This is the third in a series of journal entries written from the point of view of my Skyrim character, Zalen.

My journey to Whiterun was an uneventful one, filled with boredom and meditation. Upon my arrival in the early morning hours, I paid the stagecoach driver, grabbed my gear, and set up shop at the inn. I spent the rest of the day switching back and forth between stretching, sleeping, and mentally preparing myself for the task ahead. All I wanted to do was to continue mourning for Venassa, but I couldn’t: I had a job to do, one which would require all of my focus and attention. Besides, if she knew that’s how I was acting when I was on a mission to get something done, she would’ve struck me with the flat of her blades.

As dusk approached, I strapped my sword to my hip, readjusted my armor, and walked down the steps to the ground floor of the inn. I flipped a few gold pieces towards the steward, and requested that she ensure no staff enter my room while I was gone. She replied with a smile, and, as I turned around to leave, she gently put her hand on my shoulder.

“Dark Elf. I don’t know where you intend to go, but judging by your armament, it’s bound to be nowhere pleasant. Here, take this.” She pressed a crisp apple into my hand. “From the looks of you, you’re going to need all the energy you can get. Enjoy! It’s on the house.” I flashed her a quick smile (oh gods…the first time I’ve smiled since…Venassa…), took a large bite of the apple, turned around, and walked out the front door.

I regained my bearings, and started hiking northward. The cave was gently nestled between decaying ruins, and a glorious natural garden of various flora. Were I not about to potentially put myself in danger, I would have found the location to be oddly soothing.

As I entered through the damp entryway, it became immediately clear that someone had occupied the hollow earthen hole. The smell of cooking meat faintly wafted out of the darkness ahead of me, and although I believed it to be my imagination, I could swear that people were talking and laughing with each other further in. I readied a fire spell in my left hand, drew my sword with my right hand, took a deep breath, and, by the light of flames tickling my fingertips, pressed forward.

After rounding a single corner, I came to a closed door that had light pouring through a narrow crack. On the other side of it, I could clearly hear people talking. It sounded like two Orcs, a Breton, and an Argonian. Quite a motley crew, and a dangerous one at that, given the diversity amongst them. Listening intently, I overheard them say something about “the box”.

That was all I needed to hear. I reduced the flame in my left hand down until it was barely enough to light a candle, shoved my second digit into the tiny crack in the door, and cooked off a sliver of fire in the general direction of where I heard the voices coming from.

A yelp of surprise emerged from the other side of the door. I retreated back into the darkness, sheathed my sword, and began building a ball of frozen water in my hands. As I expected, one of the Orcs appeared first. He hadn’t even bothered trying to open the door: he simply crashed through it, scattering wooden splinters into the darkness. By the time he realized which dank corner I was hiding in, it was too late. I had sent a tsunami of frozen water in his direction.

The wave flash-froze the Orc in his steel plate, the armor fusing with his tough skin almost instantly. Taking no chances, I immediately began building up a fireball between my hands. The second Orc let out a cry of anguish, and moved through the doorway, rushing over his fallen comrade. I let the ball of fury in my hands fly free, and it struck the green creature directly in the middle of its chest. As the ice had frozen the armor of the first Orc, the fire now melted the armor of the second Orc. It must have been extraordinarily painful, however I doubt he felt much; it happened so quickly, his ethereal shriek ended before he even hit the ground.

As the blackened body fell to the cave floor with a loud thump, I heard the Argonian cry out in agony. I prepared to swiftly move through the threshold of the door when the Argonian suddenly stumbled into view, his leather armor aflame. Making no attempt to fight me, he darted straight for the cave’s exit, patting at his armor the whole way. I was about to end his escape with a well-placed fireball, when I saw something shimmering in the doorway.

I turned back to it just in time to see a shard of ice fly out of the Breton’s hands.

Luckily, his aim was off: the shard pierced through my armor, and embedded itself deep into my left shoulder. I raised my right hand to the wound and began to heal it, while I raised my left hand and formed a ward. Pointing at me, the Breton let out a full belly laugh, which echoed throughout the cave. A wave of electricity leapt from his hands, and exploded on the surface of the ward in which I was now encased. As the energy crackled around me, I knew that my only chance was to distract him.

Satisfied that I had healed my shoulder enough to prevent me from passing out, I reached into my cloak with my right hand, and grabbed the first thing I could find: the remaining half of the apple the steward at the inn had given me. I momentarily pondered how much more useful grabbing a dagger would be, but then I snapped back to the situation at hand. I froze what remained of the apple, and then tossed it in the direction of the laughing Breton.

The frozen fruit shattered at the mage’s feet. He looked down for a single moment, which was more than enough time for me to make a move.

I sidestepped out of the fingers of electricity, and, while charging towards the Breton, began to draw my sword. It was too late by the time he realized what was happening, for I was already upon him. In one smooth motion, I finished removing my sword from its sheath, turned it around, and pushed it deep into the Breton’s abdomen. A choke of surprise escaped his lips, as he crumpled motionless to the ground. Flipping him over, I stuck a boot on his chest, removed my sword, and then beheaded him.

The fight, it seemed, was over. Despite having taken place over the course of a mere minute or two, I slumped over, exhausted; I was out of shape, and out of practice. As I sat down on the hard cave floor, I raised my right hand to my shoulder, melting what remained of the ice shard and closing the wound.

After taking a few more moments to rest, I stood up, drew my sword, and headed through the doorway. The room was small, but comfortable: a series of beds lined one of the walls, while another wall was home to some storage chests and armor stands. In the center was a table with a menagerie of different candles sitting on it, sending shadows dancing across the room. Plates topped with food lined the outside of the table, while a small fire churned away in a makeshift pit. I walked over to the table, and slumped down in one of the chairs. As soon as I had begun to melt into the creaky wood, my eye caught something sitting at the end of one of the beds.

It was an elaborate box. An empty, elaborate box.