The massive being stood at the center of the forest clearing, large, meaty hands cupped around a grinning human skull, webbed with cracks throughout. He had to hold it especially gently to avoid crushing it.“It is most regrettable, killing you, but it had to be done…” Those dark brown eyes seemed to glow in the dim light filtering down through the trees. The humans knew of the old laws, but still they insisted on trespassing in his sacred forests. Whatever the reason, curiosity, hunger, the insatiable desire to hide their own dark secrets and indiscretions, they knew the laws. The laws that he’d spent years obeying, at the behest of gods that the humans no longer remembered. He was the guard, the gatekeeper, and it was merely his lot. It was nothing personal; in fact, he’d spent the past centuries mourning the human lives he’d had to steal, some before their time. His voice echoed through the vast, empty space, sending animals skittering and flying away. The nature god frowned, reaching out a hand to the fleeing creatures. “You don’t have to go,” He rumbled, still holding the skull in his other hand. Those brown eyes seemed to be a deep abyss, yawning with sorrow and loneliness, stretching into bottomless depths.The sigh that left him sent the grass and leaves stirring, and the wind sighed in tandem, as if in sympathy. The thick, coarse fur on his body, matted with dead leaves, tiny bones, and dark spots that looked horribly like blood, rippled in the breeze, and he yawned, revealing huge, horse-like teeth. He looked down at the skull, frowning mournfully. He hadn’t had a choice. So why, then, did he feel the strange wave of loss when he’d had to take the lives of ignorant humans? He sat back against a massive tree, even bigger than he, and it seemed to almost give under him with a soft sigh.Was his entire existence reduced to this? A grim guardian to a forest so vast that it sent fear into the hearts of the humans who lived around it? Despite himself, he wanted more, even if it wasn’t fated for that possibility to be so.