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Fire-Tongue Sax Rohmer

Story Of The City Of Fire -- continued

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"On the right, and above me yet, the path entered a district of volcanic rocks, gnarled, twisted, and contorted as with the agonies of some mighty plague which in a forgotten past had seized on the very bowels of the world and had contorted whole mountains and laid waste vast forests and endless plains. Above, the sun, growing hourly more cruel; ahead, more plague-twisted rocks and the scars dancing like running water; and all around the swooning stillness of the tropics.

"The night sounds of the jungle had ceased, giving place to the ceaseless humming of insects. North, south, east, and west lay that haze of heat, like a moving mantle clothing hills and valleys. The sound of falling water remained perceptible.

"And now, gentlemen, I must relate a discovery which I had made in the act of removing Vadi's clothing. Upon his right forearm was branded a mark resembling the apparition which I had witnessed in the night, namely, a little torch, or flambeau, surmounted by a tongue of fire. Even in the light of the morning, amid that oppressive stillness, I could scarcely believe in my own safety, for that to Vadi the duty of assassinating me had been assigned by this ever-watchful, secret organization, whose stronghold I had dared to approach, was a fact beyond dispute.

"Since I seemed to be quite alone on the plateau, I could only suppose that the issue had been regarded as definitely settled, that no doubt had been entertained by Vadi's instructors respecting his success. The plateau upon which I stood was one of a series of giant steps, and on the west was a sheer descent to a dense jungle, where banks of rotten vegetation, sun-dried upon the top, lay heaped about the tree stems.

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"Dragging the heavy body of Vadi to the brink of this precipice, I toppled it over, swaying dizzily as I watched it crash down into the poisonous undergrowth two hundred feet below.

"I made a rough cache, where I stored the bulk of my provisions; and, selecting only such articles as I thought necessary for my purpose, I set out again northward, guided by the sound of falling water, and having my face turned toward the silver pencillings in the blue sky, which marked the giant peaks of the distant mountains.

"At midday the heat grew so great that a halt became imperative. The path was still clearly discernible; and in a little cave beside it, which afforded grateful shelter from the merciless rays of the sun, I unfastened my bundle and prepared to take a frugal lunch.

"I was so employed, gentlemen, when I heard the sound of approaching footsteps on the path behind me--the path which I had recently traversed.

"Hastily concealing my bundle, I slipped into some dense undergrowth by the entrance to the cave, and crouched there, waiting and watching. I had not waited very long before a yellow-robed mendicant passed by, carrying a bundle not unlike my own, whereby I concluded that he had come some distance. There was nothing remarkable in his appearance except the fact of his travelling during the hottest part of the day. Therefore I did not doubt that he was one of the members of the secret organization and was bound for headquarters.

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Sax Rohmer

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