As they root peacefully among the undergrowth of the swamps and jungles that cover the tropical Kwan-Zhanalin peninsula, no one would guess that these behemoths are the ominous “Fire Kine” of legend. About 6 feet tall at their hulking shoulders, these massive beasts are covered with overlapping scales in striking patterns of olive, brown and white. The scales are often stained a muddy green, encrusted with filth from the algae and mud of the swamps they inhabit. Fire kine have a short, narrow tail that superficially resembles that of cattle.
The heads of these creatures have four horns, with two horns jutting forward above each of their reptilian eyes. It is not uncommon for these horns to be broken or damaged in their frequent clumsy struggles for status within their herds. A bony ridge juts from the back of their heads, protecting the creatures’ necks. On an elderly beast, this ridge will be covered with scars, gouged deeply in hundreds of fights for dominance.
Fire Kine in the Jungle
Although they are often called “Fire Cattle” or “Fire Kine”, these creatures have only a few characteristics in common with mammals: They do have split hooves resembling those of cattle, bear their young live, and prefer to graze on plant life. In most ways, however, these hulking herbivores are clearly reptilian, with lizard-like hips, scales, and only a limited ability to regulate their body temperature.
Their young are born live, with a healthy “Fire Cow” able to bear two calves each year. The calves are not able to graze immediately, so the mother regurgitates food for her young until they are stronger, in approximately six weeks. The young are able to walk or swim immediately, and each is carefully herded by its mother.
Fire kine tend to live in small herds, with one bull tending as many as eight or ten cows. Solitary rogue bulls are common, and these creatures tend to be very aggressive, especially near mating season. Herds of the creatures are seldom aggressive, unless their young are threatened.
Kine are often plagued by persistent little parasites, which get beneath their scales, irritating them and spreading disease. They respond by rolling in mud to displace the stubborn pests; a herd of fire kine cavorting in the mud can be an amusing sight. A rare species of small crabs often lives symbiotically with fire kine, clambering on the massive beasts and picking over them to eat their tasty parasites, much as some types of birds care for rhinoceros.
In the jungles and swamps of their native habitat, these beasts are preyed upon by massive draconian beasts, ferocious predators that are feared and revered as gods by the primitive tribes that inhabit the region. As the herds tend to spread out widely as they forage, weaker members of the herd may be attacked by other, lesser predators, such as the flocks of Compall Fowle occasionally found in the region. The primitive tribes that haunt the jungles also hunt fire kine, preferring to lure or drive them into spiked pit traps similar to a Burmese tiger trap.
What gives these creatures their name is their ability to breathe out formidable blasts of intense flame. While legend would make it sound as if each of these creatures was able to incinerate everything around them, only a few of the creatures are actually able to generate flame. Only the bulls can breathe fire, and the ability comes and goes seasonally. When they are able to breathe fire, the beasts exude a truly awful stench, reminiscent of decaying plants, and local predators know to avoid them. Fire kine are resistant to injury from smoke and fire, and seldom suffer more than discomfort from the blast-furnace heat of the bulls’ breath weapon.
Lore of the Incindiary Beasts
In folktales and travelers’ legends, these creatures are ferocious engines of destruction, legendary harbingers of famine and chaos. These legends no doubt have their origins in ill-informed attempts to capture or domesticate the willful beasts. In their native swamps and jungles, the frequent rain and constant dampness keep their incendiary breath from doing much damage, but in a drier climate, they can be tremendously destructive. In regions ravaged by these creatures in the recent past, parties of archers are sent out to investigate sightings of fire kine and the creatures are habitually shot down when found.
Despite the inherent dangers, some of the clans of lizard folk that dwell within the Kwan-Zhanalin jungles have managed to domesticate fire bulls. They keep the creatures in pits with walls of earth and stone, where they are cared for by keepers clad in cumbersome fire-resistant armor made from the scaled hide of the kine. They use these creatures as mounts in battle, constantly feeding them the narcotic leaves of the tropical bhan vine to moderate their legendary foul tempers.
The scaly hide of fire kine makes effective, if heavy armor. Some unscrupulous merchants have been known to foist this armor off on the credulous as “dragon scale” armor. The skin does not normally retain its resistance to fire after being prepared as leather, but it can be specially prepared to provide such protection. The procedures to accomplish this feat are little known, and the lizard folk that have mastered the process are notoriously reluctant to share the information outside their clans.
Fire kine are also known as the source of components for several arcane magics. Their potential use in magical formulae was studied by the well-known researcher Norrihk Allsage, prior to his demise. His incomplete findings were published posthumously inYe Loreboke of Allsage
, which has become quite rare.