It was a grisly sight, but then again, battlefields always were. They hadn't meant to stumble upon the scene, but their path was hardly a well-mapped route, and once noticed, it was hard to miss, and impossible to just keep walking. Damp earth had been churned up all around them in viciously curving furrows, lines of diction that told a grim story in sharp detail.
Two unicorn stallions, locked and killed in mortal combat. Whether their battle had been over territory, food, a mate, it was impossible to say, but it was now obvious it had not gone well for either party. Old cuts and scars, the blood that had painted them long gone dry, tattooed the bodies of each in merciless design, dark red on dingy white, the pattern only relieved by smudges of mud where one or the other had stumbled to the ground in the struggle. Ribs and spine showed through their hides in a telltale display of starvation, rather than simple decay, though scavengers had already begun to have their way with the corpses, gnawing the hind leg of one down to the bone, and completely gutting the stomach of another. The face off could not have happened but a few days ago, and flies already scurried with disrespect on the bodies of the fallen.
How? How could such creatures come to this, he wondered. But the answer was obvious. Somewhere in the melee, one of the stallions had taken a cruel stab at the eye of the other, his spiraling horn easily taking out the dark orb, blinding his opponent. But he had gone too far, driving himself too deep, for in felling the other stallion, destroying his enemy's sight in a second, and his brain a heartbeat later, his horn had managed to pierce through the opposite side of the first unicorn's skull, embedding itself. He'd become stuck, victorious but trapped, and as his slain opponent had fallen, so too had he, not strong enough to support the weight. Panicking, he had not pulled back, but been dragged down, and in the fall his neck had been twisted, snapped. The unicorn's face, spattered with the blood of the other, still held a glimmer of surprise in the dull, scratched eyes, the slack jaw and limp tongue.
The traveler had fallen on his knees before them, hands clasped before his quivering lips in a gesture of pseudo-prayer, while tears beaded, unbidden and unnoticed, on his lashes, carving pale runnels on his dusty cheeks. This... this should never have been.
"What were you expecting?" his companion asked him, though she did not meet his eyes, her voice hard and distant. The tree against whose trunk she leaned was dead, like so many others in this land, its bark blackened with disease as its barren, gnarled branches twisted into the gray sky overhead. The shadows falling on the bodies below looked like scrabbling, unwelcome hands. "Did you really think they all cavorted in green meadows, sipping dew and eating day lilies, like the child-stories your ma used to spin you?"
"I thought... I thought..." he scrambled for words, unsure of what he thought, anymore. "This sort of thing happens to deer in the woods, or cooped up cattle in pens, not out here in some desolate waste, not to these creatures "
"Shows what you know about unicorns, doesn't it?" she asked without expecting an answer, shouldering her bag and moving forward. She would wait for him no longer. "Out here, even pretty things have to fight to survive."