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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Story Of The City Of Fire -- continued 2

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"As the light of the lantern was swallowed up in the passage, I found my bundle and rifle and set out to follow the man. Four paces brought me to the foot of more steps. I walked barefooted, frequently pausing to listen. There were many carvings upon the walls, but I had no leisure to examine them.

"Contrary to my anticipations, however, there were no branches in this zigzag staircase, which communicated directly with the top of the lofty plateau. When presently I felt the fresh mountain air upon my face, I wondered why I could perceive no light ahead of me. Yet the reason was simple enough.

"Since I had passed through that strange watergate to the City of Fire, the day had ended: it was night. And when, finding no further steps ahead of me, I passed along a level, narrow corridor for some ten paces and, looking upward, saw the stars, I was astounded.

"The yellow-robed man had disappeared, and I stood alone, looking down upon that secret city which I had come so far to see.

"I found myself standing in deep undergrowth, and, pressing this gently aside, I saw a wonderful spectacle. Away to my left was a great white marble building, which I judged to be a temple; and forming a crescent before it was a miniature town, each white-walled house surrounded by a garden. It was Damascus reduced to fairy dimensions, a spectacle quite unforgettable.

"The fact which made the whole thing awesome and unreal was the presence, along the top of the temple (which, like that of Hatshepsu at Deir elBahari, seemed to be hewn out of the living rock but was faced with white marble) of seven giant flambeaux, each surmounted by a darting tongue of blue flame!

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"Legend had it that this was the temple built by Zoroaster and preserved intact by that wonderful secretiveness of the Orient through the generations, by a cult who awaited the coming of Zoroaster's successor, of that Fire-Tongue who was to redeem and revolutionize the world.

"I was afraid to move too far from the mouth of the tunnel, but nevertheless was anxious to obtain a good view of the little city at my feet. Gingerly I moved farther forward and forward, ever craning out for a glimpse of the buildings more immediately below me, forgetful of the fact that I walked upon the brink of a precipice.

"Suddenly my outstretched foot failed to touch ground. I clutched wildly at the bushes around me. Their roots were not firm in the shallow soil, and, enveloped like some pagan god in a mass of foliage, I toppled over the cliff and fell!"

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Sax Rohmer

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