Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
“If any can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let them now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold their peace.”
The traditional silence falls. Then a grating voice sounds in everyone’s minds.
“I speak for the dead. Conrad Conal Mulligan, your debt is due. Before whichever god is invoked and these witnesses, they call blood toll upon thee.”
Heads turn as the groom spins on his heel, away from the bride. The best man lunges to catch her as she collapses.
Three white-masked figures stand at the end of the aisle. Candlelight flickers on demonic faces and reflects from the polished surfaces of weapons. The robed giant on the left and the suited midget on the right cradle blasters. The kilted figure between them clutches a long knife in a white-knuckle grip. It lowers the blade and steps forward with left arm extended, clenched fist dripping slow drops of crimson rebuke onto the worn flagstones.
Francesca looks up from where she crouches in Wren’s arms, tears ruining her makeup and voice punctuated by sobs.
“For pity’s sake, Conal. Tell these idiot kitsune they have the wrong wedding.”
He looks down at her and smiles.
“They don’t. Conrad was my name.”
The smile vanishes. He squares his shoulders and turns his attention back to the interlopers.
“Today was to be a new start. While it’s become an end, I dispute any finality.”
The giant moves to one side. Into the space vacated steps a slight figure. Black-tipped ears poke through hair the same shade as Francesca’s. Except this hair moves of its own accord, surrounding a vulpine face dominated by enormous violet eyes.
There’s a shocked murmuring: another kitsune from some Aranoshi Reaches clan, but this one stands bare-faced!
Conal’s skin turns ash-pale.
A reedy voice chimes in the minds of all present.
“You slew my clan to steal my sister, convinced of her affections. When you continued to ignore the truth, my twin chose the void. Still you did not regret. The deaths started as a sad misunderstanding. They became murders when you took Leshtari from our home and drove her to leap into the sunless dark to escape your obsession. Murders capped by an unforgivable act of selfishness. Yet, ‘just another failed romance’ is how you term it. Never revealing it as the reason why you dare not fare off this planet.
When sympathisers sent me the marriage notice containing your picture, I quit the mountains of my home, bought a ronin ship – as they will defy laws to serve honour – and came here to end your charade. My sister’s memory shall not be sullied further. Blithe liar, I contest your dispute with my blood. Blood that stands alone, last in line, by your hand.”
Conal staggers as if struck, turning back to look at Francesca.
His tone is resigned: “The past I told you skipped a few things. Besides, with you, I found the love that damned fox denied me. Couldn’t pass up on that.”
Francesca blinks, tears drying. She looks at Wren, finds him looking at her. They both turn to look at Conal.
Who steps further away, gesturing for the vicar to step toward them, then looks at Wren and smiles.
“Look after her, old son. I know you’d be together if not for my arrival.”
There’s a flash of blinding white light with a noise like leaves rustling. By the time anyone can see again, the kitsune are gone and there’s nothing but a scattering of bloodied dust to mark where he stood.