Akmenos looked up at the ruins of the Temple of Exoden floating in front of him, hanging in the air like so many insects entombed in spider silk. He had never liked the place. It was too quiet. In here, even the spirits of the jungle went still, silenced by the violence wreaked upon them by the heretical cult that had built the temple. Obsessed with flight, they had ignored the ground beneath their feet, recklessly demolishing tracts of land to build their madhouse. Disgusting. And now these treacherous outsiders wished to twist it to their own ends. Akmenos had read their motives in an instant, and the spirits only confirmed it: the outsiders aimed to conquer Syrkuum, turning the villagers against one-another, worming their way into the heart of Elder Telakosa, and laying the groundwork for their ambitions. How could Telakosa have been so foolish as to trust them with her own father? Clearly she had been corrupted. Akemenos had seen the result before, and he would not allow it to happen again.
Then, as now, they had come with promises of peace, promises of cooperation, promises of protection. Hollow promises. The humans had tried to bribe them into stupidity while, just outside Syrkuum, teams were brazenly pillaging the jungle of its trees and murdering the spirits around them. To make matters worse, some of the weak-willed villagers were drawn into forced labor with promises of advanced technology and greater power. It would have been the end of Syrkuum were it not for Akmenos’s parents. He willed himself not to think about it, but still the memories came, stirred up by the presence of these new intruders. How proud he had been as a child as his parents incited the other villagers to fight! How awesome the sight had been as they all called upon the spirits with whom they had lived for so many generations, crushing the humans and driving their enemies before them into the ravenous jungle! And how terrible the retribution had been when the humans returned with their flasks of fire and their weapons of steel. The villagers had fought valiantly, and triumphed, but not before young Akmenos had seen his parents killed by the vengeful humans.
The tiefling shook his head, clearing his mind, and focused on letting the spirits move through him. He had never felt them so chaotic here. They seemed to swirl and shriek before him. You are as angry as I am, eh, my friends? I’m glad to have your support, he thought. There was no answer. Something was different about the Wild this time. It hungered for the expulsion of those that would defile it. Even here, normally so silent, the spirits were whipped into a frenzy. Akmenos turned to his companions, the last few sensible residents of Syrkuum. “Best to move quickly and quietly. Thank you for remaining true, friends. The spirits are with us. Come!” The group crept forward through the shadows, determined to stop the outsiders before they could bring destruction to Syrkuum once again.