Surrounded, as he is, by a small horde of horse-headed elephantine birds, Carter gives up his flight. Behind him the squat slant-eyed trader of evil legend rides up, all smug because he has the power to control Shantaks.
The old trader obliges Carter to climb onto a Shantak’s back and hops up behind him. The enormous bird takes flight, and Carter shudders.
To my surprise, the Shantak doesn’t fly them the rest of the way northwards to the impassible plateau, but rather eastward in the direction of Leng. From the air, Carter can see the horrible giant statues guarding the impassible plateau. He notes tunnel-mouths way up at their tops, which will doubtless show up later, and also that his nemesis the old trader plainly dislikes them.
Carter and his captors cruise over Leng. Sorry, meant to say the cold desert plateau which healthy folk never visit; that haunted place of evil and mystery which is Leng. It’s all gray and lifeless, dotted with little stony villages, where natives dance by firelight. Given that Leng is described as being entirely barren, I don’t know what the native Lengese people do to subsist. Definitely they don’t farm. Carter doesn’t wonder about the Leng economy, though. He’s too busy peering down at the villagers as he flies overhead, watching them dance, squinting, trying to think where he recognizes them from. Horned heads, cloven hoofs, weird motions… it comes to him eventually, maybe thanks to the barren gray backdrop. The folk of Leng are the same folk who press-ganged him in Dylath-Leen and took him to the Moon!
Just the thought of those shapeshifting frog monsters squicks Carter the hell out. He shudder[s] at the thought that Leng must be known to these formless abominations from the moon. But the Shantak doesn’t land immediately, so he’s spared from interacting with the Lengese, at least for a while. The bird flies and flies and flies, oh it goes ever so far, across ice and stone and granite and wasteland and desert. No farming, no hunting, no gathering, no herding, no nothing. I wonder again what the Leng folk eat.
Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, they do land, at a small squat building which sounds remarkably unimpressive after Lovecraft’s glowing descriptions of Inquanok and Celephais and so on. Carter surmises, based on no information, that they have come to that most dreadful and legendary of all places, the remote and prehistoric monastery wherein dwells uncompanioned the High-Priest Not To Be Described, which wears a yellow silken mask over its face and prays to the Other Gods and their crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.
“It’s just as the various ancient salts I’ve consulted over the course of my travels described it!” he exclaims, or would if Lovecraft ever included actual dialogue.
Instead Carter is just amazingly intuitive, and figures out the old trader’s motivation for kidnaping him with hardly anything to go on at all. Plainly, he decides, the old trader is an agent of Nyarlathotep, working to punish Carter for his presumption in seeking the domain of the gods. The old trader arranged for his abduction back in Dylath-Leen, and if the cats hadn’t rescued him, Carter would have been sent on from the Moon to Nyarlathotep’s presence, there to be punished.
The trader frog-marches Carter into the ancient temple. Within, the walls are covered with ancient hieroglyphs and runes, symbols that predate humanity by eons. The frescoes tell Carter that the barren island he passed back in Part 20 on his way to Inquanok was once the frog-demons’ main base on the earthly Dreamlands, that the frog monsters enslaved the Leng people from there, and led them on many wars, including I think also the destruction of the sunken city seen in Part 8. And chief among these sights immortalized in the frescoes is the now-ruined city of Sarkomand, where once the Lengese people ruled, and which connects the surface of the Dreamland to its Underdark.
Oh, also, the tunnel-mouths mentioned in the third paragraph of this entry are revealed to be the home of night-gaunts. It’s a lot of exposition, Lovecraft’s description of these carvings is.
The old trader, whom Lovecraft never bothers to give a name or any lines of dialogue, brings Carter into the presence at the center of the temple, where on a throne a lumpish figure robed in yellow silk figured with red and having a yellow silken mask over its face. The old trader and the High-Priest communicate for a bit, the trader using hand-gestures Carter can’t understand and the High-Priest using flute music, which Carter can’t understand either.
Carter just stands there for a good long while, entirely passive, while the old trader and the High-Priest communicate. When he sees a little bit of skin through the folds of the High-Priest’s robes, and realizes the High-Priest is one of the wicked frog/shapeshifter/Moon monsters, he can’t it any more! He steps behind the old trader, then shoves the dude into the bottomless pit!
Did I mention there’s a bottomless pit?
Then he grabs old trader’s lamp and runs away, at random, into the mazy interior of the squat monastery. It’s much larger on the inside than the outside.