The Frost Potion – Page 23



Perilous Jack finds himself in a roughly rectilinear room with walls and floor of steel blocks, standing atop a platform of FloatSteel, an unusual material derived by the First Men from the metal-crystal alloys of the Emerald Dynasty.

He has little time to appreciate the strangeness of his surroundings, however, as a matched set of menacing growls emerge from the darkness before and behind him.

As his darkvision finally penetrates the blackness, a huge shape bounds upon the platform. The creature advances, tossing a great shaggy head surmounted with a pair of wickedly curving horns. A second leaps upon the platform behind him, baring curving fangs that gleam in the light of the sparkling stars hovering in the Pit above.

Jack recognizes the creatures from stories told by other travelers who have wandered the Underworld; they are Darkling Kine, the terrible cattle of the nether realms, herded by Demons, Dwarves, and other unsavory dark-dwellers. Although they are considered a primary food source by many Underworld races, they are decidedly predators in their own right. Their immensely muscular bodies are covered with an unsightly blend of fur and scales and their long tails are as scaly and muscular as any lizard’s. The undersides of their hooved feet are sticky pads, allowing them to climb walls and ceilings with ease.

The presence of Darkling Kine is understandably unsettling; they are rarely encountered except in great herds or in the presence of a cattleman. It is the latter thought that disturbs him. But there is no more time to think; these foes are too powerful for a solitary man to fight in pairs. He will need magical aid to best them.

His hand dives into the Pouch of Ghrul and comes out with a PowaShroom, which he pops into his mouth. The magic mushroom heightens his strength and stamina immediately, just in time for the first of the Darkling Kine to lower its shaggy head and charge.

With a confident smirk, Perilous Jack stands his ground. As a boy in Maim, his father had great herds of cattle and many terrible bulls, each in his own paddock for the threat he posed to the others. Oftentimes young Jack would dance with the bulls all alone and unarmed, for the thrill of it. He still remembers the blood spurting from the fresh-trimmed horns, running in rivulets down the hellish black faces; he remembers the mud and the stink of hot bull hide.

As the Darkling Kine bear down on him, Jack feints, pivots, and steps inside the radius of the first bull’s tossing horns, finding refuge in the space between the horn and the shoulder. The first bull attempts to turn in mid-charge to bring his horns to bear, only to find to his frustration that Jack now stands in the very center of the bull’s pivot point, and thus is unreachable. Meanwhile the second bull, unable to stop his charge in time, strikes a glancing blow upon the other’s flank with a vicious horn. Now thoroughly enraged, the first bull turns again to gore and head-butt at the second.

While the Darkling Kine are thus engaged with each other, Jack leaps from the platform . . .

Remove a PowaShroom from the Pouch of Ghrul and turn to 32.