It was a chill morning, and the damp fog rolling in from the Sea of Ghosts brought with it an icy breeze. My campfire had fizzled out sometime during the night, and I was cold despite my furs. The enchanted coal braziers I had lit at the entrance of this abandoned bandit cave (near to Ravenscar Hollow), were about to wink out anytime now. There was already a light snowfall happening outside, and I could feel a flurry of soft snowflakes, drifting into the dark cave.
As I stretched my cramped limbs, and gazed out from the cave, I saw the snow-white foaming waves of the sea washing impatiently onto the soft sands of the seashore as if eager for another embrace, and the little waterfall near the cave entrance became a small rivulet that ran down even more eagerly to embrace the sea. It was a beautiful sight alright, but I couldn't tarry. I had to return back to my home today, and I did not like the idea of getting caught in any snowstorm.
I rolled up my bedroll and started gathering my gear. Suddenly, my stomach rumbled. I realised with a pang, that I had nothing in my kit for a proper breakfast, except for a couple of weather-beaten apples. I had a sudden craving for meat stew though. My still-sleepy mind conjured up the smell of roasted meat, cooking slowly in a stew pot, over a cooking spit. Ahh, bliss! My stomach rumbled again. As I grabbed a withered apple out of my knapsack, and started peeling it with my knife, I heard another rumble. It was a distant peal of thunder. The storm was getting closer.
I rolled up all my gear into my backpack, and heaved it onto my shoulder. As I sliced a morsel of the apple, and chewed it hungrily, I heard another rumble.
I looked up, and my jaw dropped as I froze in sudden terror.
I was not the only one who thought this abandoned cave was a good place to stay. A snowy sabercat (a giant one!) was strolling casually towards the cave, sniffing the foggy air every now and then. I had only a moment before it spotted me. The cave was dark and it was downwind. The pitiful knife I held in my hand would be no match for a monster of this size. Sabercats were renowned for their speed, agility, strength and stealthy tenacity, and their jaw could crush a human skull easily.
Fortunately though, I was no human. I was a Khajiit battlemage!
I did not want to kill this magnificent beast, but I didn't want it tearing out my throat either. My only choice was to terrify it before it got too close to me.
The braziers! Yeah, fire would do the trick. I dropped the apple and the knife, and raised both my hands. I spoke a spell phrase, and instantly the magical flames leapt into my hands. As I charged the expert-level spell, I rushed towards the cave entrance, and finally dual-cast it with both hands towards the unwary sabercat.
The fiery spell rolled over the ground, and a Wall of Flames leapt into the air, sizzling with heat and magical power. The snowy sabercat somersaulted backwards in fear and surprise, and growled with impotent fury at this fiery phenomenon. Then the sabercat raised its gaze over the flames, and locked eyes with me.
Uh oh, this was not going as I planned. I had hoped the Wall of Flames' fear effect would scare the sabercat and make it run away. But this encounter was going to be a duel - a test of our wills and our cunning.
The sabercat dropped into a predatory crouch, and there was a low deep rumble from the depth of its throat, that raised the hair on my furry skin. Suddenly, the sabercat uttered an angry roar that almost deafened me and even warped the flame wall for an instant. For a few heart-stopping moments, the perpetual crash of the sea waves were silenced, as the bestial roar echoed across the mountainside and seashore, and reverberated into the depths of the cave and rebounded from behind me.
Arrggh! I wanted to stop my spellcasting and just clamp my hands over my Khajiiti ears - the beast's roar was that painful and loud! But I gritted my teeth and held my ground, and invoked last-night's residual enchantment from one of the braziers to quickly recharge my magicka pool, and kept dual-casting to just keep that Wall of Flames going.
The sabercat paced at the spot, and then crouched and growled again, and I too hissed in anger back at it. I locked gazes with it again over the wall of flames. Now what do we both do? I could kill it with a Shout of Power, but not unless it tried to attack first.
As we stared at each other, the sabercat looked away, and I saw where it looked at. The cave!
I got an idea. I took a step sideways, keeping my wall of flames active, and silently using the other brazier to replenish my mana pool. As I stepped sideways to the left, the sabercat stepped to the right. We were not in a duel, we were in a dance, alright. The dance of death, as we both danced sideways away from each other, but keeping an unblinking eye on each other over the flames. Or perhaps, it was the dance of life, as I realised the sabercat probably was only worried about the sanctuary of the cave before the snowstorm hit.
Now this was the tricky part. I stepped into the shallow stream of the waterfall, held my footing and slowly sidestepped to the other side of the stream, while taking care to raise the wall of flames a wee bit higher to avoid the water hitting it. But as I raised the wall, I lost sight of the sabercat! I then heard a splash, and despite the roar of the flames, my quick Khajiit ears heard the sabercat scampering to the opposite side away from me.
My arms were aching now, and my magicka was almost exhausted. I could not afford to drink a potion, as Wall of Flames was an expert level spell, and I needed to dual-cast it with both hands. I was across the stream now, and I took the risk to reduce the height of the flames. A sabercat of that size could easily leap across the wall though, in a rabid pounce.
As my wall flickered and my tired arms unconsciously lowered just a bit, the wall sank to touch the stream, and smoke vapors suddenly sizzled from the bottom of the wall.
Where was he? He should have been right across the wall now, both of us on opposite sides of the stream.
As I scanned the foggy sands trying to find that blurry furry white monster, I heard another rumble. A streak of lightning scythed near the seashore, and gloriously lit up the scene for an instant, blinding my Khajiiti night eyes with its dazzling brilliance. The ominous thunderclap followed a couple of moments later. But as I desperately kept the wall up in front of me, and blinked rapidly to readjust my sore eyes, I heard another ominous rumble.
I whirled around panicked frenzy, and dropped the wall of flames, and instantly spellcasted a flame spell on one hand and a bound sword in the other. I stared in panic around me for a white silhouette.
But the sabercat was at the cave entrance, looking back at me with a sinister grimace. We both stared at each other for a long moment. And with a swish of its tail and a coughing growl, the sabercat leapt into the dark depths of the cave and disappeared from my sight.
I heaved a sigh of relief and stopped the bound sword spell, though I still retained the flame spell on one hand, just in case. A few more tense moments watching the cave, and no sabercat to be seen.
I was about to turn away, when a thought struck me. I raised my hand, and from that not short distance, I lit the braziers again. The enchantment I now placed would ensure they would keep burning for another day, and keep the cold away from the mouth of the cave.
As I settled my backpack properly on my shoulders, and tightened the straps, I suddenly heard another rumble. It was my stomach again! Oh no, I had forgotten my apple and my knife in the cave! Anyway, I had another final apple and another knife in my knapsack, and I was still alive and unhurt, so that was a blessing. Though my arms were starting to ache now!
The storm was looming closer too, if though dark clouds and random streaks of lightning were any indication.
Fortunately, I knew where I was, and I knew I was on the right track towards the city of Solitude. If I hurried, I could very well beat the storm (which I expected to be localised near the sea anyway), and I could be in a cozy inn with a tankard of warm ale by mid-day.
A couple of hours later, as I walked briskly across the cobbled pathway to Solitude, I saw another jagged shard of lightning streaking across the horizon over the sea, and the low rumble of thunder came soon after. And in response, a long distance behind me, I thought I heard the answering growl of a sabercat echoing across the mountainside.
As I chewed on my apple, I wondered - do sabercats eat apples?
IMAGE SOURCE: Screenshot from the PC game The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim, © Bethesda Softworks.