Here, at last, is the final chapter! I've been slowed down by computer trouble and by writer's block, but here it is at last. It's shorter than the others, but it's just as much of an epilogue as it is a final chapter, so I think that's all right.
I've already got plans for another short story featuring Ozan and Jenassa, which will be written eventually... For now, I really hope you enjoy this chapter. Thanks so much for reading!
Night had fallen, shrouding the streets of Whiterun with shadow. There was still life in the city, though; a few children seemed to have escaped the watchful eyes of their parents and were chasing each other along the paths, a handful of merchants remained at their stalls, hoping for last-minute customers, and the town guards patrolled as always, though from their weary movements, Jenassa suspected that they would all have preferred to be safely in bed, having downed a few bottles of mead.
She and Ozan sat side by side on one of the benches beneath the Gildergreen. The ancient tree's leaves stirred only gently in the breeze. Ozan's hands were clasped together, and his head was bowed. He seemed to be thinking hard.
After Ozan's promise to tell her 'everything,' they had returned inside the city. Jenassa had followed him up to the Gildergreen without asking why he was heading there. She knew that she always felt somehow peaceful when she was near the tree. Perhaps he had sensed the same calming effect about it, and hoped that it would make telling his story easier.
She had to admit, that the events of the previous few days had surprised her - not least because she was looking at herself a little differently now. As they had walked back to Whiterun, she had tried to see herself through Ozan's eyes, hoping to think of what might have made him trust her. And though she still couldn't answer that question, she thought that perhaps someone like her - a fellow mercenary who offered to help him in a quest that put her life at risk - was someone maybe worth trusting. She didn't want to be conceited, but she knew that if their places had been reversed, she would have been at least beginning to trust Ozan.
It had taken her by surprise, to think of herself as someone who did something to help others, rather than as just a hired blade.
Ozan had been sitting in silence for some times, as if preparing himself. Jenassa decided not to press him. He would speak when he felt ready.
At last, he drew in a long breath, and began.
'I don't remember our parents. I was three when they died; Meerah was ten. She said they were merchants. They sold things it was hard to get hold of from most traders. They were killed by guards who found out about their business. Meerah took care of me after that.'
He had started to trace circles on his palm with his thumb as he spoke. 'The Alik'r found us when I was six. They took us in.' He paused, his hands falling still. 'What did she tell you about them?'
Jenassa , now completely used to gathering Ozan's meaning from his vague sentences, took only a second to work out what she meant. 'Saadia? She said they were assassins working for the Dominion, though that latter part clearly isn't true.'
'It isn't. The first part has some truth in it. We – ' He stopped himself and tried again. 'They are elite warriors. Not assassins, exactly, more of a mercenary force.'
Jenassa smiled. So he was, or had been, a mercenary too. Yet another thing that they had in common.
'They do what work is asked of them, as long as it requires a blade. I had more specialised skills than most. Kematu saw I had a talent for staying hidden. He trained me to walk in shadows, to strike silently and without being seen. If the Alik'r were tasked with eliminating anyone in secret, I was who they sent. Most Alik'r would not call themselves assassins. But I always did.'
So that was how Ozan had learned to walk so silently, to fight so fiercely. Perhaps it was why he was so quiet and cold, too. Jenassa had slain a fair number of mortals, and plenty of those killings had been done because her employer had told her to kill, not because they had attacked first. Still, she had no idea what it might be like to be a full-time assassin, especially from such a young age. Maybe living such a life for so long removed you from the rest of the world.
'We had lived outside the law all our lives. The transition was easy. Meerah and I became some of the Alik'r's best agents. Most of our assignments, we did together. We knew each other so well we barely even had to talk to each other.'
'Is that why you…' Jenassa trailed off, wondering if she was straying into forbidden territory.
'Speak so little?' Ozan finished. 'Partly. I spent most of my time with Meerah, and we never had to talk much. I believe I grew used to staying silent. But there is another reason.'
He pulled his dagger from its sheath and held it up to the light. 'I use this in many ways,' he had said. 'To protect others. To defend myself. But mostly to kill.' He sighed. 'Death has always been part of my life. I'm not a good man, Jenassa. I'm an assassin at my core. That is why I only use this blade when I feel I have true need, because if I used it when I had no need to, I would leave behind an even greater trail of chaos than I already do. By using it only when I need to, and as little as I can even then, I can stop myself from becoming… something terrible. And words are weapons too. They can cause harm. They can be just as destructive as this dagger. And so I use them only when I feel there is a need.' He sucked on his lower lip for a moment, then added, 'Also, there are very few I trust with my thoughts.'
Jenassa frowned. 'You're speaking… fairly freely now.'
'Because I think I can trust you. And because I don't think this story can do harm. I am the only one it can hurt.'
She stared at him, surprised and even a little flattered by his words. She was unsure what exactly she'd done to earn his trust – volunteering to trap Saadia, perhaps, or maybe just fighting at his side in Bleak Falls Barrow. She wondered if she would get an answer if she asked him. She doubted it.
'I don't know why Iman sold out the city,' Ozan continued with his story, still not lifting his gaze from the ground. 'All I know is that Meerah and I were returning form an assignment one night and suddenly the streets were swarming with Thalmor. We fled. We turned a corner. I ran into one of them. He knocked me down with a lightning spell.'
His eyes flicked up; they were staring into the distance now, as if he could see into the past, watch the events he was describing happening in front of him. 'Meerah cut him down. More of them came. We fought, but they were too many. Two disarmed me and held me. They made me watch as…'
For the first time, his voice faltered, but he swallowed hard and carried on. 'One of them threw Meerah against a wall and pinned her there as he screamed about elven supremacy and human inferiority. Then he threw her to the ground. He lifted his hand and charged a spell.'
He shook his head slowly, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying. 'She was afraid. I could see it. Meerah was never afraid, but then, as he prepared to kill her, she was. It was so wrong. And I couldn't help her. I just watched as he put an ice spike through my sister's heart.'
The last few words came out cracked and broken. A shudder ran through Ozan's body, and he closed his eyes.
'I'm sorry.' She could think of nothing else to say.
He nodded numbly.
'How… how old were you?'
His jaw clenched. 'Fifteen.'
It took a lot to horrify Jenassa, and even this news didn't quite go that far. She had seen terrible things by the time she was fourteen. But to see your own sister murdered in front of your eyes at such a young age? There was no telling what that might do to a person.
'When I saw her lying there, I lost control. I managed to break free, and I killed every elf I saw. Then I took Meerah and ran. I couldn't carry her and fight, so when I saw Thalmor coming, I hid. I heard some of them talking. They spoke of how they had entered the city. Iman of House Suda had told them the way in.'
His eyes narrowed as he said the last sentence, and his hands curled into fists.
'I reached the gates and fled outside. I stayed there all night, staring at the city. And when morning came, I buried Meerah. On the beach. She had always loved the sea. And I swore to her then that I would not rest until I had avenged her death.'
Bit by bit, everything was falling into place. 'So you went looking for Saa – for Iman.'
He nodded. 'I didn't try to find the other Alik'r. I stayed in Taneth for long enough to find out that Iman had been discovered by her House and fled. I followed. I walked across the Alik'r desert and I climbed the Jerall Mountains. No matter where she went, I was always one step behind. Then she vanished. I could find no trace of her for years, but I kept searching, and finally I heard a rumour that she was hiding in Skyrim. I headed north and tried to cross the border. But there was a battle… Imperials and Stormcloaks were fighting. I tried to get around them, but I was seen, mistaken for a rebel, and the next thing I knew I was being scheduled for execution. When they sentenced me to death, it wasn't dying that troubled me. It was that I would be able to keep my promise.'
After she had overcome her amazement at hearing such a long speech from him, Jenassa said, 'But you escaped. Obviously.'
Another nod. 'Helgen was attacked by a dragon. I escaped in the chaos. Then the people of Riverwood asked me to take a message to the Jarl of Whiterun about the attack. I agreed. I had nothing else to do, and I thought I might be able to find news about Iman in Whiterun.' He shrugged. 'You know the rest.'
Jenassa hesitated before asking her next question. 'And… if you don't mind my asking… how do you feel now? Seeing as you've found her.'
'I don't know.' A long sigh escaped him. 'I'm glad that she'll face justice, and that I had a part in that. But now everything's changed. I would never feel right back in Hammerfell, after everything I saw that night. But here I seem to be some… Dragonborn. A hero. And I'm no hero.'
He bowed his head, his eyes flicking down to the ground again. 'Nothing seems right with Meerah gone. She was always there for me. She was the only person I ever loved.'
There was a lengthy silence. Jenassa had no idea what she could say to comfort him – if he even wanted to be comforted. 'So what will you do now?'
'The Greybeards,' he said. 'I'll answer their call.'
Jenassa cast a quick glance in the direction of the Throat of the World, remembering the thundering voices that had echoed over the plains. 'And if you do have to be this… Dragonborn hero…'
'Then I will. While I must.'
He shrugged. 'Continue with my old work.'
Her confusion must have shown on her face, because he added, 'Skyrim must have an order like the Alik'r.'
He was back to speaking in his short, clipped sentences again – Jenassa wondered if he was trying to make up for speaking so much earlier.
'Well,' she said slowly. She was uncertain whether or not she should be asking this, but he had let her stay with him so far. 'If you ever need the presence of an extra fighter at your side – '
His voice broke across her. 'I could do with the company of a friend.'
He lifted his head and turned towards her. The deep brown eyes drilled into hers.
Jenassa felt a smile dawning on her face. 'Then you will have it.'
He gazed at her for a long time. And then he did something Jenassa had never seen him do before.
'Thank you, Jenassa,' was all he said.
High Hrothgar felt unlike any other place Ozan had ever been to before. Perhaps it was because he had been raised among warriors. Being inside the home of men dedicated to a life of peace… it felt strange, to say the least.
All the same, he found himself liking High Hrothgar. He felt safe there, and safety was a notion that was almost foreign to him. The Alik'r had enemies; even back in Taneth, the only home had had ever known, he had needed to watch his back. In his years alone, tracking down Iman, danger had been everywhere.
But here in these halls, there was no need to keep his hand near his weapons, or even to carry his weapons with him at all. Even if some attacker was able to make it past the wolves and ice wraiths and frost trolls that guarded the mountain path, they would never be able to touch him. He had witnessed the power of the Greybeards' Voices – no enemy would withstand such power for long.
He couldn't exactly relax. He wasn't sure he'd ever relaxed in his entire life, and he definitely wouldn't be able to do so now, with so many conflicting emotions at war within him. He was, in a small way, angry – angry that Iman had been taken back to Hammerfell, and that he would not be able to put an end to her himself, and angry that he had become a pawn in some greater plan of the Divines. And he was confused, too, confused by why he of all people had been chosen. But more than anything he felt an overwhelming, weary relief that his quest to avenge Meerah was over, over at last.
Maybe there was, after all, a good thing about being this… Dragonborn. He had something to do now, something to focus on. He hadn't lost all purpose.
But this new destiny that had been set out for him – stopping the black dragon from Helgen, saving Skyrim from destruction, learning to use this Voice thing – it was too much to take in, too quickly.
He was glad Jenassa was here with him. It was comforting to have someone around who he felt he could depend on. Someone he could trust.
Ozan did not trust easily. Trust was a weapon that others could use against you. But the Dunmer woman had earned his respect, and, yes, his trust. Mostly it was because she had offered to help him. He couldn't remember a time in his life when someone other than Meerah or Kematu had voluntarily helped him - or anyone, for that matter. She had fought by his side, aiding him even though the quest had not been hers, and she had risked her own life to help him capture Iman. And though at first it had been because she was trying to earn the Septims for her next meal, Ozan had soon realised that by the time she learned of Iman's betrayal, money had no longer been her motivation. She had stayed to help.
It was the first time he had ever seen someone do anything when there was nothing in it for them.
And there was another reason, too. Jenassa reminded him of himself. She was as mixture of mercenary and assassin, just as he was. And she also reminded him of Meerah – in fact, Jenassa acted so much like his sister at times that it was almost painful. She was cautious, calm and cool, just as Meerah had been, and she was just as fearless in battle.
Ozan would have trusted Meerah even if she had been holding a knife to his throat. He knew that it was, perhaps, foolish of him, but he couldn't help trusting someone who was so much like her.
But though Jenassa gave him companionship – something he hadn't had since Meerah's death – she could not give him answers. And that was why, after night fell on his first day in High Hrothgar, he found himself walking the quiet stone corridors, looking for Arngeir.
He wasn't sure he understood the Greybeards' spokesperson, and he was knew that Arngeir didn't understand him. Ozan prided himself somewhat on being hard to understand. But he knew that it was Arngeir that he needed to speak to now.
He found the Nord elder in the main hall, kneeling on the stone floor with his hands slightly outstretched. He stood watching for a moment, unsure of whether or not he should interrupt. Arngeir didn't seem to be aware of him – Ozan moved silently by instinct, even in a place of safety.
He waited for some time before deciding he might as well make the Nord aware of his presence. He took a step forward, letting the sound of his feet on the floor echo through the chamber.
Arngeir raised his head. 'Is there something you need, Dragonborn?'
Ozan hesitated, then sat cross-legged opposite Arngeir. 'Why me?' he said quietly.
The Greybeard frowned. 'Why not you, Dragonborn?'
Though he kept his face impassive, as always, Ozan found himself surprised. Wasn't it obvious? 'I'm a strange choice.' When Argneir did not reply, he said, 'For a hero.'
'Akatosh would not have chosen you if he did not think you were worthy of the position,' Arngeir said simply, and closed his eyes again as if that answered everything.
Ozan stared at him for a moment. 'You doubt me,' he said at last.
Arngeir did not move at first. Then he opened his eyes and gazed calmly at Ozan. 'I agree that you were an unusual choice,' he said slowly. 'But I do not think there can be any question that you are the right one.'
'I'm no hero.' They were words that he had found himself shouting inside his mind a thousand times over the past day.
A smile tugged at the corner of Arngeir's mouth. 'Not yet, maybe.'
'I have killed people.' Ozan watched the Nord's face carefully to see how he would react to this, and when given no response, added, 'When others have ordered me to kill.'
'Your former line of work isn't a factor in this,' Anrgeir replied. 'What you do know is the important thing. If you choose to fulfil your destiny and confront the World Eater, then you shall be a hero. If you do nothing, and allow Alduin to consume this world, then you will have proven yourself unworthy.'
'I wouldn't,' Ozan said instantly.
'Wouldn't let him destroy the world? No, I didn't think so.' Arngeir looked at him carefully. 'And why is that, Dragonborn?'
Ozan stared at him, realising to his surprise that this was a question he couldn't answer. Why was he willing to do this?
The answer didn't take too much thinking about. He had been brought up to kill; as far as he was concerned, death was a part of life. But never once had he killed without a reason. He would never end a life for no other reason than the fun of it. And that was what Alduin planned to do.
The world was not a good place. It was filled with people – people who were cruel and selfish and callous. People who saw no harm in betraying a city to the Dominion. People who could murder a girl in front of her brother, and laugh. And people like him.
But there were also people like Meerah, who cared for you and watched over you. People like Kematu, who valued your talents and respected your decisions. People like Jenassa, who followed you into danger and were willing to risk their lives to fight beside you.
They were few and far between. But they were worth saving.
And if there was no one else to do it, he might as well try.
'The people,' he said.
Arngeir smiled again. 'And that alone is enough to make you a better man than you seem to think you are.'
Ozan laughed mentally. He wasn't a good man, he knew that. But Arngeir's words pleased him, all the same.
'There is a word in the dragon tongue,' Arngeir said suddenly. 'Vulkun. The most literal translation would be 'dark light.' Something of a contradiction, perhaps, but then the word is used to describe contradictions – or rather, people who live a contradicting life.'
Ozan looked at him blankly.
'Vulkun… the dragons use it as a name for people who walk a dark path, but bring light by doing so. Do you follow?'
After a moment of thought, Ozan shook his head.
Arngeir frowned. 'Dragonborn, you may do things that you, and others, deem cruel, but it is possible for you to do great things for this world by doing them. I do not and never will say that the end always justifies the means, but doing such things does not always make you an evil person. There are very few evil people in this world, and you are not one of them. I would say you are an example of what the dragons call Vulkun.'
Ozan said nothing, because he knew that Arngeir was wrong. There were all too many evil people on Nirn. But perhaps the Greybeard was right about him. As far as Ozan was concerned, evil was what you did, not what you were. And as far as he knew, he had never yet done anything truly evil.
He hoped he had never done anything truly evil.
'If I were you, I would get some rest.' Arngeir closed his eyes again. 'You and your friend have a long journey ahead of you tomorrow.'
Ozan nodded and rose to his feet. His steps made no sound on the stone floor as he left the room, pausing only briefly in the doorway to turn back and say, 'Thank you.'
At first, he headed towards the room where the Greybeards had set out beds for him and Jenassa; then, on impulse, he turned towards the door that led outside, facing the seven thousand steps. A blood-chilling breeze lashed at his face as he stepped out into the snow, and he shivered despite himself. The cold of Skyrim was something it was hard for him to get used to after so long in the warm sands of Hammerfell. This country could hardly be more different to his homeland.
Ozan did not know why it was that he had come to be here, standing on this mountain, looking out over this rugged, untamed country. But what he did know was that there was no use denying it. If this was his destiny, he would not fight it.
He was unsurprised to hear Jenassa's voice. He nodded.
The Dunmer woman approached, the snow crunching beneath her feet, until she stood beside him. 'Hmm. Me too. I think we're a little too high up here for me to be comfortable.'
Ozan nodded again, but he knew that the altitude, disturbing though it was, had nothing to do with his restlessness.
'And there's a lot for us to think about, I suppose. How do you feel about this, now that you've spoken to the Greybeards?'
Ozan sighed. 'Things are clearer now.'
'And will you go looking for that horn for them?'
He dipped his head. 'Will you come?'
'Of course. I'll fight beside you for as long as you need me.'
That was some comfort, but the empty feeling inside him remained. He wondered if he should break the habit of a lifetime and attempt to put what he was feeling into words, and eventually, he decided to do so.
'I don't know what's going to happen,' he said.
Jenassa gave him a long, searching look. 'Well, the only way to find out is to let everything come, and see how it unfolds.'
She was right, of course.
He turned his gaze upwards, staring at the stars. The same stars, he knew, were shining over Hammerfell, over Kematu and the Alik'r as they took Iman back to face justice, over Meerah's grave on the shores of the Abacean Sea. He, like Meerah, and like all mortals, would live and die and move on to whatever awaited him, and those stars would shine on. His life mattered little, when all was said and done.
Those stars were surrounded by darkness. But they brought light. Though his mouth did not move, Ozan smiled in his mind.
He did not know what future lay in wait for him. But if he truly could be what the dragons called vulkun, then Ozan was ready to face it.