Himarvata 5616 and her handler, Dhurza, decide to go exploring before fall sets in...
Summer was drawing to a close. Dhurza could feel the cold beginning to nip at the air every night, the breeze threatening to convert the warmth and abundant life of summer into the brisk scurry for resources that was fall. She sat astride her tokota, Himarvata, and observed the terrain before her as she hunkered further into the soft fleece-lined leather that she had chosen to wear despite the last remaining vestiges of the summer sun.
Hima shifted beneath her, eager to be off; an unfamiliar stretch of forest stretched ahead, complete with strange new sights and smells to be explored and mapped and filed away with the rest of Dhurza's half-completed projects. The orc herself, however, was not nearly so eager. She wanted to go home, to relax, perhaps cook up a pot of stew—but the tokota needed to be exercised, and exploration always provided something interesting to talk about around the campfires when winter kept them all confined.
“Hup-hup,” she muttered, flicking the reins and leaning over her tokota's collared neck as the beast took off at a steady canter into the trees. Birds called to one another, flitting through the canopy, and Dhurza's bright brown eyes tracked their movements. All in all, she supposed, it wasn't too entirely unpleasant out here; the trees were still lush and green, full of strange-looking seed casings that reminded her of blackened stars hanging from their branches. She reached up, standing in the stirrups of her tokota's tack, and grabbed a handful of them from one low-hanging branch as they went. Curiously, she investigated the prickly little pods, then snorted softly as she worried her lower lip over her short tusks.
“Whaddya think, Hima? Edible or not edible?”
Hima let out a soft woof in response, tail flicking as she gave her head a good shake. Apparently the toko was not too keen on attempting to get the pointed mess down her gullet. Dhurza didn't blame her; if anything, she'd have to crack one open tonight, see what all they had in them.
The tokota's paws fell steadily on the uneven terrain, the sound of her footfalls and deep, even breaths keeping Dhurza centered as they rode on, weaving their way through trees and between rocky outcroppings that jutted up between the stands. The orc glanced up at one of the rocks that seemed to loom halfway to the sky, taller than the others by far—even this close to the foothills of the mountains—and suddenly jerked her tokota to a halt. Hima let out a whining growl as her progress was checked, ears pressing backward as her tail tucked instinctively between her legs.
Dhurza patted the toko's neck, murmuring an apology. Despite her words, however, her eyes were utterly transfixed on something else: strange carvings in the rock, depicting animals in bizarre formations, interspersed with flowing lines and markings she didn't understand. Some of the carvings, off to the side, looked almost like writing—but it was no kind of writing she had ever seen, even when compared to the mental notes she had of her journeys before she had come to rest here with the tribes and their tokotas.
Slowly, the orc dismounted from the tokota, ignoring the soft whimper the young female emitted as her handler walked toward the carvings.
“Worrywart,” Dhurza admonished softly, reaching a hand up to brush her fingertips over the stone. The animals had been carved into eerily human postures, and posed as if they were dancing around—something. She couldn't quite make out the shapes in the center of the bizarre ring, because they had been rather violently scratched out. At the head of the circle stood what looked like an elk-man, his antlers reaching up and encircling the sun. At the lowest point stood a pair of fox-men, their entwined tails cradling the moon.
Dhurza squinted as she tried to make sense of the whole weird scene. She wondered if it was some sort of prank, or a hoax some bored tribesman had come up with when he had wandered into this stretch of the woods ahead of her. Or... well, there was always the possibility that she had stumbled across something old, something that had been abandoned ages ago before the tokota-raising tribes had decided to settle in.
A soft snuffling to her right broke the orc out of her reverie. She turned to look at her tokota, furrowing her heavy brow as her lips contorted into an annoyed scowl around her tusks.
“What're you doin' over there, Hima? Better not be eatin' anything weird off the ground, again,” she began, dusting off her leather jacket and stomping over to the piebald form of her companion animal.
Hima whined, then let out a sharp yap as she pawed at a space between a few of the smaller rocks in the outcropping. She did not look back at her handler, but instead maintained focus, tail held straight out behind her as she whined and yapped some more. Dhurza let out a long-suffering sigh, then moved to gently push her massive beast out of the way so that she could get a better look at whatever it was her tokota's gigantic paws couldn't reach.
“If it's a snake an' I get bit... You'd better know how to go get help.”
Hima barked once, shifting restlessly for a moment before lowering her hindquarters to the ground and sitting there, still staring intently at the space she had been forced to leave alone.
Slowly, the orc crouched down, olive-green skin dappled with the light that filtered through the overhanging canopy of the trees, and carefully reached her hand into the hole. An insect—large, ugly, and with far too many legs—skittered out from the hole, and Dhurza let out a strangled yelp as she quickly recoiled. Hima pounced on the thing, crushing it quite neatly beneath her paws as she let out a happy bark.
“Figures,” Dhurza growled, hunkering back down and glancing into the shadows of the hole once more. She squinted a bit, trying to focus her eyes on the forms she could just make out in the darkness. It looked as if there was something in there... but what? After hesitating a long moment, not eager to scare another bug out into the open—especially if it meant that Hima was going to eat it and lick her with the remains later—she reached her hand in once more and felt around.
There, amidst the dirt and the pebbles left over from the formation of the massive outcropping, was—a string? Brow furrowed, the orc hooked her fingers around the string and pulled, blinking when she retrieved what looked to be some sort of pendant from the rubble. It was on an old, worn string, frayed and dirty. The pendant itself looked to be carved out of an antler of some kind, depicting the same elk-man with the sun in his antlers that had appeared in the stone carvings.
“Well. That's weird. Whaddya think, Hima? Take it or leave it?”
Himarvata padded over, sniffing at the pendant curiously as Dhurza held it out for her, before letting out a snort and recoiling her head. Dhurza nodded as she stood up.
“I hear ya. Let's just...” she moved to set the pendant at the foot of the stone that held the carvings, mulling everything over once more before shrugging to herself and climbing back up into her tokota's saddle.
“We'll just pretend this never happened, huh? I don't wanna think about weird... elk-cults.”
Hima let out a soft woof in response, apparently agreeing, before happily padding off once more, eager to explore the rest of the mysteries this old stretch of forest had to offer.