By E.T. Hanson
PART 1 – HOW TO BLACKMAIL A DRAGON
CHAPTER 1: THE GREAT RED WYRM
‘Hero’ they say.
My kind are never heroes. The title is not becoming of beings known for bringing destruction. Many a tale are told of us incinerating the heavens and the earth. For us, for me to meddle in the affairs of this world’s primate vermin for anything other than wealth is unheard of. Yet meddle I did, and for that sin now no matter how far or high my wings carry me, be it my native country of Haiden or the whole world of Tygan, I’m forever chased by the people’s cheers.
Ah. Your quizzical demeanor betrays your curiosity about me. I am a Saar, that race which conquered the skies of Tygan when she was yet untamed. That divine title is the true name of our people, though you may know me by another name. Your kind call me ‘dragon.’
Dragon. Ha! Such a quaint little word. You apes have a habit of needlessly convoluting things.
My home lies hidden beneath the Phoenix River Canyon, in a place called Silent Pass, thus named for here even the insects dare not chirp. At the end of centuries’ worth of claw carved tunnels I wait, past caverns leading nowhere, past black pits leading to death, to where my amassed treasure awaits. Choked with enough wealth to overflow a castle ten times over, it is this hoard that drew many adventurers that came seeking fortune, only to find my fury. Only those apes who annoyed me were spared. Those that lived traveled many miles, spreading many tales of my power. By their whispers I was given title after title by humans, elves, orcs and dwarves, each one seemingly more terrifying than the last. But there was one title that once uttered had the power to still a beating heart.
The Great Red Wyrm.
For centuries that name inspired nothing but terror, so you can understand my confusion to the more positive response it now brings. Just how did it come to pass, you say? Perhaps I’ll tell you if only so you’ll make yourself scarce once I’m done.
My journey to becoming ‘hero’ began like many a spring morning. The final thaw melted away the remains of winter, uncovering the fresh blossoms beneath the snow. I’d taken a moment to enjoy the weather before indulging myself on a heard of mountain goats and the large predatory cat that had been hunting them. Oh how refreshing a feast it was, enough to leave me in want of sleep for a few hours more. I tucked myself beneath my favorite mound of gold in hopes of finding slumber.
Instead I found voices.
The complaints of a young male reverberated through the tunnels and back to me.
“Gods, Major. This place is deader than the houses of my married clients.”
“Nobody cares what you used to do for money.” a female voice answered.
“What do you mean used to?” asked the male. “Why’s it so quiet?”
“Because unlike you, even the bugs are smart enough to shut up.”
“Well at least we didn’t run into any booty traps.” answered the male.
“That’s what scares me. And they’re called ‘booby’ traps.” replied the female.
“You know, I fondle both of them so much I get them mixed up all the time.” the male joked.
“You like your tongue, Sparks?” the female asked.
“Why yes, Major. I love my tongue.” the male said.
“Want to keep it?”
The threat was effective. Both of my unwelcome parties kept their hubbub to a whisper. Sadly, the quiet didn’t last. Soon they found themselves at the entrance to my hoard chamber, where they were greeted by their predecessors. The tunnel was choked with the bodies of those that tried and failed to plunder it before. Some were reduced to dust by the ages and others were but a few months burned, yet all were equally unpleasant in the eyes of my male visitor. He let out a shrill shriek, only for it to be quickly restrained beneath the female’s palm.
“You act like you’ve never seen dead guys before. Pussy.” the female said.
The two attempted, with limited success, not to disturb the bodies as they tip toed through. My eyelids fluttered at the sounds of cracking finger bones, sprinkling a light shower of minted gold away from my head. The one tunnel leading in and out of my hoard chamber was aglow by the light of a magic staff, beneath which stood my two mysterious visitors.
The female was a human clad in soldier’s apparel. Her face was as chiseled as the side of a mountain, crowned by a head of unevenly cut brown hair. Her armor suit was a curious one. The center chest plate was divided into segments similar to a pill bug, allowing her to contort her body with relative ease. Draped from her shoulder and across her chest was a bandolier of bolts for the hand crossbow holstered at her waist. Also sheathed on either side of her were two katar punching knives, both freshly sharpened. On the suit’s chest was a painted emblem of a raven perched in the head of a wolf. A small emerald stood in place of the raven’s eye. It seemed the soldier cared more for this symbol than her own disheveled appearance for out of any feature on the suit, this one had been the most cared for. Though her suit’s appearance cried of poor maintenance, listening to it was another matter. It was quiet as a breath when she walked.
While the female was at best disinterested in her appearance, her companion turned his into a profession. The male was an elf, dressed not in armor but instead in a too tight pair of stretched hide slacks and a green button up shirt that somehow shined brighter than my hoard. His black hair was streaked with bands of white, gelled up to make it look like a dead skunk was resting on his crown. Over his shoulder hung a leather satchel so fresh you could still smell the finish. Above him he held the magic staff that lit his way, though I used the term loosely for this staff looked more like a pruned tree branch.
The tip of the tree branch was aglow with a spell I recognized as ‘Molunious’, a favorite of novice spell casters who found themselves short on traditional torches. This one was a wizard. The staff’s glow showed off his skin, which was growing subtly pale.
“Kill the light, Sparks.” the female ordered. “You’re wearing yourself out.”
“Saves me time prepping for my mime act.” the elf said before snuffing out Molunious.
Though I flattered myself thinking he was growing pale from fear, truth was he was showing the early signs of Arcane Fatigue. Arcane Fatigue is an ailment common in new coming casters, for their bodies had yet to grow accustomed to using magic. Like someone wearing out their heart after running too many miles, Arcane Fatigue exhausts the afflicted, and further exertion can lead to death.
I of course relished in the wizard’s agonies, for I had a special hatred for his kind. You see, the Saar are the only naturally occurring source of magic on this world of Tygan. All other instances of the arcane from potions to spell casters are plundered from us. Wizards gain their abilities by the barbaric practice of drinking our blood, earning them the title of Lahaar’rie’vrrick, or ‘blood drinker.’ Wizards were but leeches with no real claim to their so called gifts. It had been some time since I salted one.
The two stood at the entrance, the elf sweating much and the soldier sweating little. The female took a whiff of the air.
“Smell that?” the female asked. “Sulfur. He’s in here.”
“Really? That’s too bad. Guess we’ll have to come back later.”
As the elf tried to leave, the soldier locked her hand around his throat.
“Would you puss out and just deal with Assylyl?” she asked.
The elf shook his head.
“That’s what I thought.”
Assylyl. Now that was a name I’d not hear for many an age, nor one I’d thought to hear again. My kind had grown rare since my youth, and Assylyl was to thank for our rarity. He, or rather It had been killed some five hundred years ago, which is why I found it very odd of the soldier to invoke his name.
The soldier took her hand away from the elf’s mouth, allowing him once more to speak.
“Okay, Major. so we’re here. Let’s just grab something. Any random handful of this will bay for all the hand jobs we could ever want.”
“It’s not the treasure we’re after.” the soldier said.
It was then I realized this was more than another routine burglary.
Like a hawk stalking a field mouse, the Major’s eyes scanned the chamber, halting only at the sight of one specific piece of treasure. Near my eye rested a crystal glowing of cyan known as lunar quartz, a once common mineral that had been dispersed and destroyed by the coming of the seafaring age. Now it was more sought after than diamond, and my piece was among the largest and most perfectly preserved in the world.
“There it is.” she said. “That’s what we’re after. That piece of lunar quartz.”
“Pretty.” said the elf. “Remind me again why it’s gotta be that one?”
“In every dragon’s hoard there’s always one piece they can’t bear to lose.”
“So the opposite of my virginity then?” asked the elf.
Though the elf joked, what the woman said was right. Though the hoard of a Saar is a mountain, there’s always one piece that crowns it. The lunar quartz was mine, the prize around which my entire collection was centered. You see, the lunar quartz was the beginning of my collection, and no one would make me part with it.
“Grab it, Sparks.” the Major ordered.
The wizard, Sparks turned his tree branch of a staff to my crystal and uttered another spell.
The cyan glowing gem shifted as the elf tried to lift it with the spell of levitation. His efforts were for naught. The gem did not move.
“Must be an enchanted.” guessed the Major.
“Some dragons are just so paranoid.” complained Sparks.
It turned out she was right about the enchantment. Some time ago another band of adventurers came to steal my treasure. Among the was a wizard. I offered the creature his life in exchange for a few modest spells of protection. It was a decent arrangement, one the wizard regrettably nullified with an ice bolt hurled in my direction. His treachery earned him a blast from my furnace.
“Major, I really think we should just take something and run. This isn’t just any dragon we’re talking about here. It’s the Fire Tempest.” the elf said.
The Major rolled her eyes. “Fire Tempest? That’s what you people call him? At least the dwarves keep it simple. They just call him That Big Red Sunuvabitch.”
“And Blondie calls him Red Sky.” Sparks said. “You remember what she told us. These things are more vindictive than me after one of my customers stiffs me. If he decides to get even, what if he doesn’t just come after us? What about all the places along our route? The Tomb of the Selfless, Ganbury…”
That these two spoke less of my treasure and more of me was a point of interest. Most were overcome by a maddening euphoria after gazing upon my wealth, but these two looked through the numerous golden mounds as if they were obstacles. Perhaps they were not treasure hunters. Perhaps they were dragonslayers coming not for gold but glory. I’d lost count of the number of times I was challenged to the death. The ensuing fights were always exercises in tedium and brevity.
But if that was the case, why were they so interested in my lunar quartz?
“We’ll worry about that if it happens. Right now we need to take the cherry off the sundae.” said the woman. The Major grabbed Sparks by his shirt collar, lifting him off the ground, perhaps by accident, as she barked her orders to him.
“If he sees me, you grab the crystal and make way for the desert like we talked about. You listening to me, pointer?” she said.
Pointer was considered a highly offensive epithet to elves, though it had little effect on the cheeky Sparks.
“Can I just run now?” he asked.
The Major dropped her companion back to the floor, and entered my hoard. She seemed to slither between the piles of wealth surrounding her, careful not to stir even one stray coin as she approached the pile that on top of which my lunar quartz rested, and beneath which I slept. As she climbed the side, the cyan glow of my crystal washed over her body. She looked like a ghost, just like I would soon make of her.
So focused was the soldier that she didn’t see the unblinking eye that followed her. For this, Sparks was the first to spot me. As the elf’s own eyes fell upon mine, his entire body vibrated like a tuning fork. Only then did he realize the mound of gold before him was but a quilt for the creature resting beneath it. The revelation near instantly drove the elf to madness. He tried to call out to his companion but the words clung to his tongue, as if they too were trying to hide. Only when the oblivious Major’s fingers were at the cusp of touching my crystal did he force it out.
“M…Ma…Maj….Major Arietta!” he shrieked.
The Major turned to watch the elf as he appeared to be overcome with seizure. When she turned back, she locked her eyes onto my one that stared right back at her. As the glow of the crystal cast off her, so did the light of my irises. The lava like glow turned the beast orange, as if her fear itself set her on fire.
“Ah damn it.” she sighed.
The mound of gold shuddered beneath her as I rose to a stand. With the flex of my wings coins were sprayed into the air, raining down on the entire chamber as a monsoon of wealth. The quilt of gold and gems shifted beneath her, costing the Major her footing and sending her tumbling down my side.
My crystal rolled down right after her, coming to rest on a nearby pile of coin.
“Sparks, get it! Get the damn thing!” she ordered.
Her commands went unheeded. The elf had gone, long since carried away by legs that carried more smarts than his head. Abandoned by all but the elf’s footprints, the soldier’s skin flushed an angry red that dare I was my scales were comparable to. The rain of coins shrank to a trickle. As the Major was overcome with anger, I rested my hand next to her, rhythmically tapping my index finger against the stone.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Majjoooorrrr.” I hissed.
When the Major turned and saw that my mere finger was as large as she was, her stoic demeanor vanished. Her angry red melted away to fear filled white as her gaze climbed up my body. Standing upright she could barely reach the bottom of my chin to the tip of my snout. Even my teeth were thicker and longer than her forearms. To reach the tip of my crown it would take sixteen of her standing one on top of the other.
My voice itself was enough to make the cave tremble.
“Well rrut, what possesses you to pester me?” I asked.
The Major looked confused. “Rrut? What’s that?”
“A rrut? Why that’s what you are. Fitting name for your species. It sounds as foul as you creatures taste.” I said.
I gazed upon the vacant rock where her partner once stood. “What a pity. It appears you’ve been forsaken. Now answer me, rrut, how does a rodent like you find yourself here?”
Her lips danced like strings on a harp, but they were stretched too tight to sing. She wanted to tell me. I could see it in her. The was a desperate need to reveal everything she’d planned, but by whatever discipline or will she held, she managed to restrain her tongue.
“I wanted some cheese.” she joked.
“How adorable, thief.” I said.
“I’m a soldier, not a thief.” she protested.
“Oh, you’re not a thief? The creature that slinks through darkness seeking to take that which isn’t theirs insists it is not a thief? I think not, yhivux.” I countered. “Now since you’re unwilling to speak, I suppose I’ll have to take it up with your pointy eared friend. Don’t worry though. I’m feeling charitable today. Your death shall be quick.”
Within me the fire came to life. I held it until the whole of my insides were searing hot and when I couldn’t hold it any more, heaved it free. A cascade of fire punched from my throat and onto the chamber floor, scattering gold and stone. The Major however proved nimble. When the fire cleared, there was no corpse to smolder. The soldier thief spouted some rather colorful language as she fled.
I clicked my tongue. “Oh dear. This would be so much easier if you just surrender so we can get this over with.”
Then, to her surprise as well as mine, a voice cried out to the Major.
It seemed Sparks didn’t forsake his companion after all. Peering over my golden bed, I watched as he stepped before the verodu from behind a shelter of gem encrusted pillars, spreading his arms wide as if to hug her.
“Bet you thought old reliable Sparks went and…”
With the shriek of a blade, Major Arietta’s grabbed the elf by the clump of fur on his head and placed her polished steel katar against his throat.
“Sparks, you asshole. I told you to get it!” she said.
“You want it? It’s yours.” He shoved his shining satchel in her face.
To my boundless shock, a bright cyan glow seeped from the top of the satchel, the glow of my lunar quartz crystal. I looked to where it had landed and found it gone. The little monster. He’d snatched it while I was distracted with the Major. That he dared put his hands on that which was mine made my very blood boil. Before this intrusion seemed a routine annoyance. Now it was more.
“Yhivux lahaar’rie’vrrick!” I roared.
“Ah crap. Run!” yelled the Major. The elf and soldier dove free just as my fire dashed against the stone. The heat of the fire only seemed to flare their tempers. They quarreled louder as they went.
“Why didn’t you just take it and run!?” demanded the Major.
“And leave you? Are you nuts?” asked the elf.
The two threw themselves against a mound of coin, desperate for but a moment’s rest. The coins shifted at their touch, exposing the decomposing hand of the corpse beneath it. The hand still clutched a half melted dagger. Only then did the two realize many of those to reach my hoard were still here. This place was their tomb.
“Oh shit.” the Major hissed as she and her companion once more fled.
I called out to them as they went. “Do you smell it, yhivuxii? This place is the grave for all those who dare steal from me. You weren’t the first to find this place, and you won’t be the last die here.”
With a blast of fire I managed to force the pair along the back wall. Then came silence. The pair had vanished above the shifting coins. Apart from the beating of my own heart, there were scant signs of life in the chamber, but for all their efforts, the pair couldn’t mask their scent.
“Let us not partake in this farce anymore. Come to me, verodu, you and that lahaar’rie’vrrick pet of yours.” I said. “Tell me, wizard, how does it feel to know that all your gifts come by virtue of you choking down the blood of a Saar? You are but a leech, with not a single strength as your birthright. Does drinking the blood thrill you, as this thrills me?”
I followed the trail of perspiration along the back wall of my hoard chamber, almost back to the tunnel. The exit was still guarded by numerous charred corpses. By the stench of sweat and fear I spotted them. Major Arietta and little trembling Sparks hid in the shadow of a large painting, unaware they’d been seen. To the best of their ability, they remained absolutely still.
“Verodu? Reizeek? Come out. I wish to congratulate you.” I said. “You’ve successfully plundered me. I should like to…discuss the matter with you. Fear not. I shall be merciful as you clearly are not well versed in the Saar. Because if you were, you would know…”
I stabbed my glowing lava eyes right into theirs.
“…I see everything in the dark.”
I lobbed towards them a ball of fire. Major Arietta grabbed the clump of fluff on Sparks’ head and yanked a shriek right out of him.
“Ayeee!” He cried.
They leapt free just in time to avoid the blast, though I showed some restraint myself as to not damage the painting. Though they avoided the fire, the shockwave sent them tumbling through the air. Major Arietta landed on her feet, only to be toppled moments later when Sparks came down on top of her. They collapsed in a heap as I bore down on them.
Sparks had no intention of going quietly. He aimed his stick of a staff at my head. Tiny, flickers of electricity danced around on the tip, building into a bolt of lightning as the elf’s hair stood on end.
“Derthanous!” he shouted.
Just as the bolt shot upwards, Major Arietta pulled his staff back, sending the lightning strike harmlessly into the ceiling.
“Sparks, no! I want him alive!” she said as gravel rained down on them.
“You need me alive? Now this is interesting.” I said.
“Okay. Screw this plan!” Sparks shouted.
The elf tossed his satchel and bolted out the tunnel, feebly leaping over the corpses as he went.
“Sparks, god damn it!” she bellowed.
Major Arietta charged after him with slightly less regard for the dead. She kicked off jaws and snapped their bones in her frenzied flight, just as I snatched the tossed satchel out of the air.
“Well, that was easy.” I said, more than a little pleased with myself.
I opened the satchel only to find myself once more swindled. That blood drinking Sparks had placed a golden bar in the satchel to weigh it down. In the tunnel, Major Arietta caught her Sparks companion by his hair, only finding out then he still held their prize.
“You’re going back to get that!” she said.
“Relax. It’s perfectly safe between my hams!”
Just as the two ran out of sight, I caught that familiar cyan glow seeping between the fibers of the elf’s too tight pants. I lumbered after them.
“Do you think you can…” I began, but I was interrupted by a loud, sickening crunch underfoot. In my haste, I’d stepped on the corpses that littered the tunnel, soaking my hands in what little remained of their rancid bone marrow.
“Ugh. Disgusting.” I ran my hand across the wall to clean it.
Primates. They smell as vile in death as they taste in life. Apart from deterring intruders, I could see no use for these corpses, but I kept them for form. That and, if I may be honest, I didn’t relish the thought of touching them.
I followed the thieves down the centuries’ cut twisted labyrinth. Following the trail, I found it marked with a series of white Xs. The Xs were placed wherever the tunnel branched. I didn’t need to follow them to know this was the way out.
I followed their foul smells and their white Xs all the way to one of many obstacles that separated them from the outside world. The two reached a fifty-foot wide chasm that opened up into endless dark, hardly a threat for a Saar seeking leisure. The same couldn’t be said for my guests. A grappling hook was wedged into the cavern’s roof, dangling a rope above the drop. The low end of the rope was tied to a nearby stalagmite awaiting their arrival. The Major grabbed the frail thread as her blood drinking thief of a companion held onto her back.
“Hang on, Sparks!” she shouted, and across the chasm they swung.
As they weren’t well versed in the Saar, clearly they also needed brushing up on geology. My lair was carved largely of a fragile type of stone that wasn’t well-liked for weight bearing. Though the grappling hook held them before, this proved to be one swing too many. The grappling hook came loose, spilling them both into the chasm.
In retrospect I don’t really know why I grabbed the rope, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I leapt across the chasm, snatching the thread as I went and pulling the two from blackness. I landed on the other side of the gap with a loud crash. A crash sounded as I landed on the other side. The two idly swing back and forth on the end of the rope. As they didn’t know whether to feel relief or fear I tried to assist them in deciding by threateningly holding them before my open maw.
“Why’d you do that?” Major Arietta asked.
“Verodu, I’m not letting a rope defeat you instead of me.” I said.
“Well that’s nice but…MOLUNIOUS!”
At the shouting of his incantation the cave around me vanished in blistering light. I reached up to shield my face as my vision filled with abstract shapes and colors. The rope slipped free from my hands, dropping the pair to the floor.
“Hcraa!” I cursed. “You insolent little bastard! I’ll kill you!”
In the few seconds it took for my sight to recover, the Major and the wizard covered much ground, but their bickering left behind a convenient trail to follow.
“Save the magic for us, Sparks!” the verodu Major said.
“It was that or see who could do the best impression of a roast!” he answered. “Which I totally would have won since I’m so much hotter than you!”
I hurled myself after them as they ran towards one of my lairs outer walls. On the other side of the numerous yards of rock was the Phoenix River Canyon. Flowing above us was the river itself, which opened up just beyond the wall into a cascading waterfall. The roar of the river’s tonnage reverberated all around us the two ran into what may have been the most dangerous obstacle in my humble abode. Centuries of weathering allowed the river to seep into the caverns, carrying anything that fell in down a narrow tube that opened up into the waterfall beyond. Out there, all that awaited them was a three hundred foot drop onto a death of water weathered stone.
It seemed this too was part of their plan. One tube had been carefully marked with a red X.
Major Arietta dragged the weakened Sparks towards the water. He’d begun to once more grow pale from Arcane Fatigue.
“You lazy bastard. You’d better have enough juice left for us because if this fall kills us, I’ll kick your ass!”
“Major, do you still doubt me?” Sparks told her.
Of course. The elf was a blood drinker. If he still possessed the power, he could slow their descent enough to spare them a death of being dashed on the rocks.
“You’re going nowhere!” I roared.
My fire stampeded from my throat towards them, but it was too late. The pair fell into the river which quickly sucked them out the tube. By the time I lunged forward to grab their bodies, they were too far ahead to reach. The water carried them the hundreds of feet down the tube and out into the falls. As they fell those hundreds of feet, the blood drinker shouted the spell that saved them.
I could barely hear them land, but I could well hear them bicker.
“Sparks, get off!” the Major yelled.
“I can’t swim in rapids like this!” whined the wizard.
“You pointer son of a bitch! If you drown me, I’ll kill you!”
The wall before me was as thick as several lengths of my body. It would take far too long to burn it. I’d no choice but to traverse the remainder of the labyrinth, out to the crevasse that served as my lair’s main entrance. A crude rope ladder dangled before me, remnants of the pair’s arrival sometime a few hours ago. The sight of this ladder, this monument to my humiliation filled me with rage. I tore it free and smashed it underfoot, sure to set it on fire for good measure as I climbed to the top of the crevasse. I climbed out into a Haiden dawn, lit by a sky of soft violet. A spout of flame from my maw lit the land around me, frightening many nearby creatures back into their holes. After that came the stillness for which Silent Pass was known. There was not the chirping of a single cricket, nor the flutter of a single wing, and most importantly, not a single sound from one single, skittering thief.
The five moons were just retreating behind the mountains. The sun sliced into the sky with beams of scarlet, but it did little to illuminate where the plunderers had gone.
“Verodu! Reizeek! If you wish any pity, I command that you come to me! I command it!”
Not even the morning breeze dared to answer.
Below me spread the canyon of the Phoenix River, its waters churning in a soup of white foam and mist. Through the mist on the opposite shore I saw where the two had left the water. Their footprints lead to a tree where a freshly cut rope swayed back and forth on the trunk. At the base of the tree were the shifted footprints of beasts. A pair of griffins had been there, waiting to carry the thieves away when they returned. Whatever scent they left behind had been drowned out by the smell of the river.
The two thieves had escaped. They hadn’t just plundered me. They’d taken my most prized possession, maliciously targeting that which I held most dear. It was the first time in almost one hundred years someone had managed to steal from me. I roared. I roared long and loud, enough for even the mist itself to retreat.
“Hcraa! Verodu! Reizeek! Do you think you can escape me? Saar Uz’uyi. Uz’ vlut ae’cha! There are only so many deserts for you to bury yourselves in!”
By the long and prosperous history of my people I would track them, I would look down every hole and scour every sea until they were found and made to suffer for this contemptuous crime. I knew not precisely where they were going, but had a good idea where to begin. Sparks had been oh so kind enough to furnish me with that.
“Heading towards the Tomb of the Selfless are you? Very well. As it is the tomb of Davies the Kind, so too shall it be yours!”
I spread my colossal wings just as the sun peered over the mountains, casting the landscape before me in shadow. The membrane between my wings’ slender fingers was tickled by the wind, as if the air itself were goading me skyward. With a leap from the canyon’s head, I was aloft, venturing out East above my native Haiden land.
Of course, all of this still begged the question why. Why, for all of this, could the two possibly want me alive?
Thus began my journey to the title of ‘hero’. In my anger, I couldn’t have possibly known that the most significant event on this little journey still lay ahead. As I raced across Haiden towards the tomb where Davies lay, I could not have imagined what would happen upon my arrival.
When I met…him.