Between Syr and Hörn
Hörn was always watching that boy’s unsightliness.
“Do you remember the promise you made with me…the requirement if Bell discovered your lie? You may no longer contact him. I will not allow you to appear before him.”
In accordance with Freya’s order, she was careful not to allow herself to be seen, but she was always watching Bell Cranell fight in Folkvangr.
At times by simply looking down from the window of her room. At others by using her magic and watching through Freya’s eyes.
She fulfilled the duty the goddess had assigned her while watching him more than any of the goddess’s other followers did.
Those words always fell from her lips when she was alone.
Being pummeled by Hedin, rolling across the ground, tears welling in his eyes, struggling desperately against a swirling storm of violence. No, what he was struggling against might have been the sandbox that Freya had constructed around him. Desperately writhing in agony, screaming in tears, displaying a pitiful figure as he struggled against a world that affirmed Freya Familia’s Bell Cranell and rejected Hestia Familia’s Bell.
Hörn watched that unsightly boy with cold eyes.
“This is your punishment…for tormenting the goddess, for pushing her this far…”
She murmured it, sure of its meaning.
However, for some reason, she could not bring herself to think that he truly deserved it.
If she were asked if this was the situation she had imagined, she would be at a loss for a response.
Her attempt to assassinate Bell during the Goddess Festival had ended in failure.
If she had to guess, her plan to have Bell himself seal Syr’s fate had been a partial success and a partial failure.
When he rejected Syr’s feelings, Freya was no longer going to lower herself to being just a mere girl. She remained the sublime and supernatural goddess just as Hörn had hoped.
But her obsession with the boy remained. If anything, it seemed to have transformed into something more intense and more twisted.
Hörn had not been executed.
She had resolved herself to die to preserve the goddess’s existence, but Freya in her mercy had spared her.
It was surely its own form of punishment, living with the shame.
There was not a single moment when Hörn did not feel guilty for what she had done to Freya, and no matter how hard she worked and how faithfully she exerted herself, she could not look upon the goddess’s countenance as she had before.
Also, the eyes of the other attendants when they looked at her were subtly painful.
They did not bully or ignore her, but the way they looked at her with pity and whispered when she was not watching was so difficult to bear. And Freya had indulged in an impish sadism by telling them precisely what it was that Hörn had done. And the glares from Allen and the others were terribly unpleasant. As if they were asking, “Why the hell are you still serving the goddess and not dead and buried yet?”
And when her thoughts reached that point, she scoffed to herself that she was a criminal just like him.
Though they expressed it in different ways, Bell and Hörn were both unsightly.
A twisted empathy started to make her expression shift into a smile—but Hörn’s lip immediately warped in distaste.
“Why must I feel so happy at having something in common with you…? This is absurd.”
As she watched the boy splay out on the field below after getting knocked down.
“Miss Hörn has started to talking to herself more lately.”
She had not yet noticed that the other attendants had started whispering comments like that behind her back.
As she prepared to go outside the city in order to maintain Freya’s sandbox, as she was walking down a corridor of the home, she heard a voice around the corner.
“Umm, Heith…is there someone named Hörn in Freya Familia…?”
“…There is. Obviously. She’s the goddess’s attendant after all. Did you forget that, too?”
She was jolted out of her thoughts and immediately hid against the wall.
Peeking out around the corner, she saw the healer Heith and Bell standing there talking.
Bell was apparently taking the day off from the baptism in order to go out.
For some reason, she had been startled to hear the boy say her name.
“Why do you ask?”
“Umm…I’m going to Lady Freya’s chambers every night, and yet I haven’t seen Hörn at all, so it just seemed a little strange…”
Hörn’s lips curled subtly as she focused her ears to listen in on them.
She had been strictly ordered not to appear before Bell, but Bell had no way of knowing that. She could not interact with him in order to make sure he did not notice the truth of what had happened during the Goddess Festival, but not unexpectedly he had noticed the unnaturalness of the situation.
She watched on edge, wondering how Heith would respond.
“…Ahh, that’s what you mean. It’s because you walked in on Hörn while she was changing.”
Hörn almost burst as the boy cried out.
She coughed while turning red to the ears, but miraculously Bell did not notice while in the grips of his own agitation.
“With the perfect timing, you ended up going into her room while she was changing and ended up getting a perfect look of her in the black lingerie she always wears.”
“And to top it all off, as if by some rule of nature or something, you ended up tripping and falling face-first into her soft breasts.”
“Why did that happen?!”
“She turned bright red and just let you have it, and afterward she purified herself by dousing her whole body in holy water, hid away in her room without eating or drinking anything for three days and three nights, offering a prayer and a vow to Lady Freya and all the gods and goddesses that she would never appear before you again, never approach you again, and never look at you again.”
“She went that far?!”
I did not! Who would do that?!
Hörn screamed in her heart.
If something like that happened, there’s honestly a good chance I might do something similar, but that never happened!
After a few more questions and answers, Bell left on unsteady legs, and Hörn, her face still red, approached Heith.
“Hello, Hörn. Yeah, that was dangerous. I’d say that was some good thinking on my feet and all around a decent job.” Heith pretended to wipe her brow.
“What part of that was nice?! What was that story?!”
The healer just shrugged at her colleague’s menacing glare.
“I’m the one having to clean up after you, so just give me a break. It’s a little unreasonable.”
Hörn’s momentum stalled when confronted by Heith’s tone, which did not contain even a trace of disagreeableness. She was just saying what she thought.
Suddenly, Heith looked closely at Hörn—at the girl who had been listening in on her conversation with Bell—and asked:
“I know your situation of being pulled by Lady Freya, but…are you still attached to him?”
“The honor of experiencing the countercurrent of Lady Freya’s love is wondrous. I can’t begin to imagine it, and I’m jealous of it, too, but…why not draw a line already?”
Hörn started to indignantly shout that such a mistaken observation was badly misdirected. But she stopped just before opening her mouth.
She recognized that she had lost her composure. In order to calm herself, she asked Heith a question instead.
“…What of you, Heith? You seem to be interacting with him quite a bit.”
“Me? I definitely like him.”
Heith continued with an untroubled pace as Hörn revealed a stunned expression.
“He is special to Lady Freya, so I would never in a million years do anything inappropriate, but…even if I wasn’t the healer assigned to monitor him, I wouldn’t mind taking care of him. Compared to the captain and them and their complete and utter lack of interpersonal skills, he’s honest and cute.”
“Ghh…! Have some shame! If you lie down with dogs, you will wake up with fleas! What are you going to do if you end up caught in that terrible, worthless man’s spell?!”
“Please don’t say it so crudely. You’re leaping to some pretty tenuous conclusions. It’s not like I’m over here professing eternal love for him or anything.” Heith sounded fed up as she confidently stated, “My everything belongs to Lady Freya.”
Her behavior was polished and refined, but she still had some sort of amiable charm, the exact opposite of Hörn.
Heith Velvet was an alluring girl no matter who was looking, man or woman.
Her pale red hair was tied back in two braids, and the red apron and white dress that she wore brought to mind the image of a nurse.
Her figure had a goddess’s good looks, and aside from the fact that her eyes looked dead from being so heavily worked every day, she was cute and wise, not more stubborn than Hörn, and generally harmless (with the exception of topics involving Freya, where she was like every other member of the familia).
She had a reasonable and serious personality, and if she had not been in Freya Familia, everyone would be friendly with her. Hörn had even heard adventurers talking about the two great healer girls, the silver saint Amid and the golden witch Heith.
The only time Hörn’s voice became rougher and lost its respectful tone was around her. She was by no means a friend, but they were of the same generation, and she was affected by the mood she evoked.
If Hörn was icy, then Heith was a flower atop a hill blooming without a care in the world.
…Heith and Lady Syr are both the polar opposites of me…
Did that foolish man let his guard down around members of the other sex like them?
Thinking on it, I have seen him with Heith often—
While Hörn had continued to reflect on the honor of being Freya’s attendant, she had not thought at all about the other girls her age.
However now, for some reason, she was on the verge of feeling a sort of jealousy toward other women.
“—Also, could you stop always watching me when I’m talking to him? I can feel you staring from the window of the manor all the time…It’s honestly kinda scary.”
Perhaps noticing what Hörn was thinking, Heith chimed in.
This time Hörn had nothing to say.
Not because she had been noticed, but because she had not realized she had been doing it until Heith pointed it out.
Heith was to accompany Bell as a healer out on the field of battle, and yet she had glared holes into her.
Heith watched Hörn carefully as she froze at being caught out like that.
And then she sighed ostentatiously.
“You’re too desperate. It’s almost like you love Bell more than her.”
Hörn blushed redder than she ever had before.
And so the humiliating days continued.
The amount of time she spent thinking about Bell increased because of that unnecessary comment by Heith. She started noticing it. It was all Heith’s fault—no, the boy’s fault.
The days passed in the blink of an eye, but his spirit still refused to break.
He was still roiling Hörn’s heart.
As the sun set in the west, the boy screamed, roasted by the white elf’s lightning.
And after being bathed in healing light, crying tears of terrible pain, he stood up again.
As if he understood that he would not be able to stand up again if his will broke there.
And Hörn unsurprisingly was watching it from a window in the mansion, a hand resting on her breast.
“…I don’t understand…”
While she watched him through her own eyes, the boy looked both terribly unrefined and more earnest than anyone.
The number of times she had looked at Bell through her own eyes were surprisingly few.
She was always looking at him through the goddess’s senses.
Without the filter of Freya’s senses, though, the feeling she had when she looked at him through her own eyes was bitter adoration.
He’s just like the old me—
Bell was currently utterly alone, just like the girl who had once been named Syr.
Cast out by the world, with none who would affirm him.
She had thought that Bell would shudder in a cold chill, unable to do anything once he was trapped in Folkvangr, just like she had been before.
But he was different.
Even though in the truest sense of it he was alone and without any allies, even if he was unsightly, he still continued to struggle, to fight.
Even though he was still lost and unsure.
Even though she had immediately taken the goddess’s outstretched hand on that snowy day in the slum.
He still didn’t take the goddess’s hand.
Bell was strong.
Stronger than the reports about him would indicate.
Far stronger than she could have imagined.
Far, far stronger than the old her.
It made her jealous, it was bitter, and it was dazzling.
Hörn had to admit that she was chasing after the boy she saw in her own eyes, not a reflection of what the goddess saw.
“…No. No! I can’t have feelings for him!”
Hörn looked down at the floor as she shouted.
Pulling her gaze from the scene outside the window, she shook her head over and over as she stood alone in the room lit by the setting sun.
“This is just Lady Freya’s feelings! They aren’t mine at all!”
There was no one there to agree or disagree with what she was saying.
She tried to convince herself that she was just being deluded by the goddess’s feelings, but the emotions pouring out from inside her proved otherwise.
“They aren’t mine…!”
What if Syr was not Freya…?
What if Hörn had remained Syr?
Would she have been able to love him?
If she ran outside right that moment, rushed over to the boy collapsed on the field, held him tight to her, protected him from the einherjar wounding his body, could she be forgiven for doing that—?
And when she thought of that what-if, Hörn wanted to kill herself, even if it meant tearing herself free from the goddess’s command.
She could hear the boy’s groans and battle cries.
And a single drop fell to her feet.
And as if mirroring Hörn’s anguish, a change visited the goddess as well.
At night in the goddess’s chambers, after the boy had retired for the night, the goddess’s emotions flowed into Hörn.
At first, she thought it was just her imagination. But it was anything but.
When he had complimented her dress, when she had silently looked into her wine, it had shaken Hörn’s heart.
My right eye is—
A change had occurred in Hörn’s body when she had received Freya’s falna and gained her transformation magic.
Her right eye.
When transformed into a goddess, that eye lost its original color, and took on a silver or, at a certain angle, a bluish-gray color.
She believed it to be the price paid for a diminutive human attempting to become a goddess.
There were moments when even though she was not using her magic, Freya’s emotions flowed into her through her right eye. It was just the slightest bit of the goddess when compared to when she was using Vana Seiðr.
But in that moment, even though the goddess herself did not notice it—there was a girl crying alone in a field of flowers.
—When she felt it, Hörn was speechless.
—She was crying.
—She was hurting.
—She was suffering.
—Then she is—
“What are you doing?”
The voice broke the magic that Hörn had activated.
As the goddess still held the paired hair ornament to her breast on the other side of the door, Hörn left the place, trying to escape.
She ran away, fleeing to her empty room and locking the door before collapsing.
“My way didn’t work…? And even with her method, the goddess is still—”
She hugged herself tightly as she murmured in shock. Her nails dug into her arms, and she struggled to restrain her trembling body.
She had to make a decision.
Would she just watch and do nothing?
Or would she sully the goddess’s mercy, become truly shameless, and betray her a second time?
It was a fork in the road.
Would she continue to live as Hörn?
Or return to Syr?
Would she forget everything of the goddess and just one time appear before the boy?
May I accept these feelings—
“—The answer to that is obvious.”
After a long time, Hörn looked up.
The moonlight shone on her beautiful features.
“I’m Hörn, daughter of the gods.”
“My craving for you was the first thing I yearned for. I’m here because I chased after you.”
She smiled as tears ran down her cheek.
“I will offer up this life that you saved so that I might save you.”
She chose the goddess’s attendant.
She would never choose Syr again.
Grasping her hands, she closed her eyes. She made a vow to the moon as she returned all of herself, and all of her feelings toward the boy, to her.