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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Story Of The City Of Fire -- continued 2

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"Gentlemen, I don't say that I hesitated in a physical sense: I went right on walking ahead. But a voice somewhere deep down inside me was whispering that this was the road to hell.

"At a point where the heat and the smell were almost unendurable the corridor was blocked by massive iron bars beyond which the reflection of some gigantic fire danced upon the walls of a vast cavern.

"The heat was so great that my garments, saturated by the curtain of water through which I had passed, were now bone dry, and I stood peering through those bars at a spectacle which will remain with me to the merciful day of my death.

"A hundred feet beneath me was a lake of fire! That is the only way I can describe it: a seething, bubbling lake of fire. And above, where the roof of the cavern formed a natural cone, was a square section formed of massive stone blocks, and quite obviously the handiwork of man. The bars were too hot to touch, and the heat was like that of a furnace, but while I stood, peering first upward and then downward, a thing happened which I almost hesitate to describe, for it sounds like an incident from a nightmare.

"Heralded by a rumbling sound which was perceptible above the roar of the fire below, the centre block in the roof slid open. A tremendous draught of air swept along the passage in which I was standing, and doubtless along other passages which opened upon this hell-pit.

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"As if conjured up by magic, a monstrous column of blue flame arose, swept up scorchingly, and licked like the tongue of a hungry dragon upon the roof of the cavern. Instantly the trap was closed again; the tongue of fire dropped back into the lake from which it had arisen on the draught of air.

"And right past me where I stood, rigid with horror, looking through those bars, fell a white-robed figure--whether man or woman I could not determine! Down, down into the fiery pit, a hundred feet below!

"One long-drawn, dying shriek reached my ears.

"Of my return to the place at which I had left my bundle and rifle I retain absolutely not one recollection. I was aroused from a sort of stupor of horror by the sight of a faint light moving across the platform ahead of me, as I was about to emerge from the tunnel.

"It was the light of a lantern, carried by a man who might have been the double of that yellow-robed mendicant who had first unconsciously led me to this accursed place.

"I won't deny that, up to the moment of sighting him, my one idea had been to escape, to return, to quit this unholy spot. But now, as I watched the bearer of the lantern cross the platform and enter one of the seven corridors, that old, unquenchable thirst for new experiences got me by the throat again.

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Sax Rohmer

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