On Rising Tides

Join Master Ophelia as she orchestrates and leads the seaborne Hunt for Bitanling, the legendary shipwrecking Beast. Written in 27 A.S.



We’ve done it. After centuries, the Hunters of Fenblith have done what no one else could.


We have slain Bitanling.


I remember how, as a child, I would sit mesmerised by the fire as Traders from across the world told me tantalisingly similar stories. They might have called it by different names – calling it not Bitanling but some other, local name – but all described the same Beast. An enormous shell, rising from the dark waters to lift and capsize a ship. A beaked maw, shooting out of the sea foam to tear a hole in a ship’s hull. A gnarled flipper, thrusting against a ship’s side with such ferocity it sent the crew tumbling overboard. They were tales from all over the world, often generations old, but they all told of the same ancient, legendary Beast.


And we managed to kill it.


It began some weeks ago. Traders came into port speaking of sightings of Bitanling. Its massive shell was seen rising out of the water near Kellkey. Apparently, some ships had even been attacked already. Foreseeing a decrease in trade, some of my fellow Members of the Council began to prepare for lean times. Others suggested a different approach. Regardless of its reputation, Bitanling was a Beast, and Beasts can be slain by Hunters. How this first maritime Hunt was supposed to be executed, however, was a question no one seemed ready to answer.


I’m proud to say that this is where I came into the tale. My childhood fascination with Bitanling hadn’t faded. Rather, it had solidified into an ambition, or perhaps even an obsession. Indeed, it might be said that the Beast had been a major factor in my ascension to Master Hunter and Member of the Council. Whenever I learned something new during my years training to be and being a Hunter, I would test it against Bitanling in my mind, niggling away at the legendary Beast with a variety of wild strategies, ever pushing me to form new tactics and techniques. Finally, I settled on a concept that I was unable to beat, and it was with this concept in hand that I approached Speaker Gilbert those weeks ago.


He was receptive to my ideas, but I had expected as much. I had not expected him to immediately ask me if he could borrow my papers, promising to return them the next day after discussing them with his peers. Excited, I agreed, and spent the rest of the day pacing aimlessly through Fenblith as I periodically stopped to gaze at the Seat, imagining the Speakers debating my work somewhere in that edifice at that very moment.


The next day, somewhat haggard after a fitful sleep, I met with Speaker Gilbert, not looking any more rested than I. My plans had been approved, he said, although the things we needed to do for them would take several weeks and risk a lot of resources. I was ecstatic; after years of preparations intended more for my own betterment than actual execution, I would be able to put my plan into practice. We began right away.


First, there was the matter of the ship. We scoured Fenblith’s fleet. Our vessel had to have a flat bottom; this would make it harder for Bitanling to capsize it by rising underneath it. We therefore selected a longship; the largest we had. The Makers responsible for building and maintaining the fleet were immediately set to modifying it. We needed something to protect us from the Beast’s beak, and here was the first major investment made. Iron was smelted down in huge quantities and shaped into thick plates, which were fitted to the outside of the ship’s hull.


With these adjustments made, we had a floating fortress from which to enact our Hunt. Next, we needed something to ensure we would actually get an opportunity to slay the Beast. Bitanling could dive away from us if it found us a larger threat than other ships, and we had no means of following it underwater. What we required, then, was a means of preventing the Beast from diving in the first place. To this end, Makers forged barbed spears made from regular steel, so that Bitanling’s flesh would close around them – an idea taking from Saint Margaret’s Hunt for Greywing. These spears were attached to ropes, which were in turn attached to empty barrels. Hunters would hurl the spears into Bitanling’s flippers and throw out the barrels in as large a number as possible, preventing Bitanling from diving to safety and helping to tire it out should it try to swim away.


Finally, we came to that most vital and costly part of the plan: the creation of weapons. We needed something that could strike through Bitanling’s shell. With no knowledge of how much punishment its shell could withstand, this meant we needed something as powerful as possible. Thankfully, some Trader vessels in our harbour often find themselves travelling narrow rivers and therefore sport guns on their railings – set on swivelling stands – to fend off Beasts by firing large stones at them. We readily placed these guns on our ship, but we needed their shots to do lasting damage to a Beast, not just fend it off. So it was that our Makers – with some nervousness – made the biggest investment Fenblith has ever made in any Hunt, melting down not just another large portion of our iron stores, but a large portion of our Starsteel stores, too, and casting mighty cannon balls glinting like the night sky. Each shot missed would be forever lost to the depths of the sea, and the others would only be retrievable if we brought Bitanling into harbour after killing it. The risk was substantial, but this was the only way forward.


Thus, our ship was ready, and all that was left was to crew it. A full four squads of Hunters were selected: brave warriors who knew how to coordinate and were ready to fight a Beast of legend. Additionally, six Traders were selected from a group of volunteers; brave sorts that could be trusted to steer the ship during the Hunt. I myself was selected to lead the Hunt, and I could not have been prouder to witness my crew on the morning of our departure. Unbeknownst to me, they had named the ship in my honour: Ophelia’s Wit, my name and my mind immortalised in bold white letters on the ship that would end Bitanling.


After a stirring speech by Speaker Gilbert, with the sort of giddy excitement I hadn’t often felt since my youth, I boarded the Wit, my crew in tow. The deck was soon full of people, weapons, ammunition, and empty barrels, all ready for the momentous Hunt. The people of Fenblith looked on and cheered as we weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbour, cries of well-wishing resounding from the docks.


The Hunt had begun.


We were ready and eager to strike out at the Beast, but – as in any other Hunt – we would first have to find it. We set sail for Kellkey, skirting the pale cliffs flanking the Bay of Fangs and cutting across the shallow waters. The Wit was slower than before for all its iron weight, but we still made decent time, and it wasn’t long before we saw the outcrops of Kellkey’s piers, boats laden with limestone tied to them. Some people noticed us and began to wave, perhaps in warning. Then they saw our uniforms and weapons, and they instead ran to fetch more people, no doubt rejoicing that the Hunters of Fenblith had come.


With a definitive turn of the rudder, the man steering the ship, Abel, turned us away from the town and towards the sea. Now began our vigil. The Hunters stood along the railings, staring out over the water as the Traders kept the ship sailing steadily. I ordered Sister Gaagii to climb the mast as a lookout, which she nimbly did. With bated breath, we cut across the strait, slowly advancing on the continental mainland. As we approached, the outline of Biaupier became gradually more solid on the coastline. I was about to order the Traders to turn the ship and sail back towards Kellkey for a second pass when Gaagii called out that she saw something to starboard. I ran to the right, as did every Hunter and Trader on the Wit, gazing across the waters. There, some eighty yards away, we saw a large disc of bubbling white on the surface of the water.


Bitanling had surfaced.


I called out orders, sending the Hunters assigned to the guns to their posts; five to starboard, five to port. I had Gaagii climb down as swiftly as possible while the remaining Hunters moved barrels across the deck, seizing their barbed spears and readying for the confrontation. On my order, the Traders began turning the ship, but they had barely started doing so when the ship suddenly lurched. The force of the blow sent the entire crew staggering, and Gaagii – only halfway down the mast – was wrenched into the air. She fell flailing to the deck, landing with cracking finality. I winced, but stored away my grief. Understanding that Bitanling had rushed forwards and struck us while swimming underneath our hull, I ordered the Hunters to focus on the portside. Sure enough, a massive figure rose out of the depths.


It was tremendous, a ridged shell thirty feet across, almost half the length of our ship. Gnarled flippers thrust out to its sides, shifting the waters with slow, determined movements that set the sea churning. A massive head rose above the surface, a beak large enough to crush a human aiming at our hull. I felt one dark, recessed eye focus on me, boring into me with all the malice the Dark Ones could muster. For a moment, I felt not the Master Hunter I had become, but the young girl who had shivered at stories of this mighty Beast. Then I forced my mind to clear and gave the order to throw the spears.


As half a dozen Hunters hurled their spears at Bitanling’s foreflippers, its beak struck at our hull. We were jolted, two Hunters and a Trader falling into the railing but managing to keep themselves from going overboard. The iron clanged under the Beast’s beak, and I heard the wood creaking underneath, but the Wit held. Moreover, five of the Hunters had thrown true, their spears piercing the flesh of Bitanling’s flippers. As the sixth hauled up their spear by its rope, Bitanling dove. Swirls of dark ichor swam up through the water as the barrels were hurled overboard and pulled into the surface. The strain was apparent, the barrels bobbing and twisting. For a moment, I was certain they would be pulled under by the mighty Beast. Then the strain suddenly seemed to lift. My mind sparked, and I called for everyone to brace. The ship groaned as it was lifted into the air, Bitanling forcing itself against its belly. The Wit began to tip, but where another ship might have tumbled sideways and capsized, its flat bottom found purchase on Bitanling’s shell and slid – roughly but harmlessly – back onto the water.


I called for more spears, and another half dozen were hurled down at the Beast as it dove once more, three of them biting into its backflippers as it went under. The barrels were cast over the railing and pulled at the Beast as it leveraged its weight against them. Then the barrels began to move, jerking away from us.


Bitanling was fleeing.


I let out an involuntary burst of laughter and ordered for us to follow. A drawn-out chase ensued, crisscrossing through the strait, the heavy Wit following the eight bobbing barrels relentlessly as Bitanling tried to lose us. Several times, I feared we had lost the Beast. Each time, however, the barrels soon showed themselves again, revealing our prey. We followed and followed, as the sun turned across the sky, until finally, suddenly, the barrels stopped moving away from us and came jerking towards us instead.


Giving orders to present the Beast with our starboard, ready the spears, crew the guns, and brace, I haunched behind the railing and readied myself. The blow that came was still powerful, to be sure, but I felt that every soul on board realised that Bitanling had reached the end of its strength. With a roar of triumph, I ordered the spears to be hurled, and once more half a dozen spears were thrown. Three struck the shell and bounced off, but two bit into Bitanling’s foreflippers again and one – through wondrous luck or wondrous skill – pierced the Beast’s neck. Bitanling wrenched away, trying to dive, but it was tired, and as another three barrels were cast overboard it was now dragged towards the surface by a total of eleven of them, preventing it from going under. With the surge of victory in my veins, I ordered the guns to be fired.


Thunder belched across the water as five guns poured the largest Starsteel munition ever created into Bitanling’s shell. The force was tremendous, cracking the shell in several places, even revealing the flesh underneath in one. I ordered the five Hunters on the starboard guns to reload and fire, and for every other Hunter to hurl more spears, but instead of throwing the barrels overboard, to pull on the ropes and hold the Beast in place. They obeyed with the ease only Hunters trained from childhood could achieve, and soon another dozen spears were stuck in Bitanling’s flippers, neck, and even head, pulled on mightily by the bravest warriors the Beast could have ever been doomed to meet. The guns fired again, cracking the shell in even more places. Then again, bursting the Beast’s defence and revealing more and more flesh. I seized a spear myself and hurled it into Bitanling’s exposed back, ichor flowing against the ragged edges of its shell. Again we fired, and again, Bitanling wrestling less and less with every salvo, until, finally, after centuries of terrorising humanity, thanks to a plan I created and the Hunters that were able to execute it, it went entirely and completely still.


We stood together on the deck, watching in silence as the enormous cadaver bobbed on the ocean. Then we cheered, and clapped each other’s shoulders, and fell into each other’s arms.


The Beast was dead.