad, Bek can’t quite grasp how something that strong, that huge, could exist without sexuality entering the picture. But to his credit, as a sixteen-year-old kid soldier in a society that doesn’t exactly hold academic discussions on these things, he understands that it does. And comes to accept it. Protect it, even. And despite his initial bad feelings about Shei, he makes the conscious decision to trust him, because he trusts whole-heartedly in Juno. The rest of his attitude toward Shei is more a half-serious campaign of one-upmanship, meant to antagonize someone he cares about/admires like an infuriatingly awesome older brother.
Even so, as dryly critical as he is of other people, there is no one Bek is harder on than himself. He constantly finds himself questioning the importance of his own role within the trio. Jhei’s relationship is so intense that he often wonders why they need him at all; he feels like an awkward, unnecessary third aspect to their yin-yang duality. He doesn’t give himself enough credit. Juno and Shei are such enormous characters, such larger-than-life personalities that— left on their own I think they’d spin wildly out of control. Become dangerous to one another, or to themselves. He reins them in, holds their feet firmly to the ground. If Juno’s the sun and Shei’s the moon, then Bek is the earth that gives them context, keeps them orbiting in a functional way. Shei seems to realize this, as well as Bek’s insecurities, and makes discreet efforts to make Bek feel appreciated and necessary. Because he desperately is. More often, he tries to manipulate Juno into doing so. (And is the only living person who could ever get away with that, haha.) Because Shei is keenly aware of where this is going. ;)
As un-trio-like as this is beginning to sound, Bek and Shei do have a relationship sans Juno. It’s an awkward one, because they’re both incredibly perceptive characters when it comes to other people, and they get stuff about each other that I don’t think they’re really close enough to be comfortable admitting. Shei is distressed by his tendency to make Bek feel insignificant, and Bek knows this and continues making an idiot of himself anyway, because of how uncomfortable it makes him feel that Shei is uncomfortable with him. Shei is also somewhat wary of Bek, who displays a sharp intuition when it comes to judgment of character. Appeasing him is in his best interest. It’s just, a carousel of weird. Of course this changes with time, as their friendship begins to catch up to their awkwardly insightful readings on each other. Particularly once Bek finds out about Shei’s illness.
Skipping the details of that particular discovery so as not to embarrass them both, Bek essentially heckles Shei into seeing the Order for treatment (he is, after all, the son of a physician). Bek is a splendid worrier- he’s very creative with imagined disasters, and habitually jumps to the worst possible conclusion. And, in his heart of hearts, he’s a guardian and a caretaker. He’s hard on his friends because he worries about them constantly, and he wants to be the one to be there to protect them when necessary. It makes him feel necessary, needed. Shei makes him promise not to tell Juno about the extent of the Infection’s progression, knowing full well Bek abides by a strict internal honor code and would rather eat gravel than go back on his word. Bek begrudgingly complies, but is a draconian nag when it comes to checking up on Shei and making sure he keeps up with his treatments. He escorts him personally to the Order’s sect of the city for these appointments, and Shei supposes he appreciates this. It’s a significant gesture, given Bek’s previous rants on the Order’s unrivaled magnificence as a cesspool of creepy.
Bek’s perspective on Shei changes a lot after this. Having grown up in the vicinity of Azimech’s medical facilities/his father’s profession, Bek’s a lot more informed about the Infection and its effects/origins than the general population, so his concern for his friend is boosted exponentially by his knowledge (limited, still, as it is). His father is good friends with one of the Order’s highest elders, Igbira, who frequently stops by the family household for casual visits. From childhood Bek has regarded him as kind of a scary mad uncle, despite Igbira’s actually very warm and humorous disposition. Bek avoids being left alone with him when possible.
Nevertheless, Enso (Bek’s father) and Igbira enjoy discussing and debating developments in their related fields, and though very different, they respect each others’ separate approaches toward helping people. To them, what works is what’s important. People are important. And they’re always very interested in what the other is doing, and how they can complement each other’s work as healers. Growing up Bek’s been privy to many of their discussions, so he’s aware of the implications Infection carries. Of its tendency to appear in “troubled” individuals, or people close to those them, when it isn’t contracted physically or inherited. Needless to say, this… alters his perspective on Shei irrevocably.
Because while Shei and Juno are counterparts, Shei and Bek are a different kind of opposites. Bek may not know exactly what kind of trauma Shei’s endured, or even be able to imagine the extent of it, but he knows that while Shei seems to have won the lottery in terms of the shallow stuff - charisma, looks, intelligence - his life probably hasn’t been as easy as Bek initially assumes those things must make it. Bek may be socially clumsy, but he isn’t stupid. Shei doesn’t have any living family (or so he’s told them), and he routinely casually skirts the subject of his homeland, any mention of his life prior to his arrival in Azimech. Bek’s quick to assume when they first meet that this is some kind of Mysterious Coolkid act and habitually makes cracks at him about it, even making up a number of elaborate narratives concerning his Dark Dark Past. Ever the master of the foot-in-mouth. But when he learns of the extent of Shei’s illness he deduces pretty quickly that there probably really is something in Shei’s history that was unpleasant. And that he’s been acting like an obtuse bag of dicks.
Shei got all the surface stuff that Bek, frustratingly, lacks. But Bek grew up in an exceptionally ordinary household, with two intelligent and supportive, loving parents. Dogging Shei about seeing the Order is his way of trying to balance things between them, and to make up for acting like such a jerk. Shei of course understands it for the apology/gesture of friendship that it is, but Bek’s concern does more to embarrass him than his jokes ever did. But having a secret brings them a lot closer than they were before - gives them a context of their own - and Shei confides in Bek where his condition is concerned. Their friendship is the most decidedly normal relationship Shei has ever had. Bek, being who he is, avoids broaching the subject of Feelings (and anything related) in conversation, and Shei finds this infinitely refreshing. He gets to be casual, friendly, genuine without worrying about the mask slipping. Bek, in turn, holds up his end of the bargain; despite Juno’s frequent interrogations, he shrugs off their disappearances together with vague excuses, managing for the most part to redirect her attention elsewhere. He really respects and values Shei’s trust in him.
So, given their easy, down-to-earth understanding with one another, it’s not hard to understand why Bek takes Shei’s departure personally. Really personally. Much more than Juno, whose anger comes primarily from a place of How Dare You Buy Into This Crap. You’re better than this and I’m not above hitting you in the face until the loose screws in your brain wrench themselves back into place. She’ll hunt him down, relentless— whatever it takes to wake him, rip him from what she views as this retardedly self-indulgent display of Giving Up. She believes in his potential beyond his disintegration. Her philosophy on life has always been about Hope beyond Pain.
But for the more sensitive and linear-minded Bek— Shei’s actions are a brazen personal betrayal. How Dare You Do This To Us. To me. I respected you. Because Shei was this brother, this eye-level hero; they fought beside each other for two years, and the last thing he ever expected was to be fighting each other. Unlike Juno, he is— hollowly disappointed in Shei. Just, utterly let down. Sickened that he ever thought of this person as some kind of role model, or friend. And horrified at how— he had all the signs to know this was coming. His gut instincts were right. He knew things about Shei that nobody else did, but he never told anyone. He knew what Shei’s illness implied about him; and, more than anything, he knew that the Infection had reached his heart. And still he walked himself right into this trap, ignoring every red flag. Worst of all, walked Juno into it. Bcause he cared. Because for all of their sakes, he wanted to be wrong.
From that moment on, Shei is nothing but a traitor to him. When Shei says, This Is Who I Really Am, Juno doesn’t believe his bullshit for a second. Bek’s response, contrarily is— yeah, well, I can see that. Thanks for the heads-up. And if there’s anything Bek’s got a natural aptitude for, it’s holding grudges. Even after his resurrection, he blames himself entirely for what happened. Why he’s suddenly so much more forceful about his opinions. He gets really aggressive about what he thinks is best— for him, for Juno. And he doesn’t hesitate to make calls for the both of them, even when it blatantly disregards her feelings. He trusted his heart before - something he is usually insistent about not doing - against all his better judgment, and he’s not going to make that mistake again. Shei becomes an Enemy, cut and dry. And though he and Juno somehow make it through this really awful rift that the whole ordeal carves between them, he does agree to leave with her to find Shei. Not to save him—he’s not that convinced, despite what he implies to her. Bek just wants him dead. Preferably by his sword.
Or, that’s what he tells himself. That was the plan anyway. But Bek’s a lover, not a fighter (I can see the offended face he’d be making if he could hear me). He’s a healer, a protector. His heart wasn’t made for hurting. And deep down, I think he’d forgiven Shei before he even consciously knew what Shei was there to do.
He does get a few really satisfying punches in, though, before he realizes that his heart’s just not in it. So there’s that.
Some questions I’ve received when posting about Shei before, the answers to which may help clear up some of the more ambiguous patches of his bio. :);;
Shei’s father? Why didn’t he take Shei with him?
Shei’s father is someone I have a hard time getting a clear picture of, because the only access I have to him is through Shei’s memories, and Shei’s pretty much blacked out all of those. I think as much as he hated his mother, he hated his father even more for being the Respectable one— the one who abandoned him with all this false hope. He used to tell Shei he was going to get him out of there. Shei believed him. But his father was a hopeless coward. He never did anything to stop the abuse; he was just as guilty of neglect in that respect. I think he wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. I think your mind just reels at that kind of thing, so you back away. Particularly when your wife, this person you were in love with, somewhere along the line turned into this volatile creature you can’t even recognize. When he left, I imagine it was completely in a moment of anger— he didn’t expect never to come home. I think he couldn’t bring himself to face them again. I think he couldn’t face the coward he’d been in that house. The only way to cope with it was to run away from it, bury it. But there was no dramatic scene. Shei went to bed one night, and in the morning, the only stable part of his life was gone. He didn’t wait up— he knew pretty instantly that his father wasn’t coming back. Who would? Shei would’ve done the same if he could.
What’s the Order?
The Order of the Ibis, of which Igbira is a high-ranking elder, is more or less a religious cult of alchemist witch-doctors (though I dislike that word), students/disciples of the mythological Ibis. Highly secretive and steeped in all sorts of superstition, they have a reputation for autosacrifice.
Apprentices undergo intense rites of body modification, beginning with the initiation sacrifice of the little finger of both hands— the eldest and highest-ranking members are often missing limbs. many are blind. They hide their faces and bodies when working; the modifications are not for display. Instead they are thought to make one more susceptible to the spirit world and its energy (think, for instance, of how many people supposedly develop precognitive abilities after losing limbs or undergoing near-death experiences). Punching holes in the body also punches holes in the soul—holes which let the otherworlds in. Not only that, it’s a show of selflessness and community. They use their own blood in many of their ceremonies and alchemical pursuits, and the blood of an Ibis is thought to be an extremely sacred and powerful element. Their power draws heavily from their willingness to give away pieces of themselves for those they wish to help. They are primarily healers, but they specialize not so much in the anatomy of the body as the anatomy of the spirit. They are masters of medicinal ritual, making use of stones and herbs, and are incredibly skilled at working with the raw energies of other living things (not a profession for the faint-hearted). Recently, due to the medical bafflement surrounding what’s been referred to as Infection, the Order has begun specializing in its research and treatment.
Bek finds them unforgivably creepy and avoids them with all the leery enthusiasm of a child avoiding bogeymen, despite their positive role in the city.
What is the Infection like? How exactly does it spread?
The thing is, um. No one really knows. They theorize wildly, but they have yet to really understand anything about it. They just know what tends to happen, and that certain things seem to occur in correlation with it. They don’t have the remotest clue if any of those things are actually related to it. Which is why it’s such a weirdly thief-in-the-night kinda thing, treating it. There’s a lot of stigma attached to it, because it tends to show up sometimes after contact with demons. And demons seem to be immune. But that connection is more cultural. People want to blame it on their favorite scapegoat. I can spoil you and say demons don’t get you sick. But they have yet to come up with a better explanation.
The scariest part of it is, it’s not actually a physical disease. Bek’s father and his colleagues have tried treating it, but nothing was effective. Because…technically, the afflicted part of you is dead. Just dead. The tissue’s no longer living. There’s nothing going on there, nothing that could be causing it to spread. And it’s completely impossible, because even when it spreads from appendages and skin to more vital things— when it kills the pieces of you you kinda need to be alive, like, say, your guts— you’re still alive. For a while, at least, until it swallows your brain or your heart. For a while they’d just, amputate whatever was affected. It always came back elsewhere. Because the infection’s not in your body— it’s in the spirit.
Which is where the Order comes in. They specialize in spiritual healing, so naturally, they champion the curing of the Infection. They can perform a kind of spirit surgery. They know how to locate blemishes on the soul and work at scrubbing them off. It’s a slow and incredibly delicate process— like removing grains of dust and sand from old film by hand— and usually not quick enough to counteract how quickly the Infection grows. The best they can do right now is slow it down, but they aren’t able to keep it static or stop it. In successful cases of complete removal, when they catch it early enough, it almost always comes back within the year. Among the things the Order’s research HAS confirmed is that it does spread on contact. People who get wounded by the affected bits of Infected individuals usually develop cases of their own, rooted at the wound. Also part of the stigma. Infected people are Plague On Legs. They know it can be inherited, too, which is how Razan, um, came into being. His mother had it, and she died in childbirth. Razan wasn’t afflicted, but— he didn’t exactly come out human, either.
So really, it kind of comes about on its own through trauma. And you have to be kind of, susceptible to that trauma—being scarred by it. Which most people are. There has to be something in your soul for it to latch onto. Juno sustains quite a few injuries (including The Big One) from Shei that technically should have gotten her sick. But it didn’t. Because it had nothing to stick to. She didn’t hate him back. OH TRUSTY SYMBOLISM STICK, MANY A CRANIA YOU’VE KNOCKED TODAY—
Anyway it just. Varies amazingly from individual. From how it comes about to how it manifests to how quickly it spreads. So everyone’s all frustrated and scared and it’s straight up terminal. The only difference is how long you’ve got. Some people make it pretty long. It all depends on who you are. Shei’s is a really bizarre case. It hasn’t quite reached far enough into his vitals to kill him. But his heart’s not beating. It’s. Uh. Impossible and weird and the Order’s all very excited over him. He doesn’t like the appointments. They make him feel like a lab rat, despite how helpful and nice they all are. :|
It’s probably worth mentioning that Bek’s family is aware of Shei’s case, too. They regularly meet at Bek’s family’s residence with Igbira to exchange updates with his dad, who also treats Shei (ineffectively, but hey can’t hurt, and damned if he doesn’t try). Enso likes to keep tabs on Shei, and he’s interested academically in how a boy without a pulse could still be walking around. Concerned, too, as a father. It’s super awkward for Shei. Family situations like that. Being at the center of attention, everybody looking at him. Bek’s apologetic and good at getting them out of there as quickly as possible though. They’re bonding experiences, if nothing else. Something to laugh about later.
What is Kain like? What’s his point of view in all this?
I consistently dread this questions. In summary: the buzz of carrion flies. Nauseated barefoot man who speaks softly and moves like a drunken dancer. Perpetual smile that flickers gently between loving and snarling.
Kain’s manipulative, moody, bored, on fire. Haphephobic. An aura of acceptance with an undercurrent of personal contempt. Graceful. Volatile. Vindictive. A flawlessly honest liar. God complex. Puppeteer control freak obsessed with freedom of choice. Self-styled martyr with an ever-turning wheel of personalities. Known among his inner circle as the Facechanger as much for his unpredictability as his shifting appearances— he can be sympathetic, cool, infinitely patient, handle the most delicate of circumstances with subtlety and composure, and at other moments—become vengeful and violently impulsive. The severity of his nausea seems to be a direct influence in these episodes (it wears his patience dangerously thin), and those around him habitually gauge his temperament by how sick he seems to feel. His phobic obsession with being Clean also feeds into this; he’s been known to make short work of people for touching him, and spends a lot of time elaborately avoiding touching anyone else. Shei is an exception, but he makes a point of conveying his disgust. He tends to sabotage even his own goals on off days, but never seems too fazed; at the very least, it keeps people from settling into feeling safe. Vetis—Kain’s regenerative, appropriately masochistic starfish of a right-hand man—finds this aspect of him particularly attractive, and enjoys provoking him as a form of emotional bonding—to witness just what Kain is capable of (and likely to discover just how many times he can fall in love with him as a result).
So there’s something terrible right there—Vetis. Kain’s relationship with him is an important one, even if it’s all business on Kain’s end. Vetis and his feelings are representative of a large portion of Kain’s political following. Kain saved his life, in a similar way he did Shei’s—Vetis was a grinning, hedonistic burning accident scene of self-destruction when Kain found him. He was dying of Infection and Kain showed him what there was to be gained from welcoming it (and the death of his human self), rather than fighting it to an ultimate and more permanent end. Since, Vetis has remained at Kain’s side, sycophantic fanatic, apostle and (he believes) lover, growing into one of his most powerful dogs. For the most part he’s obsessive and doting. He’s deeply grateful to Kain, and he’s come to believe whole-heartedly in his ambitions; and it’s Vetis (and all the others like him) that Kain ultimately betrays. They are nothing but the casualties of the means to his own self-serving ends. Kain is a powerful orator with all the charisma and then some to back it up, and his message essentially boils down to this: demonkind deserves free will. Demonkind is condemned, slaughtered for existing, regardless of individual choice. Humanity gets to choose its own path; and when it chooses evil, even then it still has a shot at redemption. It still perceives itself as “naturally good,” as does the world around it. Demons at least are honest; they do what they do because it is in their nature. Some, not even that. Why should they suffer punishment for the way they were made? So not only does humanity have to answer for its crimes of genocide and its hypocrisy, but so do the “gods” for the cruelty of creating a damned race.
It’s a seductive argument, especially for those who just want to jump on bandwagon in hopes of more violence. It’s important not to misunderstand; Kain’s legitimately angry about this, but it’s more personal than he makes it out to be. He’s deeply angry for himself, not the monsters. There’s a residual piece of the human in him, who died hating in the name of love and human corruption but—it’s become warped. It’s become selfish. Largely, I think Kain’s angry without understanding why. He just—wants to see it all burn. Because at his core he ultimately is that anger, rather than… a person feeling anger. Or at least that’s how he came into being. And this rebellion against fate focuses that rage, gives it a purpose. But as much as Kain hates humanity—which he views as much sicker than demons, since they freely make the choice to be awful—his biggest beef is with the First. With the so-called powers that be. They’re the worst of the worst, abandoning the world to its illnesses when things got out of hand, playing Impartial and Uninvolved. He wants to call them out on their hypocrisy and flaws, shake them out from their hiding place behind the veil. If he’s damned—if he’s not welcome in their “heaven,” then they aren’t worthy either. He’ll burn it down and make his own. He wants to be Clean. He’s obsessed with a kind of spiritual purity; a black-on-black saturation of the soul. He’s having a cosmic hissy fit over it, sure, but in a way he’s right. He refuses to accept these terms, this bullshit demon “destiny” thrust upon him, to be a lapdog of the almighty. He’s going to create his own paradise. And if in the end he still has to burn in hell then he’s going to take the whole world with him. If he can’t have redemption, no one can. For someone so hellbent on humiliating the gods, he’s got a pretty massive god complex. And he doesn’t care what he has to do, how many people he has to lead to massacre in the name of false hope, as long as he gets what he feels he deserves. It’s all a little hilarious. People are predictable, empty animals and all you have to do is fill them up.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Kain loves Shei (not even in the warped way that Shei loves him), but he’s certainly addicted to him. Not only in a physical way, but emotionally as well. Shei is a grounding point for him, a Home. Shei is reassuring in his ability to be controlled. Kain’s quite drunk on Not Caring; he is this person’s god. He can do anything he wants to them and they will go on staying, go on deliberately hurting themselves, satiating him with their pain. They’ll die for it. Damn themselves to be used. Willingly. And I think in a strange way he romanticizes the fuck out of this symbiosis. Shei is this exquisite ruined protégé and they’re monsters side by side, unstoppable together. The possibility of it ever changing does not for a fleeting moment cross his mind. They are one Thing. Kain’s very aware of how much he actually needs Shei—needs him to exist and to grow— and of how completely oblivious Shei is to this. Shei doesn’t have a clue just how much power he holds over Kain, and I think this—is what tips Kain over the edge on his ego trip. He’s at this child’s mercy and he’s in total control. It’s absolute rapture. So while he doesn’t exactly love Shei, he does love what he gets from him. He loves Shei the way a parasite loves its host, and Shei’s presence tends to have a focusing and calming effect on him. His nausea I think is directly related to his link with Shei, and he’s hardly bothered when Shei’s around. It’s moments when their relationship is strained or when Shei is happy that Kain unwittingly… undergoes a kind of psychic withdrawl. Of course Shei never makes this connection (until it’s too late, anyway), and neither does Kain for the most part. Because he’s far too consumed with his own godhood to consider that he might for a moment be losing his grip on him. And I think that the moment Shei turns on him is the closest thing Kain will ever know to a broken heart.
So who’s Vetis, anyway?
He’s a really terrible person and a gross pile of inappropriate and obnoxious emotions. One of LT’s many many side characters. But in a weird way, I care about him a whole lot. He really doesn’t deserve it. It’s strange but despite how completely insufferable he is, he still manages to get himself killed in a sympathetic light. Which should be even more infuriating—him getting the last laugh in— except that it upsets me instead. I think Juno and Bek have the same kind of reaction to him—he’s terrible in life, but abstracted he’s a little bit beautiful. And the death of that abstraction, what that death represents— it’s harder to stomach than the thought of finally being rid of him.
Vet is Kain’s right hand, loyal disciple, and most prized attack dog. He belongs in the 90s, some crackwhore grunge kid in smudged eyeliner draped half-conscious over some boyfriend’s toilet seat, alternating between cackling and vomiting. Vain, hedonistic, and antagonistically coy, prone to temper tantrums and petty provocations. Some kind of borderline personality thing is probable. He’s histrionic, possessive, and likes to hear himself talk—and, unfortunately for the people who don’t care to listen to him, virtually unkillable, thanks to some nifty regenerative abilities. One of the new gen demons—he was born human, abandoned by his family at a young age when he contracted Infection (which was still very… taboo at the time) and eventually ended up wandering from village to village in search of new and more interesting ways to fuck himself up. He was a strong kid, and vindictive—clinging to life just to spite it. Brecca would have liked him. His addictive, self-destructive personality I think developed from a need to sort of—challenge the universe in the most obnoxious way possible. Waking up alive the next morning was a big middle finger to his own bad luck, and it sustained him. Emotionally he’s chaotic, impulsive, and needy, liable to engage in frequent episodes of indulgence and to act out for attention. His relationships with others are usually intense and tend to be split between idolization and petty contempt—there isn’t a lot of middle ground with him, and to be on his good side is to have a fiercely loyal and admiring ally, willing to make any sacrifice one might require. His sense of identity tends to be defined by whoever happens to be occupying that pedestal at any given time, and their frequent abandonment of him (he’s had a lot of flaky, similarly emotionally unstable friends and lovers) has cultured him with jealousy and paranoia.
Kain made a well-timed entrance into his life at what was probably his lowest point—sick, wasted, alone, defiantly laughing himself to death in the shadow of some decrepit back alley. Kain saw clean through the ruined body to the strength of the soul beneath—determined, angry, with an intense lust for life. All that fight in a body where it would never matter. So he stayed with him. Lent a part of himself to Vetis to get him through the night. Cared for him personally as he struggled through the change that followed. An investment. Vetis came out the other side irrevocably changed, outside and in. Brand new body, and for the first time in his life, a reason to be alive.
He attaches himself entirely to Kain after that, and ultimately runs himself into the ground with the force of his devotion. Hopelessly infatuated with a monstrous messiah. His belief in Kain consumes him completely, devours him from the inside out. He’s convinced, madly, that the two of them are in love. That he understands Kain. Knows him in a way that no one else ever can, or would, or will ever get the chance to. Shei’s return drives him desperate with jealousy, and despite his attempts to remain Important— to impress Kain, and demean and discredit Shei— Kain eventually tires of humoring his bootlicking and, having lost his use for him with Shei back at his side, discards him. Vet decides, of course, that it’s up to him to save his master from his own blindness, and seeks out a recently deported Jek, hoping that by leading them to their former friend he can prove his value and kill two birds with one stone— out Shei as a traitor and/or get him killed, and deliver Aratoli’s half-blood offspring into Kain’s pretty white hands. It doesn’t go all that well for him.
But that’s just the effect Kain has. He’s an addictive and confusing and beautiful presence. He’s beautiful even in his selfishness and single-mindedness— that in itself is a kind of purity. Vet’s not so naive to think that he doesn’t have any ulterior motives or personal reasons for doing what he does. He’s aware on some level I think that he’s being used. Unfortunately that just makes Kain easier to love. Makes him more perfectly himself, a purer symbol. I think where Vet crosses the line from… gross devotion into gross personal obsession is his willingness to sabotage Kain’s goals— their goals— out of petty jealousy. He might believe completely, fanatically, in those ideals and their realization but. His own neediness still takes precedence. It’s… upsetting. Uncomfortably pathetic.
But then, it’s ambiguous too. On the other hand, maybe somewhere inside part of him is acting out due to that half-conscious awareness of betrayal. He has moments where those feelings flicker to the surface and he almost stands up before his infatuation films over them again. Even I don’t really understand what he’s trying to achieve with double-crossing Kain— it’s self-destruction from every angle— so maybe he just wants to die at the hands of this perfect being, as an unworthy imperfect one. Maybe that would be all the confirmation of its (shudder) uncompromising perfection that he would need. Or maybe it’s just that last Ultimate Gesture of Attention that he’s willing to die for? That exclusive intimacy between killer and killed. A bond nobody can take away from him.
…Yeah he’s gross.
Juno seems pretty unfazeable. What flusters her? How does she handle someone like Shei?
This is a really good question! I had to think a little, haha. She’s definitely the type of person who seems fundamentally imperturbable (probs why most people in-story stick a Crazy tag on her and steer clear). She rolls with the punches—by nature and then sometimes just to make a point of it. She’s not the least bit self-conscious (outwardly anyway—the innards are a whole other story), and when bizarro stuff starts to go down she’s usually the first to bounce back and find a way to make it work for her. I guess there’s not a lot about people that surprises her, and since she’s usually inflicting the flustering with a winning combination of boisterousness and inelegance (+ a good dose of gender terrorism) I think it’s usually when people don’t react to her that way that she’s caught off guard. So to answer your question, I guess—the kindness of strangers. She’s used to her reputation preceding her, judgments being made out of earshot, dubious looks from people she’s never met. Not that all that is completely unjustified, considering she’s made a habit of giving the audience what it wants as an act of rebellion, but. It gets to you. Burrows in somewhere deep where you try not to look, but you can’t help the eerie feeling that everybody you come across can see the seeping, pulpy nest it’s made in your chest. So when someone’s first response isn’t crossing the street when she wanders around a corner, it’s kind of novel. And there’s something of that at work in her fascination with Shei, I think. Even Bek has to overcome some initial discomfort when he first gets stuck with her, but Shei doesn’t do that. It’s funny to me, because of the whole cast he’s probably the most deeply unsettled by her, but he overshoots his attempt to be inconspicuous and ends up behaving abnormally in the interest of Acting Normal. I guess it backfires, because she zeroes in on that immediately.
And it knocks her off balance and keeps her there, because the way he is toward her blindsides her, the same way her very straightforward interest in him continually blindsides him. So Shei has a tendency to fluster her, haha. Because he’s kind, and not just because he’s polite—he has that devastating kind of charisma that seems to go beyond politeness, because it makes you feel Special. Like you’re this singular person in all the world who has the ability to Get Through to him. And though it may not be sincere to start with it certainly develops in that direction in a big way, which amplifies the effect?
Speaking more broadly, I guess this manifests in a lot of ways. She’s flustered by compliments—the heartfelt ones, anyway—and she doesn’t know what to do with people trying to be…soft with her. Gentleness never became a part of her vocabulary because it was something that eluded her in people growing up. You don’t really see this in the story much because it doesn’t come up, and because she’s a very physical, visceral person with strong body language and an inability to conceptualize personal space, but she’s actually very bewildered by physical affection. She’s a terror when it comes to roughhousing and bromantic back slaps, but tenderness certainly flusters her. She doesn’t know how to reciprocate that, and it’s not something she considered ever being on the receiving end of (or felt that anyone would want to engage in? It never seemed in the cards). I imagine things are a little awkward when things turn romantic between her and Bek down the road (especially as he’s such a gentle person by nature) but I’m sure she picks it up quickly. There are times where his need to shelter her—from the dirty looks, because he notices them acutely, the betrayals, the battlefields, from growing up and getting broken—can make her very uncomfortable. Being seen as something that has value, something finite, which could one day be destroyed or go away. She isn’t used to that, being looked out for. Having whether she lives or dies matter to anybody. Her experience has always been having to work for validation, relentlessly, shouting until acknowledgement comes in the form of someone shouting back (shut up!). She projects those feelings, she can’t absorb them comfortably when they’re cast back on her. It’s not hard for her to be very romantic and frank and earnest when communicating, because she wears her heart like a boy scout with a shiny Fuck You badge, but she still tends to armor the things she says and does with a degree of informality. She doesn’t know what to do when people direct that kind of attention or intensity back at her. She has no problem dishing it out, she just doesn’t know how to take it. It’s extremely agitating and exciting and uncomfortable and often really fantastic and intriguing. Other times it’s just plain scary, or more often, embarrassing. Though she’s generally more sheepish, than outright flustered? She cracks jokes to shrug the serious stuff off, adopts a certain rebellious abrasiveness that keeps people from digging too deep behind her smile. I think subconsciously in a lot of ways she deliberately aims to irritate because she wouldn’t know what to do if somebody actually liked her, haha.
If Shei could choose a different identity, who would he be?
As a diehard fan of excessive self-flagellation, and later of personal responsibility, Shei feels the answer to this question is irrelevant. And a cop-out. The things he’s done are inextricably necessary to who he is, and he’s accountable for them. Whether he was a victim or not. And if he could, I don’t think he’d change it. It’s his dumb crap to shoulder and he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s…irreplacably precious, to have been changed like this. Maybe a few years earlier for him and his answer would’ve been different. But now that we’re here— he’d never give it up for something easier. There’s no one else he’d rather be.
Anyway he grows up to be a pretty cool old storyteller, and like everybody’s goofy uncle. He outlives his friends, who end up patron heroes of their home city. They do leave behind a son, whom Shei raises on stories of his friends (sort of to the poor kid’s frustration and dismay). Shei totally allows him run off in the night and join a traveling circus though so it’s forgivable. :)