Pairing: Kaiba Seto (Priest Set) x Yami no Yuugi (Pharaoh Atem)
Spoilers: The whole thing, including the manga
Images Credit: Kokoro no Naka
Quote Credit: Yu-Jyo
I apologize in advance for never knowing when to shut up about these two. I'm also a fan of relying heavily on canon to build support for a relationship before I suggest advancing it to something more.
With simple utter loathing
There's a strange exhilaration
In such total detestation
So pure, so strong
Though I do admit it came on fast
Still I do believe that it can last
And I will be loathing you
My whole life long!
-"What Is This Feeling?" from "Wicked" OST
Yugioh is a series released in Shonen Jump. It begins with Mutou Yuugi receiving the Millenium Puzzle from his grandfather and assembling it to release the spirit of an ancient pharaoh. The spirit helps Yuugi punish those who treat him badly through a series of twisted games, and along the way Yuugi befriends Jounouchi, Anzu (she was already his friend), and Honda. Sometime amid all of this friendship and violence, Yuugi runs into the viciously competitive teenage C.E.O., Kaiba Seto. Kaiba introduces the card game, Duel Monsters, into the series, and it quickly takes over the storyline. The rest of the series involves Yuugi and the spirit entering into Duel Monsters challenges/tournaments to protect their friends or find out more about the spirit's past. Friendship is the essential part of Yugioh and the majority of the story focuses on Yuugi and spirit's interactions with their friends and opponents.
THE RIVAL DUELISTS
Yami no Yuugi (Pharaoh Atem)
Yami no Yuugi is the pharaoh spirit living inside the Millenium Puzzle. His true name isn't revealed until very close to the end of the series. He spends most of his time dueling in place of Yuugi (through something like possession of Yuugi) when things get too rough and has a bit of a vengeance streak going on for a while. He likes making people suffer and comes up with creative ways to do so, like making them go blind or blowing them up. Later, in Duelist Kingdom, he sees winning as the only outcome and makes a decision that would result in Kaiba's death. Yuugi is the only one who manages to stop him. After spending some time with Yuugi's friends and starting to understand more about forgiveness and compassion, he calms down significantly. Yuugi's influence often causes him to be more concerned about others, a trait that his opponents often take advantage of. But he still retains a bit of his righteous rage and finds no shame in telling people of their emminent downfall.
A key aspect about Yami no Yuugi is his ability to comprehend the alternate dimension summoned by those connected with his Egyptian past. This dimension is often used to imprison the mind and soul and is known as the Shadow Realm, produced by unleashing the Yami no Game. Yami no Yuugi's connection with the Millenium Puzzle allows him to hold some influence over the realm, as do his opponents' connections with their Millenium items.
As the series progresses, Yami no Yuugi grows more interested in his past and those linked to it. Destiny becomes a part of his take on life, and he's fond of relating many situations to fate.
Kaiba Seto is the C.E.O. of the Kaiba Corporation, the company responsible for creating the holograms and dueling disks used in the Duel Monsters competitions. Kaiba's parents died when he was around nine years old and he and his younger brother, Mokuba, were adopted by the previous C.E.O., Kaiba Gozaburou, after Kaiba defeated him in a chess game (through cheating). Gozaburou realizes Kaiba's protege potential and raises Kaiba to follow in his footsteps, through truly ruthless methods and obvious mental/emotional abuse. Kaiba comes out of the ordeal emotionless and fixated on his superiority. He manipulates Gozaburou's associates into buying out most of Kaiba Corp. and, with some help from Mokuba, eventually drives Gozaburou to insanity and death.
After Kaiba faces his first defeat through a game with Yuugi, he becomes obsessed with defeating him, and even creates a theme park devoted to killing Yuugi and his friends. His efforts result in Yami no Yuugi shattering his heart/mind, and leaving him the rest of the Duelist Kingdom arc to reassemble it. During this time, Kaiba regains his love for Mokuba and starts to understand people a little better. He's still determined to take down Yuugi but in a worthy duel. Kaiba spends most of his time insulting other duelists and holding tournaments to collect rare cards, which may be used to conquer Yuugi. Along the way he too begins to respect the power of friendship, although he's not likely to admit it, and gains respect for Yuugi and his friends. Kaiba is still a HUGE elitist.
The other important thing to remember about Kaiba is that he is highly practical and has trouble believing in what can't be proven, which is why he has major problems when information about the spirit's past starts popping up, as well as villains who use Shadow Games. When Kaiba discovers that his fate might be connected to all of this Egyptian dogma, he resists with everything inside him. His view on life: You control your own destiny. Also important to note that while Yami no Yuugi *is* Atem, Kaiba is merely the reincarnation of Priest Set.
DESTINED TO FIGHT
*Warning: Because these two are pretty much the central figures of the story, they have MANY key moments that build upon each other, and I think each says something about their relationship. Therefore, you're getting them all.*
Kaiba and Yami no Yuugi first cross paths after Kaiba steals Yuugi's rare Blue Eyes White Dragon card, given to him by his grandfather. Yami no Yuugi challenges Kaiba to a duel, in which Yuugi's Blue Eyes rejects Kaiba's commands and results in Kaiba's defeat. Yami no Yuugi punishes Kaiba by trapping him in a nightmare world of death, which he experiences every night until he confronts Yuugi again. Knowing that, you do see a bit of rationality in Kaiba's desire to make Yuugi suffer.
Yeah, they don't exactly have the best of starts.
Not too long after, Kaiba manages to collect the only remaining three Blue Eyes in the world. He builds Death-T to trap and annihilate Yuugi and company. After Kaiba nearly "kills" Mokuba for losing to Yami no Yuugi, Mokuba explains the brothers' past and pleads for Yuugi to bring back his brother's caring soul. This could be the first time anyone realizes that there's more to Kaiba than his bastard exterior. When Yami no Yuugi defeats Kaiba this time, he doesn't punish him like before. Instead, he shatters Kaiba's heart/mind so that Kaiba must recover the missing pieces of himself and his soul before he can recover. He knows it's the only way Kaiba can return to the person he was before Gozaburou. It's the first time Yami no Yuugi helps an opponent and represents his interest in Kaiba's potential as a good person.
However, the action leaves Kaiba in a comatose state.
Along comes Pegasus and Duelist Kingdom, and things start to get really interesting. While engaged in the Duelist Kingdom tournament, Yuugi and the spirit find Mokuba, who tells them that Kaiba remains unconscious and could lose Kaiba Corporation if Pegasus defeats Yuugi. Yami no Yuugi promises that won't happen and duels a man pretending to manipulate the soul of Kaiba, using Kaiba's own cards. Including his precious three Blue Eyes. Yami no Yuugi worries that that Kaiba truly thirsts for revenge after what he did to him and thinks, "Kaiba, will you always be my arch rival?" There's definitely some guilt going on, first time Yami no Yuugi displays the emotion. After some reassurance of Kaiba's inner strength from Mokuba, Yami no Yuugi starts admitting that he too believes in Kaiba as a true duelist. Just as the second Blue Eyes readies to destroy Yami no Yuugi, the hologram vanishes. Yami no Yuugi thinks of Kaiba in shock and in the next scene we see Kaiba awake from his coma. The only thought on his mind is "Yuugi."
Knowing that Kaiba is still fighting somewhere, Yami no Yuugi continues the duel with more fervor. He thinks "I believed in you, Kaiba. I know your will to live resides in that card." The duel concludes with Yami no Yuugi taking control of the Blue Eyes and destroying his opponent through "Kaiba's anger." His rage at how this opponent stole Kaiba's beloved cards and toyed with Kaiba's soul takes over and he traps the opponent's mind inside a puppet. This act says much about his opinion of Kaiba since the only person Yami no Yuugi ever actively avenges through his powers are those he really cares about and respects.
Kaiba eventually shows up, looking for Mokuba, who was kidnapped during Yami no Yuugi's duel. Yuugi returns Kaiba's card and Kaiba surprises everyone by thanking him...and then warning him that he will defeat him soon. After Kaiba defeats Jounouchi in a devastating duel, Kaiba walks away, saying that he is going to Pegasus' castle to take back what he almost lost (Mokuba). The declaration brings Yami no Yuugi back into control and he informs Kaiba that he too is fighting for something precious that he cannot lose and that Yami no Yuugi will take down Pegasus. Kaiba acknowledges the promise with a smile and says, "Then let me put it another way. I'm going to Pegasus' castle before you." This part has meaning since it shows that the two duelists know they aren't that different and carry similiar objectives. A shared purpose.
When they meet again, Pegasus has told Kaiba that he won't reveal Mokuba's location until Kaiba defeats Yuugi. Kaiba tells Yami no Yuugi that he understands his strength but that Kaiba is the only person who can defeat him. Kaiba then goes on about how their duelist blood continues to bring them together. He thinks that he wants to find out if what Yami no Yuugi believes, that fighting for somebody else makes you strong, is true. Throughout the fight, Kaiba explains that he understands their shared objective and that Yami no Yuugi must lose if he hopes to defeat Pegasus because Yami no Yuugi can't stop Pegasus' tricks. It's clear Kaiba is only partially interested in revenge at this point. Kaiba just thinks Yami no Yuugi isn't strong enough to finish this task. He frequently compliments Yami no Yuugi on understanding his new duel system and they make remarks about how their duel excites them, "makes the heart beat faster," ect. They also praise each other's skills often, although Kaiba still gloats. Finally, Kaiba's about to lose so he threatens suicide, adding that "victory comes when you become your opponent." A testament to how much he understands Yami no Yuugi and his value of life. Kaiba challenges Yami no Yuugi to finish him and stands his ground when Yami no Yuugi, desperate to save his loved ones, attacks. Yuugi takes over and stops the attack; Kaiba wins.
Kaiba confronts Pegasus but loses. As punishment, Pegasus imprisons his and Mokuba's soul in a card. Yami no Yuugi faces Pegasus, now dueling for the sake of Yuugi's captured grandfather as well as the Kaiba brothers. All hold equal importance to him at the time. After Yami no Yuugi defeats Pegasus and frees him, Kaiba reconciles with Mokuba and again thanks Yuugi. Thanking resonates since it requires him to admit that he needed help and that he's grateful. Kaiba takes everyone home, but promises Yuugi that their next duel will end in Yuugi's defeat.
Along comes Battle City, a tournament designed by Kaiba to attract holders of rare cards. This is when hints of his previous life as the head priest to the pharaoh emerge. Kaiba ignores them. He sees the tournament as another chance to duel Yuugi. He witnesses Yami no Yuugi's duel with a person possessing an all-powerful god card. Yami no Yuugi is losing and Kaiba tells him that Kaiba won't allow him to lose to anyone but him. He says their battle awaits and that Yami no Yuugi must destroy the god to reach him. Yami no Yuugi agrees and tells Kaiba to wait for him. Kaiba watches the duel, telling his brother that this is what it means to be a true duelist. He congradulates Yami no Yuugi on his victory and immediately challenges him.
Before they can begin, Yuugi's friends and Mokuba are kidnapped, forcing Kaiba and Yami no Yuugi into a double duel upon a glass tower. At first things go poorly since Kaiba doesn't quite get cooperation and sees Yami no Yuugi as in his way. Yami no Yuugi uses his monsters to shield Kaiba, but Kaiba still refuses to accept teamwork. Then Kaiba starts hinting at his wish to play along, using a strategy to trick Yami no Yuugi into destroying Kaiba's own god card so that Kaiba can easily resurrect it. Along the way, he shields Yami no Yuugi with one of his monsters, returning the favor. Yami no Yuugi shows great happiness at Kaiba's newfound cooperation. Kaiba crushes that cheer when he says that it was only payback. But Kaiba still listens when Yami no Yuugi makes suggestions on their next moves. Kaiba appreciates Yami no Yuugi's strategy, but still equates teamwork with having to obey Yami no Yuugi. Yami no Yuugi intervenes in another attempt at Kaiba's life. Kaiba begins to see the potential in teamwork and wonders if it's not stronger than his own power. He sacrifices his Blue Eyes to protect Yami no Yuugi, and Yami no Yuugi assures him that his loss wasn't in vain. Kaiba is wary but agrees to put his faith in Yami no Yuugi. Through Yami no Yuugi's strategy, he summons his god card and defeats their opponents.
Fate comes into play again when Kaiba duels Isis, a woman who tells him that she has foreseen his defeat. He must lose so that she can face the true enemy, her brother. But Kaiba evades Isis' final trap through intervention of ancient memories and defeats her with Blue Eyes. It can be pointed out that this is Kaiba showing Yami no Yuugi that not everything is decided by fate, one must forge their own destiny. To Yami no Yuugi, who's completely tied up in Isis' words of destiny and the threats of her brother, this calls the power of destiny into question. As Kaiba says, "One who succumbs to the future can't see the light of hope." However, Yami no Yuugi also justifies Kaiba's win as his destined connection to the Blue Eyes. Both duelists are always struggling with the other's point of view.
Kaiba and Yami no Yuugi finally have their big duel. Their god cards clash and again both duelists find thrill in their match. Kaiba tells Yami no Yuugi, "When fighting with you, my spirit and strength are pushed to the limit! Your existence excites and thrills me! But we don't need two kings in the world. I have to beat you with my own hands!" The clash of their gods forces the duelists into memories of their Egyptian pasts. They see the Priest Set (who looks just like Kaiba) fighting the pharaoh (who looks just like Yami no Yuugi). Kaiba realizes that Yami no Yuugi also experienced the vision and tells them that their duel is destined. Yami no Yuugi wants to know who won their ancient duel, Kaiba says it doesn't matter; real duelists make their own destiny. Along the duel, Kaiba has another great line, "I'm going to brand my name on your mind." Not overly important but a bit creepy. Another thing to add is that Kaiba sees his victory over Yuugi as burying his past of hatred, made worse by his first defeat to Yami no Yuugi. As he says, "Why do I insist on fighting with you? Now I have the answer. Yuugi, you are fighting for your lost memory.... That's meaningless. For me, the past is past...My past is full of hatred and anger. I am different from you; I'm only interested in the future. The past for me is a target to be smashed. Yuugi, you represent the past. After I smash your illusion and become the Duel King, then my future begins." Again with Kaiba's insistence to move past destiny and focus on your own goals. Yami no Yuugi understands but says that Kaiba can never defeat him as long as he is ruled by hatred and anger. He wins, urging Kaiba to defeat his own hatred.
Following his defeat, Kaiba is furious and beyond reason. He rejects Yami no Yuugi's words about friendship and says he can only believe in himself. Dejected, Yami no Yuugi recalls his past with Kaiba, contemplating on the tentative boundaries between 'rival' and 'friend.' He knows that Kaiba always drives him to be the best and fight with all his ability. Kaiba demands nothing but maximum performance and their rivalry makes them both stronger.
Later Isis finds Kaiba and asks him if he thinks Yuugi can defeat her brother. He tells her it's not likely, but that he doesn't care. Isis insists that Yuugi needs Kaiba's help and tells him that long ago the pharaoh's most important friend was a priest, who left a message on a carving. Kaiba doesn't like where this is going and threatens Isis to be quiet. Isis tells him that his duel tower is something his soul produced, a place for the crossing of souls as the tablet promised. (This entire thing makes me wonder why I never realized that Isis is the ultimate YamiKai shipper.) Kaiba gets more depressed until Mokuba urges him that he can change; he can conquer his hatred.
Kaiba goes after Yami no Yuugi and tosses him a card, wondering if Yami no Yuugi can prove that the strength of friendship is strong enough to create a miracle. He doesn't believe so. Yuugi's friends tell him not to take Kaiba's card, but Yami no Yuugi decides to trust Kaiba. In return, Kaiba allows Yami no Yuugi to break his tournament rules and set down a card without viewing it, interested in Yami no Yuugi's reliance in the cards and his faith. Yami no Yuugi draws Kaiba's card and wonders if he touched Kaiba's soul in that moment. He uses the card to summon the god card he won from Kaiba.
Yami no Yuugi eventually wins and tells Kaiba that he wouldn't have won without his help. Kaiba leaves the destructing tower (Kaiba blew it up because it reminded him of Gozaburou) but doesn't tell anyone. Yami no Yuugi and the others rush about, determined to find Kaiba before it's too late. Ok, this part isn't that telling, but it's cute. Humor me. And Kaiba is smiling as he considers "the power of friendship" in the meantime. Yuugi convinces Yami no Yuugi that they must leave before the tower explodes and Yami no Yuugi complies, saying Kaiba's name as he views the tower from a helicopter. Worry. Mokuba contacts Yuugi's group from Kaiba's jet after the tower explodes and Kaiba smiles at Yami no Yuugi, telling him they will duel again someday. (He says that a lot, doesn't he?)
Quickly going into the Doma arc, which exists only in the anime. Yami no Yuugi, Kaiba, and Jounouchi must fight together, using their special dragon cards. I bring this up because the last half of the arc is mostly Kaiba and Yami no Yuugi working together to infiltrate Kaiba Corporation and find information and to face the final villain. Oh yeah, the villain also takes souls. At this point, they are much more accepting of each other, possibly due to Kaiba's past experience with one of the villain's lackeys and possibly due to Battle City, and quite willing to trust each other. Yami no Yuugi lets Kaiba convince him into jumping out of buildings and such. Kaiba accepts Yami no Yuugi's yammerings about believing in their monsters. It should also be mentioned that Yami no Yuugi lost a duel (also losing Yuugi's soul) in this arc and Kaiba likes to nag him about it.
In their final battle, they do a double duel like they did in Battle City, but the cooperation is less staggered. Yami no Yuugi actively protects Kaiba. They have a bit of a tussle about destroying their opponent's Mirror Knights, who look like Yuugi's friends. But after Yami no Yuugi almost falls to the Mirror Knight's attack, Kaiba assures him that Yuugi's friends are true duelists and won't regret vanishing for their cause and then destroys them, freeing their souls from the Knights. The villain attacks Kaiba and before his soul is claimed, Kaiba uses a card to transfer his monster's power to Yami no Yuugi. Kaiba tells Yami no Yuugi to avenge him. Some shots of Yami no Yuugi holding Kaiba's "dying" body and saying his name. Probably the most obvious YamiKai moment yet.
Fighting goes on, souls come back, and villain is later defeated. Yami no Yuugi and Yuugi are left behind. Some concern from Kaiba. When they are found again, Kaiba seems pleased. Another minor thing but again interesting, especially since Kaiba isn't smirking. He's smiling.
Sorry not enough on Grand Prix to add in here. Just the usual watching each other's duels and believing in each other. Nothing big.
Final arc becomes tricky since in the manga, Kaiba isn't really involved, and in the anime he's a bit important. Let's stick with anime. Using the Millenium Items (uh, remember what those are?), Yuugi's group and Kaiba travel into a game world, designed based on Yami no Yuugi's Egyptian past. It's very confusing.
This introduces the relationship between Priest Set (now established as previous incarnation of Kaiba) and the Pharaoh Atem. Priest Set is protective of the pharaoh and quick to defend him with his magic or chase after him when he fears the pharaoh's in danger. Atem is a little more wary of Set because Set has a power thirst. Set is also under partial control of his father, who wants to replace Atem with Set. Set's not sure how he feels about this. He's still loyal to Atem and seems slightly jealous of Atem's reliance on another priest. Atem and Set are cousins by the way.
But when Set's father kidnaps Set to turn him against Atem, Atem (or rather Yami no Yuugi since this is not quite the past) has to choose between his friends and saving Set's soul. Yami no Yuugi chooses Set. Set's father possesses Set after Set kills him and forces Yami no Yuugi into a fight. Yami no Yuugi refuses and tries to get through to Set, saying he believes in his light and to fight against his father's control. Left with no choice, Yami no Yuugi summons a monster in defense. Set's father crushes the monsters, and Yami no Yuugi continues to plead with Set's soul. He says Set would never accept being pharaoh if he had to be imprisoned in other's heart. With some help from the human spirit of his Blue Eyes, Set stops his father's attacks and returns to normal.
At this time, Kaiba (not Set) shows up. Yami no Yuugi goes back to help Set up so that they may return to defend their people. Yami no Yuugi is weakened from the fight so Set picks him up, saying he will fight in his place. Once Set falls, Kaiba intervenes with his three Blue Eyes. Yami no Yuugi merges with the dragons to unleash a combined attack against Zork. Another one of my fun moments just because of the idea of Yami no Yuugi and Kaiba truly uniting their energies/powers since Kaiba is using will to summon Blue Eyes in this world. Basically the ultimate sychronization.
Teamwork and all that jazz defeat Zork and everyone returns to the present, except Yami no Yuugi (now Atem again), who returns to Set. Atem tells Set he must disappear and that Set is now pharaoh. Set is upset. But Atem says that Set won't succumb to darkness any longer and gives him the Millenium Puzzle, the symbol of the pharaoh. Atem disappears, leaving Set whispering his name.
Now that that ridiculously long summation is done, do I really need to get into why I ship these two? Doesn't the canon do the talking? Oh, all right. From the start, I was a KaiJou shipper. I found YamiKai more than a little weird, seeing as how I cannot possibly fathom the idea of Yuugi with Kaiba. It's still an issue with him, but I've accepted it's almost a warped threesome situation. Probably requires Yuugi's consent. But enough of that. Learning about the past between Priest Seto and Pharaoh Atem made me pay more attention to their present incarnations, and the partnership in Doma sealed the deal.
There's also the obsession. And possession. Kaiba is insanely obsessed with Yami no Yuugi, and he doesn't like anyone who takes Yami no Yuugi's attention away from him. Some say this may be why he resents Jounouchi so greatly. He also really hates those who think they can claim the pleasure of victory over Yami no Yuugi, when it should be his honor alone. Whenever the two happen to meet up, Kaiba is usually pretty dang excited about it. As is Yami no Yuugi who seems determined to make Kaiba move past his rage and pride.
Getting into the whole loathing thing, even in the beginning, the amount of fervor Kaiba put into "despising" Yami no Yuugi spoke volumes. Somebody has to be really important to you to get under your skin in such a level. Hate and love both spurn from passion. And with that much feeling, it only takes a small nudge to push the effect of that passion to either a good spectrum or a bad one. This is the aspect most rival pairings operate on, and it holds very true for this one.
Equality is another important thing about this pairing. They are probably the only one that can properly put the other in their place when their egos get out of hand. They seem the ideal match for each other on many levels; they understand each other better than anyone else. I would argue that Kaiba understands the darkness and determination in Yami no Yuugi better than even Yuugi because Yuugi is more inclined to see the goodness in people. Kaiba gets the whole package (no pun intended). Kaiba needs Yami no Yuugi to prove to him that personal strength isn't everything and that sometimes you have to believe in others and combine strengths. Kaiba teaches Yami no Yuugi that will can be a powerful thing against fate, somewhat important in the Egyptian Arc since it was Atem's fate to trap himself and Zork within the puzzle. Instead, Yami no Yuugi ended up using his will to survive and, more or less, change destiny.
My favorite aspect about this pairing is the intensity it evokes. These two would never have a fluffy, snuggly relationship but one full of heated words and even hotter passion (duels as foreplay, anyone?). I also sense fun battles for dominance and a love for kink, bondage, and leather. Good heavens, look at what they wear! Numerous buckles, asphyxiating clothing, and COLLARS. Also fair potential for some fun power play. And look, no dog metaphors required. We got master and servant going on here and more than enough raw attitude to go around. They're just plain FUN.
I'm aware the end of Yugioh kind of complicates things, but that's where the tragic pairing dynamic pops up.I also like thinking that Set and Atem had something going on and Kaiba and Yami no Yuugi are like their second shot at happiness.
Finding writers of YamiKai/KaiYami can be hard since I'm very picky of how the duelists are portrayed. I don't like when Kaiba is *nice* and I don't like when Yami no Yuugi is weak or acting more like Yuugi. This floods the fandom. But I do have a few writers I can depend on.
Psyche doesn't always capture Kaiba as I think he could be, but her fiction topics are original and always fun. "Wide Awake and Dreaming' is probably her best.
SaJi is a master of emotional YamiKai. Unfortunately much of her work remains unfinished. "Bittersweet Victory" is a must-read for any fan.
Egg Yolk ranks as my favorite writer with her beautiful and highly IC portrayals of both YamiKai and Pharaoh Atem/Priest Set. Again, unfinished, a depressing trend among GOOD YamiKai writers.
Nenya has one of the best ongoing YamiKai fics that takes on the notion of the transition of young Kaiba to the way he is now, involving Yami no Yuugi in the whole mess. Sorry for forgetting her.
If worst comes to worst, you can also peruse Psychological Dependence, the C2 archive. Who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky.
As for sites on these two, I've yet to find any that aren't Japanese. I have many of those, but as people seem to look down on linking them. I'll just stick up the YamiKai union link. Good stuff abounds. Look for Absolute Zero, Power of Love, YGO Paradise, and Blue Continent.
Thanks for reading. It depresses me that YamiKai/KaiYami has a lower fandom here than in Japan when there's so much potential for amazing writing and character exploration.