The local villagers called it a “silver” day. Under a gray sky, the forest stretched for endless miles. Mist rested on the tree tops and fog masked the face of the sacred mountain. At a crossroads where four paths became one stretched an ancient stone arch. The arch was precisely built yet undecorated save for a few tufts of moss. Approaching from the western path, a young woman stopped in front of the monument. She tugged back the hood of her cloak, brushed her straight black hair from her eyes, and looked up at the arch. Under her cloak she wore the simple linen shirt and pants of a traveler. Flecks of dirt from the road coated her leather boots and stained the hem of her cloak. After a minute, she noticed an old man resting on a travel pack nearby. The old man was wearing a simple gray tunic and from under his long, thin mustache a pipe was gently smoking. When he noticed the woman looking at him he got to his feet and walked over, smiling.
“Hello there!” he said. “How do you do?”
“Is this the road to see the mountain god?” said the woman. She had to look down, as the old man was a full head shorter than her.
The old man’s smile slipped a bit. “Motakke? Sure, sure. Well, he’s more of a spirit than a god. But yes, this is his mountain.”
“Motakke? I hadn’t heard his name before.”
“Really?” The old man drew on his pipe as he studied the woman’s dark face. The woman shifted her travel pack on her shoulders and looked away. He chuckled. “Then you must not be a local. I figured as much. Not too many dark-skinned folk around here. Where out west did you come from? Darabad, Malthurn, Almot?”
The woman glared sideways at the man. “I don’t think that’s your business.”
The man tugged at his long mustache. “Alright, alright. Just making friendly conversation.”
The woman said nothing.
The man’s smile returned. “I’ll get to the point: it’s a three-days journey to the temple and you shouldn’t go alone. I can go along with you, if you’d like.”
The woman looked down the neatly cobbled path. “Looks well marked enough.”
“Sure, sure. But it gets rougher as you go along. Besides, there’s more danger in Motakke’s realm than just getting lost. He doesn’t let just any old vagrant speak to the dead, after all.”
“Then it’s true what they say about the mountain? You can speak to the dead there?”
The woman paused, regarding the mountain path and the old man. “How much are you asking?”
The man looked taken aback for a moment. “Not a thing, my dear. I serve Motakke and his temple. Just as coin is worthless to the dead, so too it is with their servants.” With that, he gave a surprisingly regal bow. “My name is Raizo, by the way.”
“Leela,” said the woman. She turned and began walking through the arch. Raizo scrambled to grab his pack and followed her.