The waters boil and churn,
Hell's horns roar their call,
And up rises Leviathan.
-- An Arbaysian sailor song (excerpt)
"You should know, that there are things in the sea that grow as long as they live, and some things in the deep will not die of old age."
-- The Spider (Xiphean) in Kherastenai.
In the ancient days, before the lands of Khai turned into desert, when Dazmar cities there were still full of life, the Dazmar mythology included three primordial beasts, each of which ruled over one element. Bahammodh ruled the land, Zhimmodh ruled the sky and Dhiammodh the sea. This myth became obscured and intertwined with the Madjasti mythology by the end of the First Dazmar Empire in Erdasia. The Dazmar cities of Ardasea were now gone, but some of the names of mythical beasts survived in the languages of neighboring peoples, such as the Masharans, and later evolved into the forms "behemoth", "simurgh" and "tiamat". What is remarkable though, is that based on ancient Dazmar art, the Bahammodh was indeed a behemoth and the Zhimmodh a dragon, but no depictions of the Dhiammodh survive. There are reasons to believe that the Dazmar feared the Dhiammodh much, much more than dragons, and even avoided creating its likeness.
In the days of Deirhestres of Alzarath, Dhiammodh was no longer considered a creature but a god of the sea. Yet he is mentioned by Deirhestres in Peoples and Histories: "Dazmar sailors speak of a mighty being of the sea, which they claim to be Dhiammodh in the flesh even at the charge of blasphemy. They fear this might of the sea greatly, believing it can control the waves and storms, and sacrifice to it, hoping it will appease this creature and ensure their ships a safe journey. Terrible tales are told of those who did not heed the warnings and disregarded tales of the master of the sea, sailing to their doom."
Later Deirhestres visits this subject again in The Nature of Beasts: "Of the greatest beasts of the sea little is known. Dazmar sailors have told me of a cargo ship attacked by a creature with jaws as long as a rowboat and pulled under the waves. Other similiar legends are told by such sailors, but in this one case there are many who indeed survived to describe the beast in detail. The skin on its triangular head was said to be gleaming black, and ivory teeth in its mouth a foot long. Otherwise its head seems to have resembled that of a whale, and it blew clouds of steam from its nostrils and had no back or tail fin. The sailors believe this beast to be the god Dhiammodh, but more likely it is a living beast; Ardasean nomads speak of giant carcasses washed ashore after storms, which are not those of whales but even longer and serpentine in shape. They call these things 'liviadhan' which I am told means great serpent in their tongue."
This giant creature seems to have been ignored for long as a myth, but made an appearance in "Of Animals" by Sardun of Fahistar. He mentions a giant serpent of the sea, calling it "livyathan". He mentions that sometimes it cannot be told apart from the great whales when it breaks the surface, unless it attacks a ship from below by grasping it with its jaws. He differs from Deirhestres' description by mentioning that the livyathan has a tail fin, and "sometimes two or four other fins on its sides, but none on its back". Sardun also mentions that sometimes carcasses of this animal are washed ashore, but calls them the children of livyathan, apparently assuming that they have all been spawned by one great primordial beast living in the depths of the sea. This would have fit the beliefs of Masharan cosmology, which speak of two great water-serpents, one of which was killed by gods and made into the dry land.
Thelmar's Bestiary is the last one to mention leviathan as an animal, and the first known source to use this spelling. He mistakenly writes that the leviathan blows smoke out of its nostrils and boils the ocean with its heat. Actually the former probably refer to the water vapor blown out of the nostrils, like a whale, while the former seems to be due to mistranslation of ocean foam. Some later writers tried to unite the leviathan with the kraken or sea serpents, but eventually the fire-breathing giant sea monster leviathan became helplessly entangled in the net of religion. For a millennium it was only mentioned in books about demonology, where it became coupled with tarasque - another misunderstood animal - as one of the demons that were believed to destroy the earth at the ending of the world.
Scholars interested in zoology generally ignored creatures of religious nature, and the same went for the Emperor Peleorom, who's obsession otherwise resulted in the rediscovery of many a "lost animal" from bestiaries. The leviathan, however, refused to remain lost. Even when the Empire wasn't looking for it, the leviathan found the Empire.
The United Empire had created many new trade routes all the way to the southern continents of Erdasia and Khadasea. Naval activity the like of which hadn't been seen since the days of Dar-Isnar millennia ago reached across the southern seas. Then, ships began to disappear in the open ocean off the coast of Ardasea, even when the weather was calm and clear. Tales of an obsidian and ivory giant ship-eating monster reached the harbor of Sal-Asrin, backed up with giant knife-like teeth pulled out of shipwrecks.
The Imperials knew that something had to be done as rumors of the demon Leviathan being loose in the world began to circulate among sailors. A group of scholars and mages knowledgeable of the sea and its creatures were sent to hunt this beast, to find out what it was, but more importantly to show that it could be killed. Two specially equipped warships were dispatched to aid them in this quest.
After a voyage that in itself was the stuff of legends, the mages were able to locate and lure a giant creature to the surface near the coast of Arbaysia. It was shot with harpoons from specially built ballistas. The animal proved to be a difficult kill, and while it did not attack any of the three ships, it almost managed to pull one of the warships under before it was hit with the second harpoon, and managed to cause damage to both when it thrashed trying to escape. Finally offed with the use of magic, the animal was hauled back and attached to the ships with the steel chains attached to the harpoons.
While towing the animal ashore, mages and alchemists did their best to preserve it from decomposition and sharks that were eager to take a bite of the giant. Despite this, there was no way the animal could be brought all the way back to the Imperial harbor. Instead it had to be taken to the Arbaysian port of Tenguat, where it was hauled ashore, skinned, and its bones and skin cleaned and prepared for the voyage home.
Sharks had bitten off large parts of the tail and one of the fins, but the animal was intact enough to be studied in detail. Its length was estimated at 25 yards in all, tail accounting for nearly half of the animal's body, and its skull was six feet long. It had had two pairs of triangular fins, front pair twice as large as the hind pair, and indeed its long tail had ended in a vertical fin shaped much like that of a fish, though now badly damaged by shark bites. Enough was left to determine that the bony tail of the beast bent downwards to form the base for the lower portion of the fin, while the upper one was cartilage. The general shape of the animal was rather serpentine, and when it had been alive, it had moved by undulating its long tail side to side in the manner of a fish, rather than up and down like a whale.
The scholars were confused by this animal, as it seemed to have equal portions of reptilian and cetacean features. Its skin was covered in small, grooved, neatly overlapping scales, but the bones in its fins resembled those of dolphins, and its nostrils were positioned on top of its head like those of whales. The heavily built triangular head was a mixture of giant lizard and whale, jaws lined with teeth 5 inches long with a serrated cutting surface. This nightmare of the sea was indeed obsidian black except for its white belly, and its skin glistened even when dry. Its eyeballs were the size of a man's fist and pointed slightly upwards. The stomach contents proved it had been feeding on small whales and sharks before being caught, but it had also swallowed pieces metal that were corroded beyond recognition, but had to have come from a ship.
Though the news that the United Empire had defeated the mighty Leviathan itself were welcomed, less comforting was the scholars' warning that the animal killed was far too small to account for the cases where entire galleys were destroyed. Certainly that would take something the size of the sea monster described by Deirhestres of old.
Indeed, next winter came the news of yet another ship destroyed by a giant black sea monster off the coast of Arbaysia. These were grave news for all those whose shipping routes passed Ardasea, now that is was known for sure that the attacker was a real beast and not just a legend cooked up to explain freaks of weather. The Empire sent warships, each manned with a sea mage, to defend ships with valuable cargo. Medesians avoided the open ocean, sailing as close to the cost as was feasible and Madjagistan sent out their airships, almost as legendary as the leviathan itself, to protect the coast.
Finally, it was a Madjasti airship that spotted and killed the "Bane of the Sea". This giant was of the same species as the 25 yard long leviathan killed before, but its size was immense. The jaws alone were four yards long and the beast itself measured almost two chains, or 44 yards. The monster had the remains of a gray whale in its stomach, skull bitten into several pieces by the leviathan's enormous jaws. Curiously enough, among the stomach contents an almost intact barrel and a wooden cask full of high quality pottery were found. It appeared that the animal had swallowed almost anything floating in the ocean that caught its interest. A leviathan fetus a meter long was also found inside the animal. The skeleton of this "leviathan matriarch" now adorns the courtyard of the palace of Madjagistan's Matriarch in Alzarath.
Three other giant leviathans were killed or presumed killed during the next two years, and then the attacks stopped for ten years. During this time the Madjasti somehow managed to devise a way of repelling the leviathans from ships, a magical device they were happy to sell copies of to the Empire, clearly fully aware others would not be able to replicate them. While leviathans were still seen, they were no longer a threat to humans - at least those that kept near the coast or owned one of the Madjasti devices.
Imperial scholars were still keen to study these sea monsters, not least in the hopes of finding a way to repel them without expensive Madjasti magic. They found that leviathans were actually rare in the Malan Ocean except for the coast of Ardasea, where the relatively shallow sea and whale mating grounds probably lured them northwards. In fact it appeared this was not only the northernmost point of their range, they seemed to be native to the Urdan Ocean west of Erdasia, only large individuals occasionally swimming around the southern tip of Erdasia, entering the Malan Ocean.
The Dreiwad and Baenrian seafarers had legends of Ororaigh the whale-killer, a black monster that lived in the southern seas, and Atal people knew of the black sea monster Kupatla. All three peoples had seen it kill whales in the sea or its rotting carcasses or bones on beaches, but never the animal itself in whole. Now these could be definitely identified as the same species that had terrorized Ardaseans for untold millennia.
While the leviathan gave live birth and had a clear resemblance to whales, it was eventually determined to be a giant lizard, relative of the Erdasian varan. While the varan was thought to be a giant among lizards, its length of three yards was pitiful compared to the 40 yard long ancient leviathans. And ancient they were indeed: the leviathan of Alzarath was found to be have been over 300 years old when it was killed. It appeared as though these animals had no clear limit to their lifespan, but kept living until something killed them. The leviathans themselves were equipped to kill just about anything that lived in the sea, with bone-shattering, flesh-cutting teeth in jaws that could bite a whale skull in two and swallow a dolphin whole. No wonder they had demolished a ship after another, mistaking them for living whales or floating whale carcasses.
Young leviathans only three yards long were found to hunt in shallow waters in the South Erdasian coast much the same way as some sharks, but after reaching the length of eight yards they seemed to disappear into the open sea. There they hunted using a stalking method, locating their prey first using chemosensors inside their mouth, then using sight to pinpoint them and strike at them from below, appearing like ghosts out of the dark depths of the sea. They rammed their prey jaws open and bit huge chunks of flesh off their victim, larger adults often killing with the first strike. While they seemed to target whales after they reached a certain size, they would try to eat absolutely anything that crossed their path, even ships, although they noticed their mistake after the first bite and retreated, often completely ignoring sailors and cargo floating in the water.
It is not known when the leviathans mate, but it is believed to happen during the winter, based on what is known on the development of leviathan embryos found in killed individuals, and the "thunder of leviathans". The latter is the name given to the rumbling chorus of underwater bellows sometimes heard during the winter off the coast of South Erdasia. The only sound known to be produced by the leviathan is a very low thunderous roar that can be heard in the water miles away from the beast. Because the leviathans mate in the southern seas and seem to rarely vocalize otherwise, their bellows were first heard by the leviathan-slayers, as the animal screamed of pain. It has been suggested that perhaps these voices were calls for help, but as leviathans seem solitary, and no leviathans were drawn in by the roars, this seems like an unlikely explanation.
Ever since the Madjasti found a way to make leviathans avoid ships, they resumed their semi-mythical status. No bogey of the deep, even the dread kraken, could match the leviathan in frightfulness. Even still it is believed among sailor that mentioning the name of the beast aboard a ship will cause some manner of bad luck from foul weather to shipwrecks, even though the ship is perfectly safe from actual leviathan attacks. No amount of assurance that leviathans have no extraordinary magical abilities, nor are they interested in humans at all, will help allay these fears.
"Under the sky, there is no match for the dragon," wrote Deirhestres of Alzarath. But perhaps - in the minds of the people at least - under the sea there is.