The raging flame, whose lapping tongues but a moment ago had threatened to scorch the underbelly of the sky, had regressed to wisps of smoke unfurling hypnotically in the cool breeze. An elderly knight, a veteran of countless campaigns, lies half buried in smoldering debris with limbs entangled with those of fallen friends and foes, his pallid complexion masked in the grey and crimson of ash and caking blood. He stares with glazed eyes at clouds drifting lazily across the dusk sky, his head swimming in the mingled smell of rusted metal, burnt foliage, and death. The faint whistling of the wind is a soothing song compared to the horror-filled shrieks that accompanied the sickening sound of flesh and bone giving way to tempered steel.
The knight knows that his time is near, and with his departure, death can finally rule supreme over this ravaged battlefield. Most would consider it a blessing for a soldier to have lived this long, but not he. Living has meant enduring the torment of blood-smeared memories of comrades—friends—falling one after the other. Let it end, he prays, his consciousness fading slowly but surely with the setting sun.
The sharp, distinct snap of a twig breaking underfoot ends the hours-long silence, jerking the knight back to reality. Opportunistic Goblins, here to scavenge the battlefield, he thinks with renewed alertness. If they were to find him in this defenseless state, there would be no reprieve. His loathing towards the vile creatures reignites his will to survive. With clenched teeth, he musters all remaining strength in an attempt to move his legs, but they fail to heed the call. Defeated, he allows his helmed head to fall back to the ground with a soft clunk, his breathing now more labored than ever.
The footsteps draw nearer, thudding out a slow but elaborate rhythm on the charred plain. His experience tells him they are that of a four-footed creature—perhaps a hell hound here to feed on flesh. Despite knowing very well his dwindling life force could no longer sustain the desire for self-preservation, with the same battle-honed instinct that has allowed him to survive till this day, the knight fumbles for the hilt of his weapon with a leaden hand. The footsteps draw nearer still, and with a final, decisive thud, the creature comes to a standstill, drawing breath deeply as if perceiving the aftermath by smell rather than sight. From the slit of his visor battered by a vicious blow, the knight spies four towering black limbs hosting a network of veins each as thick as a grown man's finger, pulsating with life blood. A gasp escapes his lips.
Careful to avoid detection, he shifts his head slightly to more fully behold this unannounced visitor. He finds himself locked in a gaze with large, fiery eyes burning with intelligence, glaring back at him with crystalline pupils that probe into his soul, sensing his confused emotional state. Its long, mauvish mane flows pliably in the wind, striking a contrast with its hulking frame that looked like it would bend not even to the fiercest storms. But the most startling of its features, is a single protrusion—a horn of fearsome design, spiraling thick and long from its forehead in cruel twists, like a lance bracing to puncture the very fabric of reality itself.
Fear gives in to marvel as memories of evenings spent by the fireplace as a child mesmerized by his grandfather's fantastic fables of the unicorn, the mythical horned horse, resurface. Could this truly be the legendary creature, sent by the Goddess to guide him on his journey to the afterlife? Touched by what he interprets as a final gesture of grace from his revered Divinity, tears well up in his tired, deep-set eyes. He begins reciting a verse of prayer from the faith of his ancestors, but a few breathy words are all he can manage before the sound of scuffling footsteps and chinking armor in the distance disrupts what he had hoped would become his final moment of peace.
"Look, there's Ixion! Over there!" an excited voice echoes across the plain.
With an agitated neigh, the creature identified as Ixion hoists its sizeable head aloft, eyes dilated in anticipation of the interlopers. There is a brief moment of stillness—serenity, even—in the air. Then the beast's dormant horn awakens with an intensifying crackling sound as a static charge builds up, sending lashing tendrils of electricity dancing furiously up and down along its shaft.
"Stay on your guard!" an authoritative voice yells out mere seconds before Ixion rears up and unleashes a barrage of lightning bolts with a deafening thunderclap. Although the discharge is but a warning, the approaching figures frantically raise their shield arms in defense. The flickering brightness from the lingering charge reveals them to be a small contingent of young mercenaries. No older than when he first enlisted into the army and most likely no wiser, observes the knight, their reckless overconfidence striking a nostalgic chord within him.
Sensing no merit in a confrontation, the mighty stallion pivots, turning its substantial mass around in one fluid motion, then kicks into a thunderous gallop, leaving the stunned aggressors behind in a wake of spark and dust.
"Damn! It's making a run for it!"
"Don't let it escape! After it!"
The young mercenaries commence what seems a futile chase, when one among them—a girl robed head to toe in white—sensing something amiss, stops mid stride and turns towards the ailing knight. She crouches beside him, reaching out with gentle hands to check his vital signs.
"Wait! This man is still alive!"
As though no longer sure of the reality in what he has just witnessed, the knight weakly mouths the name of the horned beast. And finally succumbs to the darkness.