“That’d be us, too,” Kickaha said, “if we hadn’t had something to trade for our lives.”
They began climbing and by nightfall were three thousand feet higher. Kickaha untied the knapsack of leather from his back and produced various articles. Among these was a box of matches, with one of which he started a fire. Meat and bread and a small bottle of the Rhadamanthean wine followed. The bag and the contents were gifts from Podarge.
“We’ve got about four days of climbing before we get to the next level,” the youth said. “Then, the fabulous world of Amerindia.”
Wolff started to ask questions, but Kickaha said the he ought to explain the physical structure of the planet. Wolff listened patiently, and when he had heard Kickaha out, he did not scoff. Moreover, Kickaha’s explanation corresponded with what he had so far seen. Wolff’s intentions to ask how Kickaha, obviously a native of Earth, had come here were frustrated. The youth, complaining that he had not slept for a long time and had had an especially exhausting night, fell asleep.
Wolff stared for awhile into the flames of the dying fire. He had seen and experienced much in a short time, but he had much more to go through. That is, he would if he lived. A whooping cry rose from the depths, and a great green eagle screamed somewhere in the air along the mountain-face.
He wondered where Chryseis was tonight. Was she alive and if so, how was she faring? And where was the horn? Kickaha had said that they had to find the horn if they were to have any success at all. Without it, they would inevitably lose.
So thinking, he too fell asleep.
Four days later, when the sun was in the midpoint of its course around the planet, they pulled themselves over the rim. Before them was a plain that rolled for at least 160 miles before the horizon dropped it out of sight. To both sides, perhaps a hundred miles away, were mountain ranges. These might be large enough to cause comparison with the Himalayas. But they were mice beside the monolith, Abharhploonta, that dominated this section of the multilevel planet. Abharhploonta was, so Kickaha claimed, fifteen hundred miles from the rim, yet it looked no more than fifty miles away. It towered fully as high as the mountain up which they had just climbed.
“Now you get the idea,” Kickaha said. “This world is not pear-shaped. It’s a planetary Tower of Babylon. A series of staggered columns, each smaller than the one beneath it. On the very apex of this Earth-sized tower is the palace of the Lord. As you can see, we have a long way to go.
“But it’s a great life while it lasts! I’ve had a wild and wonderful time! If the Lord struck me at this moment, I couldn’t complain. Although, of course, I would, being human and therefore bitter about being cutoff in my prime! And believe me, my friend, I’m prime!”
Wolff could not help smiling at the youth. He looked so gay and buoyant, like a bronze statue suddenly touched into animation and overflowingly joyous because he was alive.
“Okay!” Kickaha cried. “The first thing we have to do is get some fitting clothes for you! Nakedness is chic in the level below, but not on this one. You have to wear at least a breechcloth and a feather in your hair; otherwise the natives will have contempt for you. And contempt here means slavery or death for the contemptible.”
He began walking along the rim, Wolff with him.
“Observe how green and lush the grass is and how it is as high as our knees, Bob. It affords pasture for browsers and grazers. But it is also high enough to conceal the beasts that feed on the grass-eaters. So beware! The plains puma and the dire wolf and the striped hunting dog and the giant weasel prowl through the grasses. Then there is Felis Atrox, whom I call the atrocious lion. He once roamed the plains of the North American Southwest, became extinct there about 10,000 years ago. He’s very much alive here, one-third larger than the African lion and twice as nasty.