LEVIATHAN HUNTING 101
Due to my experience with ‘Dishonored’ and China Mieville’s ‘The Scar’ I have always been fascinated by the concepts of Leviathans and Leviathan hunting in BitD. Probably like many others I had at first thought of historical whale hunting as a fitting comparison. When John told us that Leviathans were immortal and that ‘hunting’ was actually rather ‘sucking like a mosquito’, I had some difficulties picturing what that actually meant. For example: How large are Leviathans in comparison to the hunting ships? Apparently they large enough that no one gets the idea of towing one back to shore. But if that is the case, how do the ships manage to keep them under control long enough to suck their lifeblood away?
I kept mulling over questions like these and over the course of a couple of weeks, some ideas congealed in my mind. So here they are, my thoughts on Leviathan hunting, unrefined like a sea beast’s oil. Feel free to modify, discard, or add to them in any way you please:
So you want to know about Leviathan hunting? Well, first of all, one should keep in mind that Leviathans are huge. They are so huge, that most sailors have only ever seen a fraction of their body mass. Artistic or ‘scientific’ depictions can only approximate the shape of these beasts, given the fact that the images have to be put together piecemeal from incomplete descriptions of different specimen that tend to exhibit a wide variety in their overall appearance, e.g the amount, size, and structure of eyes, fins, tentacle-like appendages, bone-spurs, even the overall body shape. The only thing that can be said for certain is that the sea demons dwarf even the largest hunting ships.
So how is it possible that hunters again and again engage these beasts in a struggle for their lifeblood? The simple answer is: There is no such struggle. At least not from the sea beast’s point of view. That is, unless they are fully awake. Fortunately, they rarely are.
Which brings us to the second important fact about Leviathans: When these giants are encountered in the Void Sea, they drift through the black waves in a slumbering, almost dream-like state. The reason why is hotly debated among Doskvol’s demonologists and marinologists. Some speculate that the sea demons hunt in the deep, preying on even stranger creatures or maybe feeding from spirit-wells on the lightless bottom of the sea, and only come to the surface to sleep. Others presume that dreaming might actually be the natural state of these demons and that it is only our actions that spur them to moments of wakefulness.
Yet, while the beasts themselves might give off an appearance of serene tranquility, the same cannot be said about the sea surrounding them: Choppy waves, suddenly emerging whirlpools, eerie voices riding the winds, towering cloud formations lit from within by strangely coloured lightning – all these signs inform the seasoned hunter of the proximity of their quarry. If it is true that leviathans dream, their dreams might not be pleasant at all.
Hunting ships approach such lumbering beasts like the living islands they are. Harpoons, either thrown by hand or shot by cannon, are used to tie parasite and host together with a web of ropes, cables, and chains. Explorer crews are sent over on small boats to put foot on the beast’s back and prepare the extraction process. They bring large drills to pierce the skin of the beast and, like medical syringes, connect them with rubber hoses leading back to the pumps and tanks on the hunting vessel. After a while the leviathans lifeblood is sucked away through a dozen or so punctures. The largest ships even use cranes to lower down complex platforms, which can drive their lightning-oil-fuelled drills deeper into the leviathan’s flesh and reach richer deposits of the precious liquid.
Working on the back of a slumbering sea demon offers promise and danger in equal measures. When the drills are in place, sailors often feel tempted to saw off some of the smaller bony protusions or appendages to sell them for great reward to the superstitious or the scientifically minded. Even stranger and more rewarding treasures can often be found embedded in the ground benath the hunters’ feet: Teeth as long as swords, shimmering crystal shards, bizarre relics of obscure origin. But these treasures are invariably accompanied by great peril: Ghosts flock to leviathan blood like carrion birds while demons are known to spontaneously manifest from electroplasmic patterns on the leviathan’s back. And – frequently forgotten, yet no less deadly – there are always the more mundane danger of the sea: One wrong step on the slippery surface will send the hapless sailor beneath the ink-black waves.
When the weather phenomena and the overall weirdness increase, it is a clear sign that the monster’s slumber is growing restless. The living island will quake and even attempt to submerge beneath the waves, a pull that strong ships with an experienced crew can resist for a while. From now on it is a question of how much risk a captain is going to take to extract as much lifeblood as possible. If he disengages too soon, he will have to find another beast to fill his tanks to the brim and make the voyage profitable. If he waits for too long, the monster’s strength and wakefulness will grow to a point when lives, equipment, and even ships are lost. The floating island might suddenly vanish between the waves, pulling everything on it or attached to it down into the bottomless depths. Or the pain and ire might eventually provide enough impetus for the beast to attack its parasite. Few have seen such events and even fewer dare recall the experience.
And yet, despite all the dangers and horrors, the hunting fleets are always growing and there is no end to the number of sailors willing to risk their lives on the Void Sea, for the lifeblood of leviathans is also the lifeblood of civilisation – and it is immensely profitable.
So, this is it. I’d love to hear some thoughts – and, of course, your own visions on how you see that dangerous trade.