Section 201: The Trawler's Game
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In all of my travels, I have never encountered a beast as bloodthirsty and territorial as the late Captain Corrigan, whose mere name struck fear into the hearts of sailors along the European coast.

He was built like two stallions and hairier than a Russian Frost-Ogre. He smelled like a fugitive whaler, his skin stained by the brine of the abyss and the viscera of nautical monstrosities he'd killed. Some called Corrigan the "greatest living pirate". Some said he wasn't alive in the first place, although they would unfortunately be proven wrong decades later. He never bothered to learn the names of his crew. Shipmates came and went with every voyage. Whether they left by dock or by death was decided by the sea and the sea alone.

Corrigan and his men were pirates of a different sort; harvesters of the great blue itself. They were not poachers, nor were they whalers, though I'm sure some crewmates told themselves that so they could sleep through the frigid nights. No, Corrigan was a glory-seeker. A hunter like myself, entranced by the titans found within the blue expanse. At one time, our relationship was that of a master and apprentice, though it slowly evolved to a bitter rivalry as we both realized our true capacities for hunting outweighed any possible chance of an amicable, working relationship. I have rarely broken my composure when dealing with another hunter, but I am not ashamed to admit that many a night aboard Corrigan’s ship ended with a cutlass pointed at his throat, and a pistol pushed against my stomach. I miss him dearly.

His ship would seldom make port, but when it did, even the rowdiest of sailor-dives and roughneck pubs would bar their doors lest Corrigan decide he was thirsty. No matter which iteration of the Giant's Halberd dropped its anchor, the droning shanties of the crew and bearded jolly roger made the Captain's presence unmistakable. There was one day a year Corrigan made sure he was on land for, as I would forever hold my superiority over his head if he dared miss —

The Trawler’s Game

The event went largely unchanged. In the dead of winter, the two of us would meet at the Hanging Cleavage bar, on the pirate port island of Paraíso Azul, a former Spanish outpost and newly christened hub for all variety of extraordinary, supernatural, and wholly unsavory folk. We would drink to our limits (If Corrigan had one, I never did know), and share exaggerated stories of our most recent exploits — both of beast and woman (Corrigan never had luck with the latter) — since we had last seen each other. Then, after a night of companionship, drunken antics, and almost certainly a bar fight or three, we would take leave for our ships and prepare for the Game.

The rules were simple. In the morning, the two of us would set sail on individual ships. Each was outfitted with heavy artillery and the spoils of our previous hunts. Notably, we each lacked a crew.

We would sail to the stormy, uncontrolled waters affectionately nicknamed “Poseidon's Cradle”; where maelstroms and typhoons set the backdrop of most encounters with the horrors that called that stretch of hell home. We would spend three days on the endless blue, practically inviting death as a shipmate. The winner of the game was the man who brought back the biggest catch, told the biggest tale, held the grandest proof.

I never won the Trawler’s Game.

I did, once, come close. I will keep to the spirit of the game, though it is long since over, and tell you that story as I would in those days.

There was a particular creature who troubled us each year. ‘Troubled’ is an understatement. It was the only living thing that scared the Captain. It did not have a name, and if it did, it had been lost to time. We called it the Leviathan, after the biblical creature, but also on the account that a name less grandiose would downplay its significance in the storied history of the Trawler’s Game.

It was the Leviathan that destroyed Corrigan’s first ship. It was the Leviathan that took his leg, and the lives of many men who served in his crew. Wherever the Captain hunted, it was the Leviathan who hunted him. To say it had a vengeance would be inaccurate, as revenge implies a shred of human understanding, and the Leviathan should not be granted such luxuries. It was a force of nature, and it ruled the seas because nothing could challenge it. The Leviathan did not know danger; it was danger, and every other natural instinct that arises when we see something bigger, stronger, and deadlier than ourselves.

I suppose I can describe it.

Anatomy

The Leviathan was truly gigantic, the size of several ships combined could not compare to the creature’s full length, which was not unlike an eel in form. A lengthy, serpentine body and a gaping maw surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of needle-thin teeth. A second jaw contained mast-long bristle-like fangs that greeted its prey upon entry. It could breach the surface of the water with its body, bringing its funneled snout to the clouds as if it was puppeteered by a string from above. It caught sight of ships with its bulging, bloodshot eyes, ramming them at full speed with the hardened plate on its forehead. Its bruised, black skin was like junk steel, warped and scarred from long-won confrontations. Sailors, hunters, and God knows whatever other creatures lurked on Poseidon's Cradle all had their chance at the Leviathan. And yet, only the Leviathan stood.

We had given the Leviathan some scars of our own over the years. First, there was the Psychosis-Harpoon lodged into its right eye, which undoubtedly did not do its temperament any favors. There was also the infectious, parasitic artillery shell buried somewhere inside its stomach. For a lesser creature, the swarm of Hhov-Flies contained within would have torn their soul to bits in under twenty minutes. I would be lucky if the Leviathan succumbed to their onslaught in the next few milenia. Then, you had the multiple tears in the decorative, frilled, orange membrane that lined its back, raised across the creature like an unending sail. While not all of those holes were pierced by Corrigan or myself, I’d like to believe we accounted for the majority of them. Finally, there was our crowning achievement, and one that gave the Leviathan a most frightening, unearthly appearance. The creature’s neck had been almost entirely separated from its body.

Yes, the head of the Leviathan hung limp from the rest of it, exposing a mass of tissue and bone that had grown over the wound in its body's attempt to heal an injury it should have never recovered from. When it growled, it gurgled, screaming in pain and attempting to swing its pendulous, hanging head towards the sky.

This was the result of a combined effort from Corrigan and myself, when the beast had attacked decades ago, while our ships were still within close vicinity of one another. It was a crossbow, powered by what may well have been manifested vengeance, fired with enough force to nearly sever the monster's head from its body. Within seconds, the sea was a deep scarlet. Somehow, be it by sheer strength or through forces beyond my understanding, the Leviathan persisted.

The Hunt

A hint of the sun peeked over the horizon when Corrigan and I set out that morning. Our galleons were large enough to carry even the thickest hides we could encounter, with enough artillery to blow them clean away.

The first day was uneventful. Upon reaching the Cradle, we went our separate ways. I cannot remember the exact order of events, as my attention was focused on manning my ship through my own efforts, but I encountered no less than three living whirlpools, a spout-serpent, and five mega-sqyds (It was migration season). While each posed a challenge, none were great enough to even entertain the idea of winning the Game.

At the end of the day, a fine layer of sweat and sea salt covered my person, and I was ready to collapse and fall overboard. For all of my effort, I had nothing to show for it. But hope was yet to be lost, as I had a strategy. In my travels, I had corresponded with a Velthuvian Monk, who informed me of the ongoing food scarcity in her coffin-commune. The Monks were a prodigious, large people - each requiring the food of ten human men to sustain themselves for the day. To lure the beasts that plagued their crypt-cities into traps, they used gemstones, covered in carved runes, that sung out when struck. They called it the Jewel of Aman, and I had acquired one specifically for this purpose. I slammed the signet towards the ship’s floor, struggling to maintain my balance from the resultant shockwaves. Mustering all of my strength, I scooped the Jewel into my hands, and tossed it overboard.

The silence was appreciated for the 10 minutes it lingered, and then the evening sun disappeared. Rising from the water was a hanging, black square whose shadow engulfed the ship and every ray of light that shone upon it. A seemingly endless stream of water poured from the thing’s jaws. My nose filled with the stench of brine, blood, and fear. The creature stared with giant, cloudy-red wheels, each damaged and lined with its own injuries. A low, rumbling noise quaked from the serpent’s stomach that erupted into a thunderous bellow that nearly capsized my ship. The beast lunged forward, its neck snaking directly towards me. I heaved my electro-webbed Arteca Rifle over my shoulder and pointed forward.

Then it stopped. As if an impenetrable barrier was in its way, the beast stopped. It hung in the sky, lifeless, its eyes widened into an expression I could only construe as shock. And suddenly, the terrifying serpent was torn away, pulled into the sky with enough force to send a wave directly pointed at my ship. I clung to the mast. The salt of the water stung my eyes, and then my vision cleared. The beast that had emerged from the water minutes earlier hung lifeless in the jaws of another. It was even larger than the first, and bore twice as many injuries. A glut of viscera and barnacles emerged from its neck, forming a mass of hardened tissue and bone. There was no mistaking its visage: the Leviathan had found me.

It dropped the serpent into the water, and curled its mouth into a demonic smile. The smell of rotting corpses filled the air, and if it weren’t for the plugs in my nose, I would have succumbed to the odor. While it seemed larger than when we'd last met, I was also much better equipped. I welcomed the beast with outstretched arms, convinced that this encounter would be different.

The Leviathan thrashed, and then launched itself through the water with unbelievable agility. The sound of cracking wood stung my ears as my ship split down the middle, harpooning itself on the forehead bulge of the Leviathan. I clung to a piece of wood that had lodged itself atop another, and jumped to my feet. The abomination shot into the air, causing pieces of my boat to fall into the sea below. I dug my hands into a barnacle, and began climbing downward, moving towards the creature's maw. The sharp edges of the growth grated skin from my hands like a sharped knife, but I persisted.

My plans were soon diverted by another dart into the water, which blasted the air from my lungs, quickly replacing them with the brine. I had lost my grip, and was sinking rapidly. I gazed above, the Leviathan’s massive body casting a great shadow. The creature darted below once again, swimming directly towards me. Its mouth slowly opened, swallowing the world around it. There was no escape, but I did not fear. Instead, I used my remaining strength to swim forward, guaranteeing that I would be caught within the Leviathan’s too-large maw.

When the creature had swallowed me completely, I knew I had won. Its mouth was a spacious realm of pink, red, and brown. Even my nasal suppressants could not fully block the stench. I laughed. After years of confrontation, I had finally gained the courage to test a long-standing theory of mine. While the outside of the Leviathan was as hard as any creature could be, its inside could be much, much more malleable. In the distance, I spotted the section between the neck and head, where scabbed excess had grown between the wounds. Reaching into my pocket, I wrapped my hands around a small, metal sphere, no bigger than a plum.

It was a high-grade ammunition I had obtained from the Temple of the God-Breaker. Ancient technology, and forbidden for a reason. I chanted the opening seal, and hurled the sphere as close to the wound as possible. If this is where I would die, then I would do so in peace, as the victor of the final Trawler’s Game. Of course, the bomb would only activate if the being radiated a divine presence.

I should consider it lucky that a lavender explosion of theological proportions expanded around me. The sphere had triggered. The beast was not mortal, though I’m not sure which potential revelation this experiment would result in could have carried worse implications. I would describe the great flaying of skin, the bubbling of blood, and burning of the waters around me, but I remember none of it. The world around me collapsed. Something large and wet slapped the side of my head. Everything was black.

I awoke several days later aboard a merchant ship, missing nearly all of my clothes and my left arm (Wasn't the first time, wouldn't be the last). Apparently, I'd been passed around from ship to ship for the past few days, and this one was the present recipient of my bruised body. The sailor's courtesy was no doubt due to the square insignia tattooed to my neck, which represented a kinship with Corrigan. Leaving a man with the mark of the Halberd to die at sea was tantamount to suicide, as the Captain would pursue those who wronged his allies to the ends of the map and beyond. I thanked the merchants graciously.

After some convincing, we made port for Azul, where an impatient Corrigan punched me in the face for making him wait. He caught an unusually large Mega-Sqyd, the benign capture of which had greatly disappointed him. I had caught nothing. Like that, another round of the Trawler’s Game came to a close. Its unsurprising victor slapped me on the back, and offered a drink as compensation. Corrigan never did believe my story, but again, why should he?

The Leviathan found him next week.

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