‘Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.’ – Albion proverb, dated M2.
Thaben Catcher was a simple fisherman living a simple life in a simple village called Angler’s End. Founded on the coast of the duchy of Bardell, it made do with whatever the sea provided, trading anything in excess of their needs with other villages and towns deeper inland. Some delicacies were particularly favoured by the nobility and competition was high for the best fishing spots for these.
Thaben was not one of those blessed with the duty of fishing for such fare though. His territory was as far from the village as one could go, where the relative shallows gave way to the yawning depths of the true ocean. No one else fished this far out, and his only companions were the odd sea bird that chose to settle on his modest boat for a break, before taking flight once more.
That was fine though – having grown up shunned by the village ,Thaben was accustomed to such solitude. He idly scratched at his wispy beard as he looked out over the gently rolling waves to where the other fishing boats huddled together. A school of large finwakes had swum closer to the shore that day, eager to feast on the various castoffs and guts the village had cast into the water that morning.
It seemed like things would be good for Angler’s End for at least another season.
As Thaben smiled at that though, his fishing rod jerked in his hands. He reflexively tightened his grip and began to haul back. Rather than going loose, the line remained taught. The fisherman’s smile turned into a satisfied grin as he wrestled with his prey for the next few minutes, making sure to ease off whenever the fish would get particularly lively – a snapped line would have just been embarrassing.
Soon enough he won his battle, hauling the thrashing fish out of the water. He gave it a cursory inspection to make sure it wasn’t anywhere near its egg-laying cycle, before tossing it into the net he had lowered into the water to keep his few catches alive before heading back to shore. It was an old trick to keep the fish fresh for longer.
He counted his catch before nodding to himself. Not a bad haul. The finwakes had drawn other fish in turn, and the blood and guts had filtered through the shallows, tempting up some of the deep water swimmers as well. A good haul for an afternoon’s work.
Thaben ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair and looked out to the shore. It would be busy for a while yet, what with the bounty currently on offer. Nothing to do but wait until things died down and he could sail back. Such was the lot of the town pariah. Rolling his neck and checking the weight he had tossed out was still strong and keeping him anchored, he settled down for a quick nap.
There was blood in the water.
It had been so long since it had fed on anything that bled. So long that it had spent swimming the dark depths, feeding on the odd carcass that floated down from above. Its nostrils flared, savouring the scent of such delicious prey. A twist, a turn, a beat of its tail, and it was away.
As it swam, deep sea augur buoys sensed its movements. The arrays on board whirred and clicked and categorised the size and heading of the leviathan, before sending out the approved alerts to the Fortress de Vry.
Thaben Catcher awoke with a start. It was dark, and the water was still. His fishing rod lay beside him, and the net holding his catches for the day was still there. He sat up, rubbing weariness from his eyes and peered about.
The stars were glittering in the sky above, and he could make out the constellations he had grown up with easily enough. In the distance, he could make out the shoreline – lit by the twin beacons of Angler’s End.
His throat went dry.
If the beacons were lit… that meant a wyrm was close-by.
Panic gripped him. How long had they been lit for? He scrambled for his oars, sliding them into the water – the stillness now eerie rather than calming. As quick as he dared, he hauled out the weight and set it aside before returning to his seat. There was barely a ripple as he began to pull, propelling his small boat slowly back towards the village.
He dared not increase his pace.
To disturb the water too much would be to draw the wyrm’s attention. Not even the mighty trade galleons that plied the deepest seas dared more than drift when such a monster was nearby.
But to stay out was worse.
Trying not to imagine the great beast swimming around beneath the water lest panic overtook him, he began to pray to the God-Emperor to watch over and protect him. Sure, He-on-Terra had never heard his prayers before, but hope was eternal.
The boat bobbed slightly.
Thaben froze, eyes darting about as he held his breath.
There! The creature’s back broke the surface – webbed spines glistened in the starlight as the monster dived, a large tail lifting out of the water before slipping back down with nary a sound. It dwarfed the boat.
Slowly, the fisherman let out his breath and slowly pulled the oars back into the boat. His mouth was dry as he spotted the luminescent markings winding their way lazily through the water next to him. Throne above, it was huge – he had heard tales of course, but no one in Angler’s End had ever borne witness to such an immense leviathan.
It was coiling and writhing in the water, the odd fin or spine silently breaching the surface here and there. Thaben tried to control his breathing as he gently lay down the oars. Any rowing at this point would only attract the beast’s attention. Now all he could do was hope and pray it moved on.
Voice barely above a whisper, he began to speak the words of protection. ‘Adore the Immortal Emperor, for He is our protector. Admire the Immortal Emperor, for His sacrifice to mankind.’ The quiet words drifted out over the water, accompanied by the barest of splashes as the wyrm sought out some form of prey.
‘Exalt the Immortal Emperor, for His strict guidance. Revere the Immortal Emperor, for his undying guard,’ the fisherman continued, fighting the urge to rush through the prayer. There was a low rumbling rising from the darkness, and Thaben could feel his skin crawling – the natural reaction of a creature being spotted by a predator. There was a pale green light behind him, rising slowly. He could see his shadow growing longer before him.
‘Venerate the Immortal Emperor, for His holy wisdom,’ the fisherman continued, turning slowly in the boat to confront the truth. Rows upon rows of jagged teeth seemed to grin at him, pulsing lights racing down the creature’s face as it peered at him with dead, black eyes the size of wagon wheels. Thaben’s throat went dry as he was confronted with his death. ‘H-honour the Immortal Emperor, for His eternal strength.’
His bones shook as the leviathan growled, the stench of its flesh filling his nostrils. Some distant part of his mind noted that despite its horrific visage, there was something almost wondrous about the beast – a massive denizen of the darkest depths, a world unlike any he could imagine. A crushing blackness, isolated from the fleeting life and joy of the surface.
And then the moment passed.
The reverent silence was shattered by the bellowing of a horn sounding from the shore. The leviathan hissed as it spun, fast – too fast – for something its size. Its bulk shifted as its attention was drawn away, shoving water this way and that. Thaben flailed as he fell in the suddenly rocking boat. A screeching hiss came from the beast as it moved away, joined by a series of dull booms and the sound of crashing waves.
Remembering the prayer, Thaben latched onto the sides of the boat with both hands and continued to speak. ‘Glorify the Immortal Emperor, for His all-seeing vision,’ he said, even as the words were drowned out by roaring both bestial and mechanical. The horn sounded again, far closer this time, and the boat bobbed wildly as the water rose and fell.
Seizing the oars Thaben sat up, looking about wildly to get his bearings. The shore was off to port, still some distance away. A meaty slap tore his attention away back to the leviathan as it slammed its massive bulk against a steel giant, hunched over and armed with a buzzing blade and a cannon that dwarfed even the largest fishing boat in Angler’s End.
Emperor above, a bloody Knight!
Thaben stared, all thoughts of fleeing gone as he witnessed one of the legends come to life. The machine staggered back from the body blow, swiping its blade in wide arcs to stave off any follow-up attacks from the monster as it found its footing. Water sprayed up as it shoved the cannon down to form a brace and halt its momentum.
The leviathan roared again, swaying its serpentine form just out of the reach of the knight’s sword before diving in and clamping its mighty jaw around the blue pauldron. Its teeth buckled the metal beneath, which screeched in protest as the beast began to violently shake its head, seeking to tear off the armour.
Pushing off its back-foot, the Knight drove its shoulder deep into the wyrm’s gullet, making it stagger back in turn now. Pistons plunged and showers of sparks exploded from the damaged section, harshly illuminating the starved and monstrous face seeking to rend its challenger apart.
‘Praise the Immortal Emperor, for His unending rule,’ the fisherman continued the prayer automatically, the oars slipping from his limp grasp as he witnessed two titans duel.
The cannon came up and around, its tip covered in the muck and grim of the seabed, smashing into the side of the leviathan. Scales bent and broke beneath the blunt blow, the beast screaming as it reared away, shearing off a chunk of the Knight’s armour in its teeth.
Once more the steel warrior stumbled, this time forwards as the remnants of linked cabling and structure attached to the pauldron pulled it off balance. A mighty leg swept forwards and slammed into the water, keeping the machine upright. With a crack the armour tore off completely and the blade arm spluttered and died.
Spitting out the cold metal from its mouth, the wyrm trilled as the sight of leaking oil, dripping like blood from the ruined shoulder of the Knight. The luminescence along the monster’s flanks flashed bright as it bared its fangs once more.
‘Hail the Immortal Emperor, for He is the lord and master.’ The boat continued to buck wildly over the waves being kicked up by the movements of the two legends, making Thaben swear as he was almost pitched into the cold water.
Ready for another lunge, the Knight back-pedalled, bringing its cannon to bear. There was a clank as the autoloaders did their work, moving a shell into position as the leviathan stared down its prey. A gurgling growl echoed from the beast’s throat before its long flat tail slammed into the Knight from behind.
Once more the machine lurched dangerously, only to be met by the onrushing beast. With a resounding clang it headbutted the Knight in the chest, before recoiling and screeching in pain when the armour held. Shaking its head, blood dripping from amidst its fangs, the wyrm lunged past the Knight before drawing back in, coiling itself around the war-engine. Struggling against the scaled bonds, the Knight blared its horn defiantly, drowning out the roars of the leviathan.
Thaben heard only ringing in his ears as he held onto the boat, his muscles burning as the churned water tossed him to and fro. ‘Worship the Immortal Emperor,’ he continued to pray, the words lost to the air. ‘For without Him we are nothing.’
The Knight’s horn roared again, as if punctuating the prayer. Sky and sea was all the fisherman saw as the titans struggled against each other, bleeding out with every moment. Then there was a moment of weightlessness as the boat was flung by an errant coil of the wyrm, and Thaben gasped as he hit the cold water. The thunderous battle was drowned out by the murky darkness, though he could still make out flashes of light from the luminescent scales of the wyrm as it continued to thrash. Instinctively he kicked his legs and swam upwards, breaking the surface of the water spluttering.
He cast about for his boat, seeing it capsized scant arm lengths away, bobbing madly in the water. Thaben swam madly for it, hearing the crash of steel on scale somewhere nearby, his mind filled with images of an iron giant falling atop him, or a scaled coil dashing him into the sky to break his body upon the waves when he fell.
Even as he managed to get a grip on the slick wood of his boat, a part of him couldn’t help but note the lack of a thunderstorm. It would have made a perfect backdrop for the duel, with lightning flashing and thunder rolling as the Knight and the wyrm battled – just like in the old legends. He blinked stupidly as he hauled himself atop the overturned boat, looking back to the battle.
The Knight, its red and blue heraldry lit by the deathly pallor of the leviathan’s scales, twisted its body as the beast continued trying to tear through the damaged armour plating. Then a voice, distorted and cracked, but recognizably female, bellowed out over the water. ‘For the Emperor!’
A shift of weight, and the dangling blade limb of the Knight swung around to smash aside the latest lunging bite, sending shards of teeth spraying out of the beast’s mouth. Then the Knight rotated its torso one more, thrusting the tip of the cannon arm against the thing’s neck before firing.
A dull boom rocked Thaben’s skull as he watched the wyrm’s neck explode, scales flying in all directions as blood rained down in a light drizzle. With a sick, squelching tear, the head of the great beast slowly tore free under its own weight and crashed into water thickly tainted with blood and lubrication.
The last few waves beat against his boat as the water began to settle, but his eyes remained fixed upon the wounded Knight standing over the body of its vanquished foe. There was another horrific screech and Thaben swore his heart stopped dead, head immediately swivelling around looking for another wyrm.
But none came, instead the breastplate of the Knight finally failing and falling, crashing down into the water alongside the remains of the leviathan. Even over the ringing in his ears, Thaben heard the heavy whirr of machinery as the towering warrior turned away and began to slowly march back towards Angler’s End.
All he could do was stare dumbly, then laugh. He could hardly help himself. The adrenaline that had course through his system was suddenly spent, and he was left, alive, clinging to an overturned boat, with no oars, some way away from home. His catch for the day had fled, the netting meant to hold it torn by the turbulent waters when the two titans had fought. He continued to laugh even as he slumped down, his muscles aching.
A thought suddenly occurred to him. That he could well die having witnessed and survived being on the fringes of such a mighty duel, simply because he had no way back to shore in his exhausted state. Somehow, he found that hilarious and laughed all the harder as he flopped onto his back, staring up at the night sky.
‘Art thou injured?’ boomed a voice, breaking into the fisherman’s moment of giddy calm. He half-turned his head and beheld the wounded Knight approaching, its every step a deep dull thud beneath the water. One eye seemed shattered, and its blade arm was truly useless now, being half-dragged through the water behind it.
Thaben raised an arm and waved, trying hard to stifle his laughter. It would not do for a Knight to think him laughing at them. He struggled to sit up, nodding and trusting that whatever esoteric machinery that was within the great engine allowed its rider to see him clearly in this dark.
‘Ah, I am whole, ser,’ he managed, panting slightly and keeping his eyes respectfully lowered, as one did when addressing their betters.
‘Good. It would have been unfortunate hath thou perished, witness,’ the woman inside the towering machine replied. The Knight moved around, putting Thaben and his meagre vessel between itself and Angler’s End.
Thaben had managed to flip himself over again, managing to somewhat kneel atop the overturned hull and keep facing the engine. There was a hiss of pistons as it gently brought its cannon around and nudged the boat, nearly knocking him back into the water. He yelped and dug his fingers into the sleek wood as best he could as the Knight began to slowly prod his damaged boat back towards shore.
‘Dost thou have family in the town?’ the pilot asked in her oddly accented way, even as Thaben tried his best to maintain what grip he had.
‘A-ah no ser. I have no one,’ he answered.
‘Good. Then thou shalt gather thine belongings and come with me on the morrow,’ declared the Knight pilot.
Sheer surprise made Thaben look up at the machine, all thoughts of propriety banished. ‘W-what? Why?’
‘Thou art a witness to my duel with the wyrm,’ she explained. ‘Thine telling of the deed is called upon.’
Thaben stared dumbly up at the ruined faceplate of the Knight. “Ser, I am but a simple fisherman. A poor one at that,” he stated, wide-eyed.
‘Then perhaps thou willst be a fine herald instead.’
And just like that, Thaben Catcher, a simple man with a simple life, found himself carried into a far more complex life.
About the Author
Lukasz Furmaniak is a long time creator of fan content for Warhammer 40,000. Starting out with fanfics, he recently branched out to podcasting, organising The Tritone Gambit, an actual play RPG podcast set in the grim darkness of the far future, using the Dark Heresy RPG system.
He has also worked on actual tabletop wargames and RPGs, contributing to the creation of Dystopian Wars, as well as being a playtester for a number of Shades of Vengeance RPGs.