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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Story Of The City Of Fire -- continued 3

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"Gentlemen, realizing what the existence of such an organization meant, what a menace to the peace of the world must lie here, what dreadful things were almost hourly happening about me at behest of this invisible monster known as Fire-Tongue, I yet confess--for I am here to speak the truth--that, although I had now fully recovered my strength, I lingered on in a delicious idleness, which you who hear me must find it hard to understand.

"I have the reputation of being a cold, hard man. So had Antony before he met Cleopatra. But seven years ago, under the Indian moon, I learned tolerance for the human weakness which forgets the world for the smiles of a woman.

"It had to end. Sooner or later, discovery was inevitable. One night I told Naida that I must go. Over the scene that followed I will pass in silence. It needed all the strength of a fairly straight, hard life to help me keep to my decision.

"She understood at last, and consented to release me. But there were obstacles--big ones. The snow on the lower mountain slopes had begun to melt, and the water-gate in the valley by which I had entered was now impassable. As a result, I must use another gate, which opened into a mountain path, but which was always guarded. At first, on hearing this, I gave myself up for lost, but Naida had a plan.

"Removing a bangle which she always wore, she showed me the secret mark of Fire-Tongue branded upon the creamy skin.

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"'I will put this mark upon your arm,' she said. 'In no other way can you escape. I will teach you some of the passwords by which the brethren know one another, and if you are ever questioned you will say that you were admitted to the order by the Master of the Bombay Lodge, news of whose death has just reached us.'

"'But,' said I, 'how can I hope to pass for an Oriental?'

"'It does not matter,' Naida replied. 'There are some who are not Orientals among us!'

"Gentlemen, those words staggered me, opening up a possibility which had seemed only shadowy before. But Naida, who had tremendous strength of character, definitely refused to discuss this aspect of the matter, merely assuring me that it was so.

"'Those who have successfully passed the ordeal of fire,' she said, 'are put under a vow of silence for one month, and from moon to moon must speak to no living creature. Therefore, once you bear the mark of the Fiery Tongue, you may safely pass the gate, except that there are certain signs which it is necessary you should know. Afterward, if you should ever be in danger of discovery anywhere in the East, you will remember the passwords, which I shall teach you.'

"So I was branded with the mark of Fire-Tongue, and I spent my last night with Naida learning from her lips the words by which members of this order were enabled to recognize one another. In vain I entreated Naida to accompany me. She would allow herself to love and be loved; but the vows of this singular priesthood were to her inviolable.

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Sax Rohmer

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