I play this video game called “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” I like to think I’m one of the more powerful wizards in the Skyrim. I have all the master destruction spells: Fire Storm, Blizzard, Lightning Storm. Not to brag, but I’m level 81 and I can raise dead bodies to fight for me indefinitely. I can cast Mayhem, where my enemies begin fighting one another. I am the Arch-Mage of the wizard’s College of Winterhold. I wear a flaming Dragon Mask that reduces the cost of all destruction magic by 20 percent. I am awesome.
But something holds me back. A necessary item I have yet to acquire. My white whale. I do not have the Ring of Peerless Destruction. I scour the mountains of Skyrim for it. I slaughter whole villages of bandits in my search. But still it eludes me, whispering from the dark.
“But Tom,” you ask. “You already have all this sick gear, why do you need that one ring?”
Shut up. You could not possibly hope to understand, you filthy, casual muggle. But I will explain. I have the Dragon Mask, Nahkriin, that reduces Magicka cost of destruction by 20 percent. I have dragon bone gloves and boots that fortify my destruction even further, reducing my Magicka costs to 25 percent of the standard rate. Try to follow along.
With these items alone I am fearsome: I can use lightning to roast a wooly mammoth to powder in ten seconds. But it is not enough: The cost of my power is too high. But if I had that ring, that simple, innocuous ring, the cost of destruction spells would be reduced to nothing. Zero percent. Don’t you see? How could you. Unlimited magic, you fool, limitless power.
It has been my dream since I was just a young, hopeful wizard walking through the doors of the mage’s College of Winterhold for the first time. Back when all I could muster was a flurry of sparks and the Arch-Mage sent me to weed out skeletons in the basement. God, I miss those days. The smell of a new Grimoire. Accidentally eating Deathbell in potions class. And of course, that young love of mine, Illia.
Oh, Illia. Shall I compare thee to a winter’s day? Your ice spells are as magnificent. How I miss your snow-white skin, your black lips, those cruel, sunken eyes. We were perfect for each other, a wizard and his witch. I loved you ever since you impaled your own mother on an ice spike after she was corrupted by Hagravens. Perhaps this is why I’m so sorry for what happened to you, my companion, mon amour magique.
We traveled together often. She helped me defeat the evil dragon Alduin. It was she who helped me kill the dragon priest in possession of the Dragon Mask Nahkriin. In many ways, she helped me become the wizard tyrant I always knew I could be. Sometimes you just needed someone to believe in you. Together we beat all of the main questlines. I should have set the controller down then.
But then my quest for the ring tore everything apart. I am mad for it. Since all the main questlines were completed I had nothing to live for — only the ring. After discovering the ring was not in the village of Rorikstead, I unleash my full repertoire of destruction spells on the townspeople. I roasted the butcher with Incinerate. I turned the priest into dust. I unleashed a demon lord in the daycare.
What had I become? Where was that young and hopeful mage who wanted to save Skyrim from the tyranny of the Empire? I only had Illia to ground me, and now a bounty on my head for the massacre at Rorikstead. The very people of Skyrim whom I had saved from Alduin, whom I had fought wars for against the Empire, wanted my head on a spike. I would show them. Illia and I together, we would find the ring and burn Skyrim’s cities to the ground, salting the earth behind us.
With his dying breath, the barkeep of the inn at Rorikstead gave me what I wanted: “I’ve caught word of a powerful artifact hidden in Ironbind Barrow. You should head over there and check it out.”
The fool! He could not have known that his randomly generated quest would cause the extinction of his whole kind. Illia and I set off toward Ironbind, an ancient Nord tomb in the western reaches.
The tomb is crawling with undead. Skeletons, ghosts, those dead thralls known as draugr. Filth. We make quick work of them, cutting through, deeper and deeper into the tomb. I can hear the ring whispering, down, down, somewhere in the shadows.
A dragon priest guards the final chamber. Just past him will be a chest, and in that chest a ring. I can feel it so strongly. He erupts from his sarcophagus, Volsung, master of destruction, spouting fire, resurrecting corpses. I very nearly lose that battle — my Magicka had already drained so low. But it is I who reign victorious. I do not even deign to loot his corpse before I enter the final chamber.
It is quiet. Ice covers the walls and ruined stone beneath that. A faint chanting comes from nowhere, or perhaps pounding from the chest that sits in the center of the room, and as I approach it grows louder, a hundred voices of the damned saying my name, dovahkiin, dovahkiin, dragonborn, dragonborn.
I lay my hands on the chest and open it and the chanting comes to a halt and I reach in and pull out what lies within, and it is the Iron Boots of Weak Improved Health.
I am fuming. Quite literally, my body begins to smoke. I am going to slaughter Rorikstead all over again. I will reanimate every corpse so that I may turn them all into dust.
But then I see it. Another chest, just off to the side of the chamber, made of simple wood and bound with iron.
I open it slowly, not wanting to be disappointed. Inside are nine gold, the Leather Gloves of Improved Alchemy, and the Ring of Peerless Destruction.
I slip it on and can feel the power course up through my hands, through the cord and the controller, and into my own fingertips. The ring. The ring. The ring.
My most powerful spell is Fire Storm. When I cast it, a hundred points of fire damage erupts from the sky and destroys everything in a 20-foot radius. Usually it would drain my Magicka completely. But not now. The ring completes me.
I cast one Fire Storm, drawing death from the sky, and watch as the ice on the walls shatters and bursts into steam. It costs me nothing.
I cast another. And another. Hundreds upon hundreds of points of damage. I am laughing maniacally in the game. I am laughing maniacally in real life. Skyrim is doomed. We did it, Illia and I. When I am done we will be the only ones left.
I turn around to tell her, my queen.
But Illia is not there.
Illia is dead.
My Fire Storm has killed her. She is nothing more than a charred corpse, the first victim of my wrath.
Oh Illia! What have I become? The most powerful wizard in Skyrim is nothing without you, my sweet digital companion.
But it was not too late to save her.