A Generous Ant-Man
Hours passed, and still, no one had come around. Luke finally succumbed to the pain and now lay motionless. Alarich had had come over and rested by his side, patiently waiting and hoping for him to wake. His calm breathing and eased face was relieving to Alarich. The horse saw the gills were gone and the boy’s skin had completely healed. Humans took Alarich for an average horse, but there was more to him than anyone could imagine. Not even the good old doctor back home knew how powerful he was. He once belonged to a powerful sorcerer named Nathanduel. That sorcerer gave him things no other horse has. Alarich was given everything but the ability to hold things, and speak. What an existence to have, but instead worry about it, Alarich embraced these gifts and loved Nathanduel like a father, a brother and a friend. Sadly, the sorcerer lost a battle with a rogue fairy when they were traveling to Tanimil. The fairy knew Alarich was special. He killed Nathanduel for him. Somehow though... Alarich managed to escape, and ran for miles until he collapsed from exhaustion near a tavern. He was woken up shortly after by Doctor Thomas and his assistant. They cared for him and brought him to Arkenshire Village. From the time they met, forth, Alarich knew he would never be the same. Nothing would feel the same ever again. And though the doctor and his assistant were kind and fatherly to him, he vowed to himself never to be as close to the two as he was with Nathanduel.
It was then, as Alarich thought of his past, he heard sounds of a traveler passing by. He lifted his head and looked over. They were singing to themselves, and their voice had a friendly sort of way about it. He didn’t sense any hostility–and he was always a perfect judge of character. His instincts were telling him to alert them. He looked at Luke again. Finally someone had come. He couldn’t let this opportunity slip away. The horse went ahead and made a “Pbbbt,” noise and stood up, walking through the trees to them.
Luke winced as he slowly opened his eyes and saw him leaving. He slightly raised his hand, “Alarich, wait... Wait...!” Alarich stopped and looked back in surprise. Luke dropped his hand and breathed out. Alarich glanced from him to the direction of the traveler.
Luke carefully looked down at his side, gently running his hand over where he saw the gills. His skin was normal again–completely normal. It’s like everything that happened before was nothing but a bad dream. His eyes zipped over to the pond. The water was cloudy but there wasn’t a body in there. Penelope would have been floating at the top. The boy thought about it for a moment. Maybe the other mermaids came back for her and left him alone, assuming he was dead. No matter how he looked at it though, he still had to hurry out of here and get back on the road. “Alarich...” he said. Alarich looked over at him again. He said, “Great news–I’m not going to die today.” Alarich blinked and then walked over to him. He found it a little suspicious that traveler he was watching kept walking. Luke seemed to be alright. Perhaps, maybe... maybe it was a good thing that person didn’t stop.
Luke carefully got up and brushed himself off. “I’m marking this on my ‘what not to do’ list.” He rubbed his head and picked his clothes up, “I need to get dressed. I’m a little hungry too. When I’m done, we can both have a snack, then we’ll be on our way again, ok?” Alarich stared at him.
Now they were back on the road. Luke couldn’t help his fascination for the fact he lived through so much pain. They say nothing hurts worse than a badly broken heart, but this–he was pretty sure it topped the list. The bit of meat and drink was replenishing. He was very glad he brought those things along.
He and Alarich had left the mini forest and were entering a very strange place–Something similar to a wasteland. No trees, no grass, no life at all–Just dry land everywhere. But it wasn’t any ordinary dry land; he thought he was seeing very tall and narrow dirt mounds out in the distance. The road was disappearing after a while too. The setting sun was beating down on his head. He was getting sweaty.
He checked the map. They were almost to Clakiwen. The boy who nervously walked through the gates of Ti-Tuk wasn’t quite the same as the one now headed to Clakiwen. Today started with a new Luke. This one was a little braver and wiser. His parents and sister would be so proud.
The loneliness out here gave off a sad, eerie vibe. It was really interesting how each place had its own emotional atmosphere. There was absolutely nothing around–not even ghosts, ‘guardians’... or any kind of beasts. Luke felt slightly stranded. He wondered if the Clakiwen people actually lived like this and how they were able to do it.
As they passed the first mound, he gaped up at it in amazement, seeing all sorts of intricate artwork etched into it from the bottom all the way up. There were windows too—rounded-off windows with glass. And open doorways. Everything was dirt except for the windows. What an intriguing sight...
The mounds spread out perfectly in-line with each other and went on for a long way. Miles, even. What he failed to notice was that they were all guard towers. He was being watched. Very closely watched.
The farther they went, the more the land was descending into a deep burrow. He repeatedly asked himself, ‘where is the city?’ There was a great, tall wall down there in the burrow. It didn’t make sense to him. It seemed like one giant sealed-off tomb. Where was Clakiwen and its people? Was it destroyed? Was Gianna wrong about this? How could someone so old and wise be incorrect like this about the world they live in?
As they approached the wall, he pulled back on Alarich.
Gazing up at it, he started to think about how Gianna perceived him and what all she has put him through this far. Was he just being a baby, or was this really something to worry about? It felt like he was nothing more than a speck of dirt to her. But she always treated him so kindly. It seemed Joby was almost in the same position. The only difference was that he was directly related to the tree spirit. As Luke thought about it, he actually felt like he pitied him. Joby had no freedom, really. If the imp could understand the true meaning of freedom, Luke would do all he could to take him under his wing and show him what it’s like. He is already basically the brother he never had. But... save that for another day...
He checked the map again. This was the last place with civilization he had to visit before he was on the way to Tanimil. There were other smaller locations, but they were all out of the way. The path there was quite a distance in itself.
He tucked the map away in the bag and slightly frowned at the wall. As he turned, he jumped to seeing a tall antlike person with six arms staring at him. Its antennas were moving slowly. The way it stood so still intimidated him so much it gave him goosebumps. He really hated that feeling. It also didn’t help seeing it wasn’t wearing any clothes.
It lowered its head slightly, “Who are you and why are you here?” It was male. His deep voice had clicking sounds too; very strange and even more intimidating. Luke tried to be calm and confident.
“My name is Luke Pane. I am... I am sixteen years old, and I am on a mission.”
“You are on a mission?”
“What sort of mission?”
The ant man stared at him. Uncomfortable, Luke looked around and then back to him, “I’m trying to get to Tanimil... I was told this is the way I must go.”
“Where is your family?”
“My parents were poisoned… and they’re going to die. I need magic from Tanimil to save them.”
“Is that so?” The ant man said.
Luke was unable to maintain serious eye contact with him for very long. “Are you the only one here? What is your name, if I may ask?”
“No.” The ant man walked past him to the wall. When he was close enough, he touched it and a tall hole opened. Luke watched with widening eyes. Dirt doesn’t move like that–not from what he’s seen!
“Follow me.” The ant man said, sounding annoyed. Startled, Luke blinked, then flicked the reigns, “Come on Alarich.”
As they walked through the hole, he examined everything about the wall. Nothing was out of the ordinary from what he could tell. As soon as they were through, it closed up. How extraordinary...
They were going downhill. This place was very dark, but had little extremely bright lights in the very high ceiling. He could hear many other antlike people bustling around below; that many voices with those clicking sounds and how you could hear them all moving around but couldn’t see them was something he certainly wasn’t comfortable with either.
He began to see tops of more tall, narrow mounds; these had dimmer lights spiraling up the structures, showing all the fine detail etched into them. Bridges with medium sized wall-guards connected to all the buildings. There were ant people crossing these bridges at high speeds, very busy and determined about whatever they were doing. Were these business buildings? Just how advanced were these people? This was something Luke would never be able to forget. Never in a million years.
Now, halfway to the bottom of the hill, he was able to see everything; the people, the mounds of different sizes, and the markets. It was all so futuristic. These beings were very complex. He could then understand why the city was hidden like it was. They were too smart for everyone else.
Before the ant man took him into the city, he stopped and said, “You must dismount your steed. We do not allow riders on the streets.”
“It is against our law.” His head twitched as he spoke. Luke wasn’t sure if he annoyed him or not. He carefully got off Alarich and held his reins. What a weird law...
The ant man started walking again.
As they continued into the city, Luke looked up at all the ant people quickly passing by, giving him and Alarich double-takes as they went. It wasn’t comforting not being able to see any emotion on their faces. Their movements however, were a little jumpier than before–even if they were going fast. It was still hard to understand what their actions meant. The only good thing was that they weren’t saying or doing anything to them. He also saw none of these beings wore clothing either.
“Please excuse me for asking, but... you don’t wear clothing?” he asked.
“That is an observance, not a question.”
Luke quieted at that.
He tried again. “Why don’t you wear clothing? And... where are you taking us?”
“It is unnecessary and inconvenient for us when working. I am taking you to my home.”
“Your home? Do you live alone?” Luke asked. Why was he taking him there? He needed to pass through the city! He needed to be on his way!
“I just- I’m just passing through. I didn’t intend on staying or anything.”
“Luke, I have accepted your company. I have something for you, seeing that you lack proper gear for your journey.” What did he just say?
In that same moment, Luke started to really notice all the ant people were also very masculine. Would that mean they’re all male? “Are all of your people out here male?”
He automatically assumed all the females were gone and the word ‘extinction’ immediately popped into his head. That’s sad! “What happened to your females?” The ant man made an unsettling buzzing noise. Luke quickly moved away from him.
They turned left down a narrow street. The small mounds were down here. Still, they were tall–just much smaller in width. These must have been homes. Lesson number one learned: Don’t ask ant people too many questions–at least, not this one.
The ant man stopped at a mound and put his hand on the wall; a hole opened for him. He bowed his head, “Hello my home. It is an honor to have returned to you once again.” How strange... What an interesting sense of honor and respect he had... What an intriguing culture this was turning out to be!
The ant man waved to him, “Leave your steed outside. You may come in.” Still, Luke was uncertain and agitated about coming here. “Shouldn’t I tie him to something?” he asked.
“That would be nonsensical.”
Luke looked at Alarich and rubbed his neck with an apologetic sort of face. “Stay here. I will come back out here soon.” Alarich bobbed his head twice, then shook off and made a “Pbbbt” noise. Luke then turned and went inside the mound. The hole closed just after he stepped through.
The main room was circular and had a tunnel-like hallway on both sides; one ascended to the second floor. The air was a little heavier and hard to breathe, but not impossible. It smelled like he imagined it; closed up and musty. The lights were the same in here as out there; however, there were a few vines that had spots of light in them. How was that happening? He looked a little closer and saw small insects attached to them. Lightning bugs. How simple and clever...
“All females live at the palace and the nursery mound. The males live outside to protect and build the city. We have maintained an ever-growing society for hundreds of years.” The ant man explained.
“Have you ever been at war?” Luke asked, blown away.
“Yes... a few times–with the most undesirable race in the world; we call them reptilians.” The most undesirable...? Luke found how he addressed them interesting. Because of that and knowing this creature got annoyed a little easy, he chose not to question him anymore on the subject. Instead, he only said, “Oh...” These two races must have truly loathed each other if they’ve been at war on and off throughout the years.
“How familiar are your people with humans?” he asked as they stood by the other hallway.
“We hear of humans. We are never visited by them.”
“I must be something special, maybe? Is this why you’ve taken me here–because you wanted to be the first in so long that’s had a human visitor?” Well, that’s what he hoped.
“Yes. It is best you stay with me to avoid unwanted attention. Also, because it is nighttime, you should rest here. You would not survive the desert at night. Now, let me show you to the kitchen; I will make something for you to eat.” Luke raised a finger, “Wait, why wouldn’t I survive? And please, what is your name? You haven’t told me, but I have told you mine.” Now that he thought about eating here–eating this creature’s food and sleeping here–he was getting pretty nervous.
The ant man did that strange head movement at him again, slowly swaying his arms and twitching his fingerlike appendages as if curious. “Why yes... you are correct. My name is Thuektze.” Thuektze? Thuektze... The way he said that was hard for Luke to comprehend. “Thu-et-z...?”
“No. Thoo-eh-ket-z.” The ant man said.
“Ok. Thuektze...” Luke confirmed with a final nod.
Thuektze bowed back and walked up the hall, “You would not survive because of the snakes. They are everywhere in the sand, always hiding and waiting. You wonder why there is no life out here... They are the reason. Now, we Clakis do not eat much; so do forgive me if my inventory is too...‘sparse’.” Following him, Luke shook his hand, “That sounds brutal... No, please—don’t apologize. It’s perfectly fine.” This guy saved his life. How kind of him...
They call themselves... Clakis? Yet another interesting thing has been learned today.
They entered the room and Luke’s thoughtful face fell into full on curiosity toward the setup. There were pots set inside holes in the walls, dirt counters built from the walls and a dirt table in the center of the room. The pots were clay. These people were very, very particular and creative. His attention switched back to Thuektze who seemed to be offended by something.
“If a Claki apologizes to you, do not tell them that. Everything has a reason for taking place.”
“Then what should I say to reassure them it’s ok?”
Thuektze went to one of the walls and took a bowl, then reached it out to him, “This would be good for you.” He took it and studied the contents; some kind of roots. They smelled like vegetables. “How do you know it would be good for a human?” he asked, still smelling it.
“Because we understand humanoid anatomy very well.” Thuektze said. Luke paused and slowly lowered the bowl, “Are you doctors?”
“I’m not. But it is something all Clakis are required to study when we are young.”
“Oh... My people learn things like this at a young age too.”
“Good. Now, dine.” Thuektze pointed at the bowl. Luke gulped and grabbed a root. He could sense the ant man was very concerned about how it tasted to him. The first bite was certainly quite a shocker; it was sour and still had some dirt on it. He tried his best not to show any sign of displeasure.
Instead, he smiled and hummed in satisfaction. “I actually like this.” he wiped the root off, then took a second bite. Well, that wasn’t so bad. It was getting better with each bite. Sooner than he thought, he was able to eat it with no trouble at all. In fact, he was beginning to behave like a great famished caveman. He’s never done that before! It had Thuektze laughing quietly; what a really weird sound that was!
Somehow, when he was finished, he was fully satisfied. Now, the only thing he needed was sleep. That addicting food wore him out.
“I promised Alarich I would be back. I need to feed him.”
“Yes, you may. Allow me to get the door for you.”
“You’re welcome.” Thuektze walked past him, leading him back into the main room.
He watched Thuektze gently place his hand beside the door, and as the hole opened, the ant man said, “So you are staying here tonight... allow me to prepare you a place to sleep.”
“Thank you.” Luke smiled at him. He put his hands together and bowed his head. “It is my pleasure Luke... The door will open for you when you are ready to come back inside.” Well, that was a great thing to know! He was relieved. At the same time though, he was even more curious about the mechanics of these doors. He had to ask, “Thuektze, if you don’t mind me asking–how do you manage to make the dirt move like that?”
Thuektze put his middle hands together, giving a short “Hmm,” as he concentrated on the young man’s face. “Long, long ago, a mage came to our city–once called a colony; because we were smaller then–with foreseen news of us fighting in one of the bloodiest world wars of all time. Weeks before it arrived, he was given permission by our Queen to bestow upon her and her thousand sons the gift of terratouch, thus preventing total destruction of our home. Now, everyone is born with it.” Whoa... Luke was amazed. One mage... saved the lives of an entire colony for many, many generations from that time, on. Now they have a giant thriving city with great privacy and advanced security!
“I’m really... astonished.” He said.
“Luke, this story I tell you teaches one thing: Always be aware of what the world around you is doing. I will also tell you, history is constantly repeating itself; you must educate yourself as much as possible, and you will always be ready.”
Luke nodded slowly, thinking about it, and the memories of what he’s been through so far returned to him; it also reminded him of his studies and Gianna. She has witnessed this many, many times throughout her long existence. That’s why she is very quiet and wise. He should use what he’s learned and observe more. This is how he would learn to be a better adventurer... and warrior.
Thuektze again lowered his head and waved toward the door, “Your steed.”
Luke then smiled at him again, “Yes, thank you.” He bowed back and went ahead out.
Alarich was extremely excited to see him. The Clakis must have made him just as uncomfortable as it did Luke.
“I’m back. It’s ok my friend, I think I’m convinced we’re safe here. How does squash and a few carrots sound?” he asked with a softer tone, walking to the saddlebags. Alarich became even more excited, neighing more seriously as if saying something like; ‘it’s about time, you big dummy!’ Luke paused; it had just occurred to him Alarich wasn’t interested in the people at all–he only cared about the food. Typical Alarich. Typical. He gave a small chuckle and continued gathering some vegetables for him.
“I understand, I understand... Give me a moment.”
When it was time for bed, Luke was led up to the second floor and introduced to the strangest, yet comfiest bed he’s ever had. It was also made of dirt. The thing about it was, the dirt packs together before you touch it, and once you lay down on it, it adjusts to your body, giving the feeling of floating on clouds. Thuektze explained he built it with Terratouch. That brought Luke to the question; “Does everyone build their own homes here?”
“No. We buy them and build our own furniture.”
“You have your own currency and everything!” Luke said.
“Yes. When you have a large population in a certain area, laws, politics, currency and economic infrastructure is created. You do not have that where you are from?”
“I come from a small village. We don’t have all this. ...You’re right about what you said.”
“Indeed I am.”
Luke then wondered about something.
“I know me being a human makes things a little more interesting for you–exciting, even–but I can’t understand why you are so open with me about all this information.”
“You are one young man; a harmless young man. We knew this the moment we saw you coming.”
“Well, to be honest... I thought this city was demolished and the only things standing were those tower mounds.”
“We figured that by your demeanor.”
“‘We’...?” Luke questioned. “...Are those guard towers?”
“Yes. I was in of them when you arrived.”
“Oh...” Luke said. That was not a very pleasant thing to hear. Yet at the same time, it made perfect sense.
“You should rest. I will be below if you need me. Have a good night Luke.”
“Thank you Thuektze. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”
“You are welcome.” Thuektze again bowed his head with his hands together, and went down the spiral hall. Luke looked back to the bed and let out a sighing “Huh...”
He walked over and laid down, placing his hands over his stomach and staring up at the beautifully detailed dome ceiling. How artistically done it was made him wonder if the Clakis had other talents. Do they share stories and play music? They were already painters and builders. Surely they could do those other things too. The music must have been very interesting. He found the thought of it really exciting.
It was too bad he didn’t bring along something to write down everything he’s experienced. He could even write a book about it all! Maybe one day, he will.
Closing his eyes with a small bit of a smile, drifting to sleep as he thought of his family and friends waiting for him back home, he assumed half of them wouldn’t understand his story; and it would take some time for his parents to finally believe it. Esmé would be the only one. Well, maybe.
He woke up to an angry stomach early in the morning. It was gurgling and churning in disgust; he clutched it as his skin tingled and dripped with cold sweat. His mouth was dry. Last time he was this sick was when he was a small boy. He wished he would just throw up whatever was making him suffer. He couldn’t—yet. This was most likely the food he ate last night.
“Thuektze!” he shouted, then dropped his head back down to the bed. It was finally working its way up. Quickly, he looked around for something to vomit in. He saw a bowl with dead flowers in it, but it was on the other side of the room near his bag. If he moved, he might throw up on the floor. Thuektze was coming swiftly up the hall, and when Luke saw him stop in the doorway, he pointed to his mouth and belly. Thuektze rushed over and took the flowers out of the pot, then gave it to him and watched him as if he were a science project. Luke didn’t care; he hardly noticed, actually. Everything he ate earlier just came right out of him–the feeling of what that food was doing to him was the very definition of merciless in his opinion. When he was finished, he was so worn out he didn’t think he could get out of bed anytime soon.
“Would you like some water?” Thuektze asked.
Luke hardened his eyes at him. “Where is it from?”
“It’s from our water facility. Our water is collected from the south end of the city, from creeks in the mountains.”
“Is it fresh?”
“It is for us.”
“...No, please, I have a flask in my bag. Would you-” Thuektze lifted a hand, “I will.” He walked over to his bag. Luke closed his mouth and grimaced at the horrible aftertaste.
Thuektze collected the flask and handed it to him, “Here you are.”
“Thank you.” Luke raised it at him and gulped some down.
He was feeling a little better now.
Setting it down in his lap, he said, “My gods... I’m very sorry about your flower pot...”
“I needed to find more flowers anyway.”
Luke faintly smirked down at his flask.
“So there is no other place you can get treatment for your parents?”
“Only magic can reverse this?”
“Sadly, yeah.” Luke nodded, “And I’ll tell you... it’s been quite a journey already.” He turned around to sit on the side of the bed, a little sore in the midsection. “I have to get back to it.”
“You may still be too ill.”
“No. I can’t let that stop me.” Luke carefully got up and put the flask away in his bag and rested it over his shoulder, “Do you know if the sun has risen yet?” It felt like the walls of his stomach were a little stripped. He tried not to show any emotion toward that. Thuektze turned his head slightly, wiggling his antennas and making clicking noises. Luke didn’t understand what he was doing. Not until the last minute.
“Are you channeling other Clakis?” he asked.
“Yes. They say the sun will rise in ten minutes.”
“How can you measure time so well like that?”
Thuektze laced all of his fingers together, “Let me show you something.” He walked out. Curious, Luke followed him back down to the first floor and up the other hallway.
Halfway through it, Thuektze touched a part on the right wall and entered what looked like... his room. “Do forgive me–I didn’t put my bed away.” He said, walking to it with his hand out. Luke almost spoke; however, after watching Thuektze touch the bed, making the dirt disintegrate into the wall, he forgot what he was going to say.
“Over here.” Thuektze reached in a pot in the wall and placed a tiny pile of dirt in Luke’s hand. Luke stared at it, waiting for something to happen. He looked up at Thuektze, “Sorry. I suppose I’m defective.” Thuektze laughed, then touched the pile and it started to move, creating small gears and a casing around them, then a stick on a dial. He used the tip of his finger to draw around the edge of the dial and then he tapped the stick. It ticked to life. Luke watched it move, yet again his eyes enlarging in amazement.
“This is a watch. I’m sure your people know something about clocks.”
“Well we use sundials... I guess we haven’t really... gotten with the times yet, have we?” Luke jumbled his words together. “Perhaps not. My word of advice to you is: keep this safely hidden from anyone you meet from this point on.”
“Will it fall apart?”
“No. Unless a Claki wants to destroy it.”
Luke caressed it with his thumb, smiling now. “Wow... Thank you. This is a very beautiful gift.” He put it away, then he thought about something. He asked, “When you said I lack the proper gear, is this what you meant?”
“No. You said you are going to Tanimil. You are an adventurer at heart. You cannot do that without any armor.” Thuektze explained, waving his hand over to a standing chest in the wall. He walked to it and ran his hand down its surface. As it opened–just like all the doors here–Luke stopped by Thuektze’s side and looked in at a hanging brown body suit.
“Like the bed upstairs, this will fit your form. It is also impenetrable. You will not be stung, bitten, or even cut by the sharpest of blades.”
“What about magic?” Luke asked. Thuektze stood in front of him and put his hand on his shoulder, “It’s just dirt, Luke.” What? It’s just dirt, he says! Luke found himself starting to grin at the irony. He nodded, “Just dirt... right. A suit of dirt!” Thuektze made that strange, annoyed buzzing noise at him. “Don’t mock our material.”
Luke raised his hands apologetically, “I didn’t mean to!”
Thuektze pointed, “Put it on and wear your regular clothes over it. I will be just outside.” He walked out, leaving the door open. Watching him, Luke thought to himself: it was great that he met this creature. Though he is intimidating, he is very kind and hospitable. These people are pretty opposite of the goblins. Or better yet–the Ti-Goblins. He reached into the chest and took the suit out. It smelled like dirt, it felt like dirt, and it was heavy. How could he function properly with this weight on him? Well, he had to give it a shot...
Moments later; he walked out and found Thuektze in the hallway cleaning his antennas–just like a normal ant. But he stopped when he saw Luke.
With a small ‘ahem’, Luke spread his arms out and said, “A miracle suit; that’s what this is! It was heavy, but then I put it on and because it fits so well, it doesn’t have any weight at all!”
“Correct. I’m glad you like it.”
“Thank you so much for this... You’ve saved my life.” Luke said.
“I know I have. You’re welcome. Now you are ready to go to Tanimil. Come, come.” Thuektze led him back into the main room. “Remember to hide your watch at all times when around others. Also be careful about how you speak of time. Your acquaintances, friends and even family will be suspicious of you. Do not let this secret out.” Luke nodded at him, “I promise.”
“Good... Now let’s leave. We will take a taxi.” Thuektze went over to the front door. “What’s a taxi?” Luke asked.
“A vehicle used for quicker transportation.” Thuektze replied.
He tried to picture what this vehicle looked like and all he could imagine was some kind of weird animal with extra legs.
“What about Alarich?”
“He can use it too.”
Now Luke was really confused. What in the world was he going to mount? He swallowed unsurely and said; “Ok!” Then he glanced back at the room and hallways as if taking a mental picture of them to look back on one day. He wanted to remember this place, just like Ti-Tuk Village. He gave a last smile at everything and then headed out with him.