Around the middle of his second day out from Inquanok, Carter and his yak come to the small-domed village of Urg.  He spends a few hours chilling in the bar there, but Urg lacks ancient mariners, so he moves on quickly.  The road out of Urg splits: the main highway goes to the city of Selarn, but there’s a track northwards to the quarries.  It’s this rising road which Carter follows.  As he travels all afternoon and into the evening, rocky barrens replace farmland and the dark mountains grow closer.

His third day of travel, Carter passes more than a dozen quarries.  The land being here given over altogether to onyx cliffs and boulders, with no vegetation at all, but only great rocky fragments scattered about a floor of black earth, with the grey impassable peaks always rising gaunt and sinister on his right. He spends his third night out camping with quarry workers, at the northernmost of the quarry camps.

Carter gets all excited about these miners, because they sang many songs and told many tales, shewing such strange knowledge of the olden days and the habits of gods that Carter could see they held many latent memories of their sires the Great Ones. When they ask him where he’s headed, and try to warn him away from the northern wasteland, he lies and claims he’s just a fan of onyx, out for some onyx-spotting, not a seeker into forbidden truths of any kind, no sir.

They’re good people.  On the morning of the fourth day Carter sincerely wishes them well and vice-versa. But he did not like it when, turning back to wave a last farewell, he thought he saw approaching the camp that squat and evasive old merchant with slanting eyes, whose conjectured traffick with Leng was the gossip of distant Dylath-Leen. Yeah, that guy again!

Soon, though, Carter has left them behind.  He and his yak travel northwards through entirely uninhabited country.  No quarries, no villages, no footprints or yak tracks.  He hears the occasional bird, which freaks both him and his yak out a little, inasmuch as neither of them are sure what an angry Shantak-bird sounds like.

Then he crests an onyx hill, and discovers the Onyx Grand Canyon.  For reals!  The path indeed led straight ahead and slightly down, with the same lines of high natural walls as before; but on the left hand there opened out a monstrous space, vast acres in extent, where some archaic power had riven and rent the native cliffs of onyx in the form of a giant’s quarry. Far back into the solid precipice ran that cyclopean gouge, and deep down within earth’s bowels its lower delvings yawned. It was no quarry of man, and the concave sides were scarred with great squares, yards wide, which told of the size of the blocks once hewn by nameless hands and chisels. High over its jagged rim huge ravens flapped and croaked, and vague whirrings in the unseen depths told of bats or urhags or less mentionable presences haunting the endless blackness. There Carter stood in the narrow way amidst the twilight with the rocky path sloping down before him; tall onyx cliffs on his right that led on as far as he could see and tall cliffs on the left chopped off just ahead to make that terrible and unearthly quarry.

Most major sightseeing attractions, you hear about them, and then you eventually travel there and see them, and it’s kind of a letdown, right?  The Grand Canyon isn’t like that.  It does not disappoint.  It’s fifty dollars worth of hole.

And likewise the Onyx Grand Canyon impresses!  In fact it terrifies.  Somewhat hilariously, the sight of the Onyx Grand Canyon leads Carter’s yak to screech and stamp and flee forwards down the path into the canyon.

It takes Carter a moment to react, but he starts after the yak as fast he can; he race[s] breathlessly after the flying steed.

He hears the yak in the distance as he runs forward, marathoning, taking up miles in his strides because I guess Carter is a fricking Ranger of Arthedain or something.  The northern side of the Onyx Grand Canyon slopes up slowly, such that he barely notices when he reaches the dark and limitless plain.

And then!  Shocking twist!  He hears those hoofbeats more clearly, and realizes that they aren’t coming from a single frightened yak in front of him.  They come from some kind of monster behind him, chasing him.  Carter’s pursuit of the yak became now a flight from an unseen thing, for though he dared not glance over his shoulder he felt that the presence behind him could be nothing wholesome or mentionable. 

For unknown time Carter runs across the desert, and he sees in the distance ahead of him a terrible thing.  What is the terrible thing?  Tell us, Lovecraft!

It was thousands of feet high, stretching in a great concave arc from the grey impassable peaks to the unimagined westward spaces, and had once indeed been a ridge of mighty onyx hills. But now these hills were hills no more, for some hand greater than man’s had touched them. Silent they squatted there atop the world like wolves or ghouls, crowned with clouds and mists and guarding the secrets of the north forever. All in a great half circle they squatted, those dog-like mountains carven into monstrous watching statues, and their right hands were raised in menace against mankind.

So yeah!  When giant birds fall from the sky, Shantaks at last, it comes almost as a relief.


Primary Sources: the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath 20, ALL THE ONYX — 1 Comment

  1. >Most major sightseeing attractions, you hear about them, and then you eventually travel there and see them, and it’s kind of a letdown, right?

    Never had that experience that I can think of.

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