The zherebetz zimna, also known as the zimna, or just ice runners, are large herbivores that live on cold and ice covered plains. They are half again larger than the typical horse, with the bull zherebetz weighing an easy ton. The quadrupeds are covered in a long shaggy hair that keeps them warm, and they have a very thick and oily hide that insulates them from the cold even if they get wet. While they are not graceful swimmers they are not above breaking through ice to graze on water plants, or fording larger bodies of water for a chance at better foraging. For those versed in the working of horses, the zherebetz can make suitable mounts, but the work required is greater as the ice runners have never been domesticated, only tamed. They are very much like a cross between a large horse and a hornless rhino. They have large feet with four blunt clawed toes, and will eat any plant matter, from lichen to trees and everything in between.
Zherebetz are strong and can be tamed, meaning that for those with the proper skills and abilities, the animals can be turned to serve as mounts, either as superb pack animals, war mounts with a preference for charging, or for riding mounts that can carry 2-3 people with relative ease. The milk produced by zherebetz cows can be consumed, or allowed to curdle into a thick porridge like cheese that can keep for several weeks in cold climates.
If slain, a zherebetz can provide a large amount of meat that while gamey, is perfectly safe to eat. The hide is difficult to work with, but if properly boiled and treated, it can be used to create high quality leather armors and leather goods such as tents, sacks, weather resistant cloaks, and other cold weather geat. The bone is dense and finely grained, allowing it to be made into useful things such as arrow points, handles for weapons and tools, decorations, and artistic carvings.
The massive creatures are sensitive both to external predation, and environmental hazards. If a zherebetz refused to cross a field of ice of snow, it is a sure thing that there is a crack in the ice, the ice is too thin, there is a crevasse or some other hazard present. The animals are highly sensitive to sound, and the creatures have a bone and nerve assembly in their feet that allows them to feel the give and flex of ice under them. Likewise, they are alert to predators such ice wyrms, bears, and other creatures that prowl the frozen wastes.
Zherebetz as mentioned have not been domesticated and are not good candidates for it. It takes a zherebetz close to a decade to reach physical maturity, and a cow will carry her calf for well over a year before giving birth, making the animal entirely too slow in reproducing and maturing to be domesticated. While individuals can be tamed, the more of them there are, the more likely it is they are going to revert to their own ways. Travelers with tamed zherebetz are typically wise to avoid herd of the animals for fear of losing their mount. If threatened, the animals are large, strong, and are perfectly willing to be aggressive. The can deliver a powerful bodyslam with their large heads, and while they are not very adept at kicking, they can stampede and crush things under their large feet easily.
The zherebetz zimna are frequently considered a sacred animal among the primitives who live in the lands of perpetual winter, and this ranges from offering thanks in elaborate rituals for each taken, to making offerings and sacrifices to the animals while refusing to harm them. The animal is often seen in primitive mythologies, being associated with the sun, the brief respites from the harshest part of winter, endurance, and surviving in the face of adversity.
There are rare zherebetz that have large curved rhino-like horns, and these animals have access to a number of innate magic abilities. The rare horned zherebetz is something of a ghost of the north, a myth told by those sitting around fires, warming their cold hands and hoping for a better day. These animals are said to have the gift of speech, and that should a person who finds them complete a task or tell the creature an amusing story will be granted a magical wish by the creature.
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? Responses (5)-5
...And as the legends of horned, ghost Zherebetz spread farther south, they give rise to myths of the great northern 'unicorns'.
Nicely detailed animal. I like that there is nothing sinister, or overly weird, about them.
A perfect addition to any fantasy setting, though it could also find a home in 'weird' post-appoc futures as well. Would love to put these into any game that involves arctic travel, as a fun alternative to sled dogs, yak, or or other mounts.
This is a very good and wholly unexpected adaption of the magic item template to a lifeform. And the lifeform itself has good merits on its own.
4.5/5 Nice (but not what I'm looking for :( )