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Citadel of Fear by Francis Stevens

Two men explore in Mexico for gold. One is thankful to leave with his life. The other, left behind to die, finds evil incarnate— Aztec hounds turned loose on the modern world.

Book Details

Book Details

Citadel of Fear (1918) – Two men explore in Mexico for gold. One is thankful to leave with his life. The other, left behind to die, finds evil incarnate— Aztec hounds turned loose on the modern world.

Citadel of Fear – In Tlapallan, lost city of an ancient race, lay the black stone of evil incarnate. And then a man from the outside world became the agent of its awful power. . . .
Chapter I – Hidden In The Hills
Chapter II – The Moth Girl
Chapter III – The Guardians Of The Hills
Chapter IV – Tlapallan Or—
Chapter V – Gold
Chapter VI – The Black Eidolon
Chapter VII – The Cloak Of Xolotl
Chapter VIII – Before The Black Shrine
Chapter IX – Maxatla Speaks
Chapter X – The First Visitation
Chapter XI – The Red-Black Trail
Chapter XII – The Opinion Of Mr. MacClellan
Chapter XIII – The Bungalow Sold
Chapter XIV – The Second Visitation
Chapter XV – The Third Visitation
Chapter XVI – Admitted
Chapter XVII – A Surprise And A Disappointment
Chapter XVIII – A Voice
Chapter XIX – Cliona Receives A Guest
Chapter XX – The Fourth Visitation
Chapter XXI – Cliona Meets A Stranger
Chapter XXII – A Herder Of Goblins
Chapter XXIII – The “Lord Of Fear”
Chapter XXIV – A Lonely Traveler
Chapter XXV – The White Beast-Hand
Chapter XXVI – To Undine
Chapter XXVII – Strange Victim— Stranger Conqueror
Chapter XXVIII – Rival Claimants
Chapter XXIX – A Golden Flask
Chapter XXX – The Gate Lodge Again
Chapter XXXI – A Strange Battlefield
Chapter XXXII – The Battle Of The Doorway
Chapter XXXIII – As One Triumphant

Francis Stevens was the pen-name of Gertrude Barrows Bennett (1883-1948). Bennett has been credited as having “the best claim at creating the new genre of dark fantasy”.

Bennett was the first major female writer of fantasy and science fiction in the United States, and has been called the most important female fantasy writer between Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and C.L. Moore. It has been said that she influenced both H.P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt, both of whom “emulated Bennett’s earlier style and themes”.

Citadel of Fear was first published in The Argosy Weekly in 1918.

Citadel of Fear contains 9 illustrations.

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Excerpt: Citadel of Fear

Chapter I

Hidden In The Hills

“DON’T leave me— All— in—”

The words were barely distinguishable, but the tall figure in the lead, striding heavily through the soft, impeding sand, heard the mutter of them and paused without turning. He stood with drooped head and shoulders, as if the oppression of the cruel, naked sun were an actual weight that pressed him earthward. His companion, plowing forward with an ultimate effort, sagged from the hips and fell face downward in the sand.

Apathetically the tall man looked at the twitching heap beside him. Then he raised his head and stared through a reddening film at the vast, encircling torture pen in which they both were trapped.

The sun, he thought, had grown monstrous and swallowed all the sky. No blue was anywhere. Brass above, soft, white-hot iron beneath, and all tinged to redness by the film of blood over sand-tormented eyes. Beyond a radius of thirty yards his vision blurred and ceased, but into that radius something flapped down and came tilting awkwardly across the sand, long wings half-spread, yellow head lowered, bold with an avid and loathsome curiosity.

“You!” whispered the man hoarsely, and shook one great, red fist at the thing. “You’ll not get your dinner off me nor him while my one foot can follow the other!”

And with that he knelt down by the prostrate one, drew the limp arms about his own neck, bowed powerful shoulders to support the body, and heaved himself up again. Swaying, he stood for a moment with feet spread, then began a new and staggering progress. The king-vulture flapped lazily from his path and upward to renew its circling patience.

After years in hell, where he was doomed forever to bear an intolerable burden across seas of smoking fire, the tall man regained a glimmering of reason. It came with the discovery that he was lying flat on his stomach, arms and breast immersed in liquid coolness, and that he was gulping water as fast and as greedily as swollen tongue and lips would permit.

With a self-control that saved two lives, he forced himself to cease drinking, but laved in the water, played in it with his hands, could scarcely believe in it, and at the same time thanked God for its reality. So sanity came closely back, and with clearing vision he saw the stream that meant salvation to sun-drained tissues.

It was a deep, narrow, rapid flood, rushing darkly by and tugging at his arms with the force of its turbulent current. Flowing out from a rocky gorge, it lost itself again round a curving height of rocks.

What of the white-hot torture-pit? He was in shadow now, blessed, cool, revivifying. But— alone.

Dragging himself by sheer will-power from the water, the tall man wiped at his eyes and stared about. There close by lay a motionless heap of brown, coated with sand in dusty patches, white sand in the tumble of black hair at one end of it.

Very cautiously the tall man got to his feet and took an uncertain step toward the huddled figure. Then he shook one dripping red fist toward a wide, shimmering expanse that lay beyond the shadow of the rocks.

“You missed us,” he muttered with a chuckle almost childishly triumphant, “and you’ll never get us— not while my one foot can follow the other!”

Then he set himself to revive the companion he had carried through torment on his shoulders, bathing the face, administering salvation by cautious driblets on the blackened, leather-dry lips and tongue. He himself had drunk more and faster. His already painful stomach and chest told him that.

But this other man, having a friend to minister, need take no such chance with his life. From his face the sand was washed in little white rivulets; his throat muscles began to move in convulsive twitches of swallowing.

As he worked, the tall man cast an occasional glance at the gorge from which flowed the stream. Below was the desert; above, craggy heaps and barren stretches of stone towered skyward.

Blind and senseless, led by some inner guidance, say instinct rather than sense, he had dragged himself and his fellow-prospector from the desert’s hot, dry clutch? Would the hills prove kinder? Water was here, but what of food?

He glanced again up the gorge and saw that beside the swift water there was room for a man to walk. And down-stream drifted a green, leafy branch, hurrying and twisting with the current.

AS LIQUID iron cools, withdrawn from the fire, so the desert cooled with the setting of the sun, its furnace. Intolerable whiteness became, purple mystery, overhung by a vault of soft and tender blue, that deepened, darkened, became set with a million flashing jewels.

And under the stars cool night-winds roved, like stealthy, invisible prowlers. Up among the rocks they came, stirring the hair of two escaped prisoners of the sun as if with curious fingers.

As their chill, stealthy breath struck through to his heated body the smaller man shivered in his sleep. His companion rolled over and took the unblanketed form in his arms, to share with it his own warmth and unconquerable vitality.

Dawn came, a hint of dun light. The stars faded and fled in a moment, and saffron glory smote the desert into transitory gold. One man had slept little and the other much, but it was the first who rose strongly from the bare rock and roused the second to action.

“We’re our own men again,” he asserted with confident optimism. ” ‘Tis time we were proving it, and though cold water’s a poor breakfast, that’s but encouragement to find a better. Come, now. Stand up on your own two feet, Mr. Kennedy, the way we may be seeking it.” Unwillingly the other raised himself. His face, save for the dark stubble of a three days’ divorce from the razor, was clean-shaven, and his black hair, dark, alert eyes, and the tan inflicted, by a Mexican sun, gave him almost the look of an Indian.

His companion, on the other hand, was of that blond, freckled type which burns, but hardly tans at all, and his young, homely face flamed red beneath a thatch of hair nearly as ruddy.

Well over six feet in height, lean, tough, with great loose-moving shoulders and slim waist, Colin O’Hara looked what he was, a stalwart young Irishman whose full power was yet to come with years, but who even at twenty excelled most men in strength and stamina. Under his worn flannel shirt the muscles played, not in lumpy hillocks, but in those long, easy curves that promise endless endurance.

“Come along,” he repeated. “They’ll be waiting breakfast for us up the arroyo.”

“Who will? Oh—just some more of your nonsense, eh? Can’t we even starve to death without your joking, over it?”

“And for why should we starve, little man? Take the edge off your temper with this, then.”

He tossed over something which Kennedy caught with eager hands, and bit through its gray-green skin almost before looking at it.

“A lechera pear, eh?” He gulped and bit again. “Where did you get it?”

The other pointed at the rushing stream. “It came floating down last night and I saved it, thinking you might need a bit of encouragement the morn.”

“Only one?” demanded Kennedy with a quick, greedily suspicious glance.

“Only one.”

Finishing the milky pulp hurriedly, the dark man washed its sticky juice from face and hands and turned with a grin.

“You’re a fool to have given it all away then— too big a fool for me to believe in. How many did you eat, really?”

The Irishman’s red brows drew together. He turned away.

“I gave you it all that I might be saved the carrying of you,” he flung back. “I’d enough o’ that yesterday.”

He was striding upstream now, and Kennedy followed, scowling at his swinging back.

“I say, Boots,” he called in a moment. “You know I meant nothing. You saved my life, I admit, and—thanks for the pear.”

“Boots” (the nickname being probably derived from the enormous pair of cowhides in which the young Irishman had essayed desert travel) flung back a brief: “It’s all right,” and tramped steadily on. He was not the man to quarrel over so trifling a matter.

As for their present goal, the best that even optimistic Boots hoped for was some uncultivated valley where they might precariously sustain life on wild fruit and such game as they could take without weapons.

Barren, unpopulated, forsaken even of the Indians, this region had an evil reputation. “Collados del Demonio,” Hills of the Fiend, the Mexicans called it. So far as Cuachictin at the desert’s rim the prospectors had come without trouble. Those were the days when Porfirio Diaz still kept his iron grip on the throat of Mexico, and by consequence even a “puerco gringo” might travel through it in safety.

But Cuachictin offered them no encouragement to further progress. Kennedy had tried in vain to persuade some native of that Indian settlement to accompany them as a guide. Gold? Ah, yes, there was gold in the hills. Gold in nuggets as big as your closed fist—so. But also devils.

Excerpt From: Francis Stevens. “Citadel of Fear.”

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