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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Story Of The City Of Fire -- continued 3

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"Their reports, so Naida informed me, had led to a belief that Vadi had perished with me; but as an extra measure of precaution, that very night--indeed, shortly after I had passed that way--a guard had been set upon the secret entrance. Therefore, even if my strength had permitted, I should have been unable to return by the way I had come.

"But indeed I was as weak as a child, and only to the presence of much foliage upon the acclivity down which I had rolled, and to the fact that I had fallen upon soft soil in a bed of flowers, can I ascribe my having failed to break my neck.

"In this way, gentlemen, I entered upon a brief period of my life at once more sweet and more bitter than any I had known. Next to that strange, invisible prophet whose name was Fire-Tongue, Naida held unquestioned sway in this secret city. Her house was separated from the others, and she travelled to and from the temple in a covered litter. To look upon her, as upon Fire-Tongue himself, was death. Women, I learned, were eligible for admission to this order, and these were initiated by Naida.

"As the days of my strange but delightful captivity wore on, I learned more and more of the weird people who, unseen, surrounded me. There were lodges of the Cult of Fire all over the East, all having power to make initiates and some to pass disciples into the higher grades. Those who aspired to the highest rank in the order, however, were compelled to visit this secret city in the Indian hills.

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"Then at last I learned a secret which Naida had for long kept back from me. These followers of the new Zoroaster were polygamists, and she was the first or chief wife of the mysterious personage known as Fire-Tongue. I gathered that others had superseded her, and her lord and master rarely visited this marble house set amid its extensive gardens.

"Her dignities remained, however, and no one had aspired to dethrone her as high priestess of the temple. She evidently knew all the secrets of the organization, and I gathered that she was indispensable to the group who controlled it.

"Respecting Fire-Tongue himself, his origin, his appearance, she was resolutely silent, a second Acte, faithful to the last. That the ends of this cult were not only religious but political, she did not deny, but upon this point she was very reticent. An elaborate system of espionage was established throughout the East, Near and Far, and death was the penalty of any breach of fidelity.

"Respecting the tests to which candidates were put, she spoke with more freedom. Those who, having reached the second grade, aspired to the first, were submitted to three very severe ones, to make trial of their courage, purity, and humility. Failure in any of these trials resulted in instant death, and the final test, the trial by fire, which took place in a subterranean chamber of the great temple, resulted in a candidate whose courage failed him being precipitated into that lake of flame which I have already described--a dreadful form of death, which by accident I had witnessed.

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Sax Rohmer

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