began inching up the shaft with Wolff in its arms. Fur scraped on rock as the thing pushed with its legs. There was a jerk as the legs came up suddenly and took a new hold, followed by another scrape and lunge upward.
“Ipsewas?” Wolff said.
The zebrilla replied, “Ipsewas. Don’t talk now. I have to save my wind. This isn’t easy.”
Wolff obeyed, although he had a difficult time in not asking about Chryseis. When they reached the top of the shaft, Ipsewas removed the rope from his neck and tossed him onto the floor of the cave.
Now at last he dared to speak. “Where is Chryseis?”
Ipsewas landed on the cave floor softly, turned Wolff over, and began to untie the knots around his wrists. He was breathing heavily from the trip up the shaft, but he said, “The gworl took her with them to a big dugout and began to sail across the sea toward the mountain. She shouted at me, begged me to help her. Then a gworl hit her, knocked her unconscious, I suppose. I was sitting there, drunk as the Lord, half-unconscious myself with nut juice, having a good time with Autonoe-you know, the akowile with the big mouth.
“Before Chryseis was knocked out, she screamed something about you hanging from the Hole in the Bottom of the World. I didn’t know what she was talking about, because it’s been a long time since I was here. How long ago I hate to say. Matter of fact, I don’t really know. Everything’s pretty much of a haze anymore, you know.”
“No, I don’t,” Wolff said. He rose and rubbed his wrists. “But I’m afraid that if I stay here much longer, I might end up in an alcoholic fog, too.”
“I was thinking about going after her,” Ipsewas said. “But the gworl flashed those long knives at me and said they’d kill me. I watched them drag their boat out of the bushes, and about then I decided, what the hell, if they killed me, so what? I wasn’t going to let them get away with threatening me or taking poor little Chryseis off to only the Lord knows what. Chryseis and I were friends in the old days, in the Troad, you know, although we haven’t had too much to do with each other here for some time. I think it’s been a long time. Anyway, I suddenly craved some real adventure, some genuine excitement-and I loathed those monstrous bumpy creatures.
“I ran after them, but by then they’d launched the boat, with Chryseis in it. I looked around for a histoikhthys, thinking I could ram their boat with it. Once I had them in the water, they’d be mine, knives or not. The way they acted in the boat showed me that they felt far from confident on the sea. I doubt they can even swim.”
“I doubt it, too.” Wolff said.
“But there wasn’t a histoikhthys in reaching distance. And the wind was taking the boat away; it had a large lateen sail. I went back to Autonoe and took another drink. I might have forgotten about you, just as I was trying to forget about Chryseis. I was sure she was going to get hurt, and I couldn’t bear to think about it, so I wanted to drink myself into oblivion. But Autonoe, bless her poor boozed-up brain, reminded me of what Chryseis had said about you.”
“I took off fast, and looked around for awhile, because I couldn’t remember just where the ledges
were that led to the cave. I almost gave up and started drinking again. But something kept me going. Maybe I wanted to do just one good thing in this eternity of doing nothing, good or evil.”
“If you hadn’t come, I’d have hung there until I died of thirst. Now, Chryseis has a chance, if I can find her. I’m going after her. Do you want to come along?”
Wolff expected Ipsewas to say yes, but he did not think that Ipsewas would stick to his determination once the trip across the sea faced him. He was surprised, however.
The zebrilla swam out, seized a projection of shell as a histoikhthys sailed by, and swung himself upon the back of the creature. He guided it back to the beach by pressing upon the great nerve spots, dark purple blotches visible on the exposed skin just back of the cone-shaped shell that formed the prow of the creature.