Crown of Thorns

The war was something that she never desired, but her birthright as a daughter of the Yagari family forced her to be a part of it. She killed level Est and slowly destroyed herself until the night her life was saved. Salvation was a distant dream, but maybe it was closer than she had originally believed.

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15. An Unwanted Arrangement

Her arm felt warm where his lips had touched them. She wondered why the sensations still lingered. Rubbing her arms, she tried to push what had happened to the back of her mind. It was difficult. What Takeshi had said haunted her. Try as she might to ignore the words and throw them to the wind, they would not leave her. Did she want to forget his words? She wasn't sure. Of course, she wasn't certain about much anymore. There was the weight of eyes on her. It was familiar, but she could not place whose gaze that it was. Experience told her that it was either a vampire or another human, but there was no one within the vicinity of her. At least, no one that was close enough to sense. She stopped walking and glanced over her shoulder. There was nothing. My imagination...? No... I am probably just tired. She started walking again. Home wasn't too far away. She found herself looking forward to returning. While she didn't want to see Toga or her father, she needed to rest. Her mind was starting to play tricks on her, which was far from good. She needed a clear mind. To not have such a thing was dangerous. The house, her home, rose before her and she started walking a little faster. Reaching the front door, she started to open it only to stop. The door was unlocked. Frowning, she pushed the door open. The house felt strange. An intruder? No... That can't be it. She paused in the entryway and looked around, trying to figure out what was wrong.

"Shiriko."

She startled. Turning, she faced her father. "I did not know that you were home."

"I finished my mission."

His gaze was intense. She looked away, feeling uncomfortable.

He regarded her in silence for a moment. "Are you not going to remove your shoes?"

"Y-Yes, of course." She felt like a child again. Removing her boots, she then set them down before hanging up her coat.

"I see that you are unharmed."

"Yes."

"Come."

She followed him as he started to walk to the sitting room. He motioned for her to sit and after a moment of hesitation she did so. Tea had been prepared and she watched as he poured her a cup. "Thank you," she said, taking it from him.

"Have you been well?"

"As well as I can be."

He nodded.

She took a sip of her tea, staring at him through the tea. He was acting strange. She could not recall the last time that they had both sat down and had a conversation. There was something going on. She could not tell what it was.

"It is rude to stare."

"I am sorry," she said, quickly lowering her gaze. Silence ensued. She could feel him scrutinizing her. It was not something that she was fond of, but she could not tell him such a thing. "Are you well, Father?"

"I am."

Lifting her gaze, she met his dark one. There was no lie that she could see. That was good. She nodded slightly before lowering her gaze. For the first time in a while she knew that he was well. It was nice, but that was overshadowed by the sense of unease at the back of her mind.

"Do you remember Kenta?"

The question was unexpected and seemed to be random. However, her father was never one to say something without reason. "Yes." She knew the man well. For a few years, she had hunted with him intermittently before they went their separate ways.

"I have seen him recently."

She set her cup of tea down. "How is he?"

"He is well."

The conversation was being led somewhere. She felt a growing sense of dread within her.

"He expressed interest in you."

She said nothing, waiting for him to continue. What he said... The implication alone... A knot had formed in her throat and she tried to ignore it.

"We had a long discussion about you."

"You wish for me to marry, Kenta," she interrupted. He didn't say anything, but she could see the answer in his eyes. The very thought was less than appealing. While the man was a good hunter, she barely knew him. Personal lives were never involved in the hunt.

"Yes."

She shook her head. Standing up, she started to pace the room. He wanted her to marry Kenta. It was a disgusting thought. She had no wish to marry him. He had said himself that she could find her own husband. Why would he go back on his word. She stopped and looked at him again. There was the faintest hope within her that this was just a cruel trick. "You cannot be serious about this, Father."

"The arrangements have been made."

"I do not consent."

"You do not have a choice." Standing, he looked with fury at her. She froze under his gaze. He could see fear and uncertainty in her eyes. That was a good thing. "You will do this." He took a step towards her, causing her to back up into the wall. "You think that you know what is best for you, but you do not. I will not stand by and allow you and Toga to commit sin beneath this roof."

Her eyes widened.

"I am not as blind as you believe me to be." He brushed his hand against her cheek. There was an unreadable emotion in her eyes. "I will save you, my dear Shiriko."

"You will kill me."

"No." He closed the space between them and pressed his lips to her forehead. "I promised your mother that I would protect you and Toga at all costs. I will keep my promise."

It was unfair. He was using her memory against her. She turned away, closing her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall.

He brushed some hair from her face before stepping away from her.

 

Toga glanced at the two pairs of boots on the mat beside the door. Father is home. He set his own boots down before walking into the kitchen. It was empty. Walking through the rest of the house, he eventually found them in the sitting room.

"Welcome home, Toga."

He didn't say anything. Their father was being unusually pleasant. Considering how they had parted ways... He turned his gaze to Shiriko. She was silent, staring at the ground. Something was wrong.

"Sit down, Toga."

His gaze returned to their father. After a moment, he did as he had said.

He offered Toga a cup of tea that was refused. "Shiriko had some good news."

"What is that?"

"She is to marry Kenta."

At his words she visibly flinched.

A coldness swept through his being. He had incorrectly. Turning his gaze to Shiriko, he looked for any sign that their father was lying. There was none.

"You should offer your sister your congratulations."

"Congratulations," he said mechanically.

He smirked at his son's expression. It vanished in an instant. Taking a sip of tea, he then stood. "If you would excuse me, there are arrangements that must be made."

His father's footsteps seemed to echo in the house as he walked away. A few minutes later, he heard the front door open and then close. They were left alone.

The weight of Toga's gaze was heavy. It felt as though he were burning her. She closed her eyes, wishing the feeling to be gone. "Toga..." Her voice sounded weak, quiet. He said nothing and the silence continued. She opened her eyes. Gathering her courage, she looked at him. "Toga."

"Did you consent to this marriage?"

He question caught her off guard. His look was dark and it almost made her back down. She frowned. "Of course I did not, Toga." She met his glare with her own. "Do not think that this is because of what happened between us. I would not marry a man just to escape you. You are my brother." Her tone lost its sharpness. "This is father's doing, not mine."

He stared at her for a moment longer before looking away. "This... You can't let this happen."

"I do not have a choice."

His gaze returned to her, his eyes blazing. "You always have a choice. You are just doing what father wants," he snapped.

"Toga-"

"Why do you submit to him? He cares nothing about you."

"That isn't fair."

He drew his knife and shoved it into her hands. "Then spare your honor and take your own life now."

Her gaze lowered to the knife in her hands. She tightened her grip on it before throwing it aside. Pushing him away, she stormed down the all.

His glare followed her. Gradually, his gaze softened. Regret for his words and what he had wanted her to do started to sink in. Following her, he caught sight of her before the door that led outside slammed closed behind her. It swung open with a bang and he stepped outside. "Shiriko!" Looking around, she was no where to be seen.

 

The branches tore at her as she run. Beneath her feet, twigs snapped. She was making a terrible amount of noise, but she did nothing to quiet the sound of her passing. The marble grave of her mother was far behind her.

"I promised your mother that I would protect you and Toga. I will keep that promise."

Liar. Their mother would not have him do such a thing. The woman that she remembered would not force her into a marriage that she did not want. Her foot caught on a raised root and she stumbled. Managing to regain her balance, she continued running. Somewhere behind her she could hear the faint sound of Toga calling for her. It was her imagination. She was too far away now. She had run too far. He was behind her. She collapsed to the ground. Breathing heavily, she tried to relieve the burning sensation in her lungs.

"Then spare your honor and take your own life now."

"Bastard!" She closed her eyes. "Toga, you bastard." He was just like father. He had become that vile man. "Why? Why did you let this happen?" There was no answer. Above her the leaves rustled as the wind played with them. Gasping, she swallowed thickly. Her throat was dry. "Why?" she asked quietly.

 

The sound of the door opening caused him to jump to his feet. Walking into the hall, Toga paused at the sight of her. She looked different. "Shiriko..."

She glanced at him before walking to the staircase, neglecting to speak to him.

He watched her go. Something had changed in her.

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