Known by many names throughout history, the demon Tahm Kench travels the waterways of Runeterra, feeding his insatiable appetite with the misery of others. Though he may appear singularly charming and proud, he swaggers through the physical realm like a vagabond in search of unsuspecting prey. His lashing tongue can stun even a heavily armored warrior from a dozen paces, and to fall into his rumbling belly is to tumble into an abyss from which there is little hope of return.
The waterways of Valoran are old, but far older still is the demon Tahm Kench. From muddy gambling tents along the Serpentine River, through the salt-crusted dice halls of Bilgewater, to the gilded wagering tables of Piltover and Zaun—all those who have given a covetous glance to another’s wealth know the unending hunger that comes from an encounter with the River King.
The first tales of the creature were told by a traveling people who plied the Serpentine. They warned of a giant fish with a cavernous mouth, who would lure in the dissatisfied with the promise of more. One such story was that of a young man renowned for his honesty. Though born to the ways of a raftsman, he desired a life beyond the poor banks he knew so well, and the River King promised him an unforgettable experience if only he would tell one little lie. It seemed harmless enough, so the raftsman bent the truth in conversation with his own brother. That night the demon appeared, revealing a fork in the river the raftsman had never noticed before. He followed it to a camp of foreign folk who offered him food and drink, and fresh companionship. As dawn neared, and the raftsman was full and ready to return to his people, the demon appeared again, promising an even greater experience for another lie. His interested piqued, the man accepted the bargain, telling falsehoods to his hosts. The river parted again and he followed it to an evening of even greater luxury. This continued, night after night, until the once-honest raftsman’s deceits came as easily as breathing.
When the river finally emptied into the sea, he found himself alone and lost—there was no one left to lie to. So many dark choices, all of them his own, had left the raftsman with no way back home.
The brackish rivers of the mainland carried the tales of the River King to the Blue Flame Isles, where the creature gained a name as his legend grew—Tahm Kench. In Bilgewater, fortunes are boom or bust, with as much wealth going out with the tide as comes in. Many a tavern yarn tells of ol’ Tahm, a demon of the water with an unending appetite for games of chance, such that the loquacious beast became a symbol for many of the city’s gambling dens and houses of sin.
Once the Sun Gates opened easy trade from Bilgewater to Piltover, tales of Tahm Kench became more common in the City of Progress and its underbelly, Zaun. There, children know Tahm as “Two-Coats,” a fish so monstrously large that he wears two fine jackets stitched together. With a jaunty top hat and a smile wider than the Pilt itself, he drives the jealousies of young artificers. It is said he came one Progress Day to a struggling Piltovan inventor, and offered her an idea certain to make a wealthy clan take notice. All he asked in return was a single lock of her hair. The ambitious woman made the trade and, true enough, her work landed her a lucrative contract. But one invention would not satisfy, and Two-Coats wandered by, this time asking for all of her lovely braids. Not wishing to disappoint her new patrons, the inventor agreed—and Two-Coats ate them up on the spot. Still the woman was unable to find the one great innovation that would make her name. The demon came again, offering a deal that would take the tip of one finger. The following week it was an ear. A year passed, and by then there was little left of the woman to give. Finally she called Two-Coats herself, begging him to make it all stop.
He laughed as he opened his jaws wide, telling her he would protect her from herself, and promptly swallowed her whole.
The River King. The Great Waddler. Old Yawn-Belly. Two-Coats. The demon Tahm Kench is known by many names, but all who speak them have learned a singular truth: no matter how alluring his words may be, in his mouth you will be lost.
- "Desperate times call for desperate measures. I can make you a fine bargain... but you gotta be willing to pay the price."
My, that’s quite the haul ye have, there! Won at the tables, was it? Well, here’s to your very good health. Cheers.
Oh, no, I’ll not be rollin’ the dice with ye. Not a gamblin’ man no more, or so I tells me self. There were a time, though... What happened? The River King happened, that’s what. Aye, Two-Coats, that old devil Tahm Kench. He’s what happened.
I was bilge-poor, beg your pardon, and livin’ in a flophouse. Had nothin’ to me name, not ‘til a single gold Krakenaye, this one ‘erecome into my possession. I could tell you how, but you’d call me a liar, heh.
So, with this one coin, what I oughta done was pay me debts, and find a new crew to join. I was a harpooner, see. Shoulda put aside whatever was left for the future. Been responsible, like. Harpoonin’s a harsh life, even for a younger man.
But that’s when the River King found me. “Why work someone else’s ship,” he says, “slavin’ away, riskin’ your life for next t’ nothin’, when ye might ‘ave a ship o’ your own?” I just had to think bigger, like. O’ course, one Kraken won’t buy a ship, but ‘e had an answer to that, didn’t he.
Dice. One good throw o’ the bones, an’ I’d ‘ave enough to start me own little operation. Others could do the danger work, while I sits back, nice and plum, enjoyin’ the profits. An’ after a few more drinks, you understand, that crooked devil’s advice starts to make a lot o’ sense to my ears. So, blinded by greed and possibility, I went along wi’ it.
That night were a blur. I awoke well after noon the next day, me head fairly poundin’! Had no idea where I wassome fancy bawdy-house, as it turns outbut on the dresser were me previous night’s winnings... more than enough to purchase me self a ship! Ah, but the River King, ‘e’d given me a taste for somethin’ more. Why should young Lars content his self with a single ship, when he could ‘ave a fleet? Just needed to chance me hand a few more times...
That’s Bilgewater. There’s riches to be had, if you’re willin’ to risk everything, over and over.
With old Two-Coat’s arm around me, I was led from the dice tables to other halls of avaricefrom backroom card games to gamblin’ and bettin’ parlors, high and low. I spent a fortune, lost a fortune, then made it all back again. Around and around in that allurin’ spiral I went. I was feelin’ the hunger, the yearning, and it was pullin’ me down like a whirlpool.
Years passed, an’ somewhere along the way, I’m ashamed to say I forgot what I was doing all this for. I forgot who I was. I had it all, but it never were enough. I wanted more.
And then I started losin’ big. That made me double-down, go for broke, all-or-nothin’, looking for the big stakes to put me back on top. Pretty soon, I was in a worse state than I’d been to start with. Sleepin’ in the gutter, catching rats to eat if I were lucky. I begged, borrowed and stole from everyone who’d ever shown me any kindness. Lost all me mates, chasing the dream.
‘E feeds on misery, see, does Tahm Kench. As old as sin, ‘e is, and older than Bilgewater by far. Been ‘round from the start of things, gorgin’ his self on the desperation what comes with the greed and sorrow in men’s hearts. I mean, I’d done it to me self, but it were him what give me the means. Ye might say, ‘e took me to the cliff’s edge, but I were the numpty what threw me self off, beg your pardon, and that old glutton revelled in me despair.
Came to me once more, ‘e did, when I was at me very lowest, drinkin’ from puddles, havin’ sold me own leg to be used for chum. In the darkest night, whisperin’ an’ cajolin’, ‘e pressed this gold Kraken back into me hand, with a knowin’ wink.
‘Twere the same one I’d ‘ad back at the start! It were this damn coin what started me on that wretched path! Eh, ‘e opened his mouth up wide, and says, “It’s not too late, Lars. Never too late. Come with me, an’ we’ll find you a fortune again...”
Even after everythin’, I was tempted. ‘Course I was! But no. I resistedMother Serpent knows how. Two-Coats only laughed. Said he’d be there when I changed me mind.
And, sure enough, the temptation’s still there, now, every day.
So here I am. Friendless. Broke. All the best years of me life behind me, wasted in those lost decades. Can’t remember most of it, neither, so I’ve no idea if I even enjoyed me self.
Anyways. Enough o’ my ramblin’. There’s a lesson to be learned, ‘erekeep your purse strings tight, and never, ever make a deal wi’ the River King. Ye’ve always got more to lose...