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Fighting Uphill (Chapter Cover Art)

Fighting Uphill - Chapter 26[]

Hi Everyone​[]


Greeting the Guests[]

7th November, 3015
Hilton's Head, Terra
Sol Star System


"Colonel Wolf." Captain-General Duncan Marik greeted. Candace was by his side. They were going to be married in three days. Duncan was seeing some of his favorite people again. He was on Terra, homeworld of all humanity as an honored guest. Life was good, and he was bound and determined to keep it that way. "Thank you so much for coming."

Duncan and Candace were holding a pre-wedding reception party, greeting their guests as they arrived. Technically, most of the guests had already been arriving on Terra for the past week, but this party was the first social event where they were all getting together to mingle. Given that the guests came from all over the Inner Sphere, many were heads of State, and those States were at war with each other, ballroom conversation was sure to be... spicy.

However, Comstar was hosting the wedding, and no guest was even let on the planet without first swearing an oath that they wouldn't attack any of the other guests even if said guests were their mortal enemies. And just to make sure they kept those oaths, Comstar was checking everyone for weapons.

"Thank you for the invitation, Captain-General." Colonel Jaime wolf replied. He too had a woman on his arm, and two more girls with him. "Allow me to introduce my wife Ellen, and my daughters Lynn and Brigit. Ellen, girls, this is Captain-General Duncan Marik and his bride to be, Senior Colonel Candace Liao."

Pleasantries were quickly exchanged all around.

"Technically, it's Duchess Candace Liao now, Colonel." Candace corrected. "It seems my great aunt decided to give me an early wedding gift: the title to the Saint Ives Commonality."

"That is going to be hard to top, your Grace." Ellen replied, a bit reticent about speaking to such powerful people. "I know Jaime's and Natasha's gifts are not nearly so grand."

"I'm sure my future father-in-law is going to try to top it...oof!" Duncan grunted as Candace elbowed him. "Oh, right, shouldn't talk about that."

"No, you shouldn't." Candace said pointedly. "Especially since you're the one insisting that we don't 'discuss business' with anyone until after we're married."

"Given who all your guests are, that might be rather difficult." Jaime commented, looking around the room at all the high powered political figures.


Brothers reunited[]


"Ian!"

"Hanse!" First Prince Ian Davion returned, giving his little brother a big hug. "It's been too long. For a moment, I thought you weren't going to make it."

"I almost didn't." Hanse told his older brother. "Our Dropship just landed and we came straight here."

"And who is this lovely lady?" Ian asked as he turned to the woman on Hanse's arm.

"As if you didn't already know." Hanse laughed. "Ian, meet my fiancee, Dana Stephenson. Dana, my brother Ian."

"My Prince." Dana greeted with as much of a bow she could manage without letting go of Hanse's arm. It wasn't everyday that she got to meet her head of state. "It's an honor to finally meet you."

"And it's an honor to meet the woman who has captured my brother's heart." Ian replied graciously.

"Speaking of captured hearts, Ian, has anyone captured yours?" Hanse asked. "I'm actually starting to get nervous that I'll actually become First Prince."

"Finding someone I want to spend the rest of my life with isn't easy when I'm already First Prince, Hanse." Ian replied. "I keep finding myself second guessing the motives of possible marriage prospects, wondering if they're really interested in me or just my position. And that just kills any romance for me before it even has to start. Although." Ian got a wistful look as he stared off in the distance, "I did meet someone that did catch my interest." Ian said softly. "But as luck would have it, she wasn't interested in me, not romantically anyway."

"Really, Ian?" Hanse said, surprised. "To whom is this paragon of virtue that has captured your heart?"

Ian said nothing, just continued staring. Dana leaned over to follow the First Prince's gaze, and her eyes widened in surprise. Hanse noticed, and turned to see Duncan and Candace greeting their next guests.

"Ian, you certainly don't aim low." Hanse murmured, impressed.


Meet the Steiners![]


Captain-General Marik, Duchess Liao." Archon Katrina Steiner greeted. "Such a pleasure to finally meet you too. Please allow me to thank you both for the peace on our mutual borders after the... unpleasantness involving your uncle and my uncle."

"You're welcome, Archon Katrina." Duncan replied. "After thirteen years of war, my people are quite sick of fighting, If anything, I should thank you for not continuing your uncle Alessandro's attempts to claim systems from the League."

"I think that might have something to do with..." Candace began. But a squeeze and look from Duncan stopped her. "Right, no business!" Candace said quickly with a laugh. Movement out of the corner of her eye caught Candace's attention and she looked down. "Oh, who is this?"

"Ah, forgive my manners." Katrina apologized, bringing forward a little girl with long blonde hair that had been attempting to hide in the folds of Katrina's dress. "This is my daughter, Melissa. Melissa, say hello to Captain-General Duncan Marik and Duchess Candace Liao."

"Hello." little Melissa said shyly while apparently attempting to dive back inside Katrina's dress. A firm hand by Katrina kept Melissa front and center.

"Um, hello." Duncan replied awkwardly. Katrina was amused to note that Duncan seemed to have no idea what to say to small children.

"Hello, Melissa." Candace said, bending over. She seemed to have more of any idea of how to talk to children. "I'm Candace. You're very pretty."

"Thank you, Candace." Melissa replied, a bit less shyly. Her efforts to hide behind her mother abated a bit as well.

"I hope my children will be as pretty as you." Candace continued. "How old are you?"

"Five years, and two months, and..." Melissa paused for a moment, scrunching up her face in thought and then concluded proudly with, "...and twenty days."

Candace blinked in surprise. Most children would have just added "and a half" or some vague fraction to their age to make themselves look as old and mature as possible. And not many adults could tell their age to the day without first consulting a calendar and doing a lot of counting.

Melissa started to fidget nervously at the dragged out silence.

"That's... that's impressive." Candace said faintly. Then more normally, "Did you figure that number out just now, Melissa?"

"Yes." Melissa answered, nodding.

"That is very impressive, especially at five years old." Duncan agreed. He looked at Katrina. "No insult to your daughter, Archon, but I hope you reign long and well."

"Why thank you, Captain-General." Katrina replied dryly with a smile on her face. Her daughter tended to elicit such reactions. "And I hope the same for you as well. Good neighbors are so hard to find."

"Mother." Melissa called, tugging on Katrina's dress. "When I get married, can I have big a wedding like this?"

Enters the Dragon[]


Coordinator Takashi Kurita was a rock, strong and silent and still as the wedding guests swirled around him chatting whatever inane topic came into their minds. Social events like this were not his forte, but his wife Jasmine lived for parties like this, and she was doing more than enough chatting for the both of them. And Takashi was eternally grateful for Jasmine taking the pressure to be sociable off him, drawing conversation away from her husband like a lightning rod so that Takashi wouldn't accidentally embarrass himself.

But now the Brownian motion of the party brought Colonel Jaime Wolf and his wife into Jasmine's orbit, and the "mercenary" was definitely someone that Takashi actually wanted to talk to.

"Colonel Wolf." Takashi began as Jasmine engaged Wolf's wife, Ellen. "I was greatly disappointed when I learned you had chosen to work for the Lyran Commonwealth rather than the Draconis Combine." At Jasmine's alarmed looked, Takashi realized he may have been too abrupt and added. "I'm curious as to your reasoning why."

"I meant no offense to you, Coordinator." Colonel Wolf replied with a slight bow. "But in the end, my decision boiled down to simple proximity. The Commonwealth was simply physically closer to where we were stationed than the Combine. With peace descending upon the Free Worlds League and between them and the Lyran Commonwealth, my Dragoons have been left with almost no one to fight and were getting getting restless."

"Ah, your warriors want the honor and glory of combat." Takashi said, understanding. "Mine have been just as restless and are eager to test themselves against the Combine's enemies."

"So my people have noticed." Wolf agreed. "They have seen that your soldiers are very brave. But, ah, many of them could use more time on the practice range."

"Others have advised me so as well." Takashi replied with a nod of acknowledgment, thinking of his son's messages saying exactly that. Given how long the Great Army of the Dragon had been building up, Takashi supposed that he should have budgeted for more building more target ranges and practice targeting for the Great Army's mechwarrior recruits. Ah, but that was hindsight; it was too late to do that now. "Perhaps when it comes for my turn to employ you, Colonel, you could teach the DCMS how General Kerensky's descendants wage war."

Colonel Wolf sighed heavily. "Coordinator, I don't suppose you would believe any protests on my part that I am only a mercenary?" Wolf asked in a resigned tone.

"Of course not." Takashi replied. "If you were truly 'only a mercenary', I would have expected to see more mercenary groups like yours from your people."


Chat between Hanse and Bride to Be[]


"Prince Hanse." Candace said after the initial introductions were done, "I wanted to thank you for not attacking Oriente when you had the chance."

"You're welcome, Your Grace." Hanse replied. "Although you should thank your future husband more than I. I knew Robert Marik was... less than intrepid shall we say. But I never imagined that he'd be so feckless as to give up the campaign over nothing but a live interstellar holovid call."

"I guess I'm just that persuasive." Duncan said smugly.

"As I have thanked Duncan, Your Highness." Candace said, leaning into Duncan and running a finger along his chest. "And I plan to do so much more 'thanking' of him after we're married."

Duncan for his part just grinned dreamily rather than speak some more.
"Wait, isn't Oriente a League planet?" Dana asked, confused.

"It is, but my father invested so many resources into building its industries and military facilities up that it would have hurt so much to lose it." Candace answered, not looking at her, but at Hanse.

Hanse was about to make a crack about satisfying his destructive urges on the military infrastructure of the Capellan owned worlds on his way to New Aragon, but Duncan spoke first.

"Candy, no business, remember?" Duncan reminded her.

"Fine, fine." Candace sighed with exasperation. "My apologies, Prince Hanse, we really don't want the business of state – or States I should say – from spoiling our big day together."

Hanse's mouth tugged up into a smile. He appreciated the finesse of the move. Duncan had interrupted their repartee at just the right moment to give Candace the final word, and effectively, the win. And he did it in such a way that Hanse wasn't even sure if it was deliberate or just pure luck on Duncan's part. On the other hand, Candace's apology actually seemed genuine; Hanse knew that he wouldn't want affairs of state spoiling his own wedding with Dana.

"All is forgiven, Your Grace." Hanse told her. "We maybe enemies on the field of war due to circumstances, but this." he gestured around, indicating the ballroom and the wedding event, "is not the field of war. Quite the opposite, in fact. I look forward to getting to know the two of you better."

They made a little more small talk before Duncan and Candace had to move on to greet more guests.

"I like them." Dana told Hanse as they walked away from the couple. "Even Candace Liao. I never thought I'd say that about a member of House Liao."

"I feel the same." Hanse agreed. "It'd be a shame if I have to wind up killing her in battle. Although I suppose I don't have to worry about that for the next week or so. So maybe even the next nine months if we're all lucky."


Chastising the Father of the Bride[]


"Why, Chancellor, you seem to be cheerful."

"Of course I am, Archon Katrina." Maximilian Liao replied. He wasn't just cheerful, he was practically giddy. "My daughter is marrying the undisputed Captain-General of the Free Worlds League, securing a political and military alliance that will no doubt make House Liao the undisputed masters of the Inner Sphere." Maximilian had to catch himself from mentioning the coming offensive and the victory it would bring. That was what Maximilian was truly giddy about, but he had to hold his tongue for just three more days before the secret was unveiled for all the Inner Sphere to see. "Or at least." he looked slyly at Katrina, "make us strong enough to no longer be worried about being invaded any more."

"You actually believe that, do you, Chancellor?" Katrina asked, not at all disturbed by Maximilian's reference to the obviously imminent Combine invasion.

"Of course." Maximilian replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Why else did we all spend thirteen years fighting over the League if not to gain its allegiance to our respective House? I just won and you didn't."

"Yes, congratulations on 'winning' the Free Worlds League, by the way." Katrina agreed. "I just thought you'd be worried about your new 'ally', that's all."

"Why would I be worried about my new ally?" Maximilian asked, getting annoyed. Clearly the Archon was trying to undermine his alliance with House Marik. Maximilian refused to let her get to him. "Especially when my daughter and heir will have the ear of the Captain-General? Well, more than just his ear."

"It's precisely because your heir is marrying the Captain-General that I thought you'd be worried." Katrina told him. "The rest of us has been speculating that this would result in a merger of the Free Worlds League and the Capellan Confederation, especially when you pass on and Candace becomes Chancellor. Certainly when her and Duncan Marik's heir inherits both their titles. How would that work, Chancellor?"

Maximilian said nothing, refusing to admit that he hadn't even thought that far ahead. Of course, Maximilian couldn't dictate how Candace would rule once he passed on, but he'd just unthinkingly assumed that Candace would rule the Confederation outright as he had while continuing to be the true power behind Duncan's throne. But now that Katrina had drawn his attention to it, Maximilian began to realize that there were certain practical problems of one person trying to do both at the same time. To start with, Sian and Atreus were very very far apart.

"Speaking as an just an outside observer with no skin in the game." Katrina continued amicably when Max didn't reply, "I've noticed that the Free Worlds League is so very much bigger than the Capellan Confederation. If I were in your shoes, I'd be worried about the Confederation becoming just another province of the Free Worlds League. The League can accept new members after all, and the League is fractious enough that if you or Candace tried to rule it the way you rule the Confederation, you'll just have another civil war on your hands." Katrina tilted her head thoughtfully. "Although, the League charter does specify that provinces can pick MPs for their Parliament however the province so chooses. So if the Confederation becomes a League Province, no doubt you'll appoint all of the Confederation's MPs and create a voting bloc that will dominate the League politics."

"That... sounds like a plan." Maximilian said as neutrally as he could even as he felt a bottomless chasm open up before him.

"To think of the status loss!" Katrina said in mock horror. "Going from Successor State to a mere province? And without even a fight? Oh, the shame of it."

"Shame? I don't..." Max began, but Katrina kept going.

"Still, it'd be strange to see the Inner Sphere map go from five Successor States to four." Katrina continued relentlessly. She shrugged. "But it's not like the Inner Sphere hasn't lost major States before. Look what happened to the Terran Hegemony. Oh! There's Morgan. Pardon me, Chancellor, I have to go see an old friend. It was nice chatting with you."

"And it was... interesting chatting with you, Archon." Maximilian replied, no longer feeling giddy at all. Or even happy. Actually, he was quite worried now.


The Forgotten[]


Tormano was a wall flower, standing alone in the corner. Normally, he was quite chatty at parties like this, but this party included all the very most elite people of the Inner Sphere. After a few conversations, Tormano had discovered that his normally high status and station in the Confederation meant precisely nothing to most of the people in this room. Less than nothing really.

"Hi." a pair of female voices chorused next to him.

Tormano turned to see two girls regarding him with wide smiles on their faces. Those were not seductive smiles, for which Tormano was rather glad. The girls were pretty enough of course, probably even sisters, but they were clearly underaged, early to mid teens at most, and the last thing Tormano needed was that kind of scandal. Given them a few years to mature though, and Tormano would happily entertain a romantic get away with one or both of them. But not right now.

At a guess, Tormano thought they had approached him because he looked pretty near to their age. At age nineteen, Tormano supposed he was, but he was just on the other side of that dividing line of acceptance between child and adult from these two girls. Several other guests had also brought their children, but there weren't many and the age gap between them loomed large to form easy friends and play groups. Case in point: Tormano and these girls.

"Can I help you?" Tormano asked politely.

"We were hoping you could help us not die of boredom." the younger girl said. "All anyone wants to talk about here is politics. Boooring."

"I'm Lynn Wolf." the older girl introduced herself. "This is my sister Brigit."'
'

"Ah, you're Colonel Wolf's daughters." Tormano asked, his interest being piqued, but for reasons other than the girls being pretty. "I am Tormano Liao."

"Hi, Tormano." Lynn replied with a nervous giggle.

"So, you're like related to the bride?" Brigit asked with open curiosity.

"I am in fact Candace Liao's younger brother." Tormano told the girls proudly.

"Really?" Brigit asked, wide eyed and impressed.

"Oh wow." Lynn added. "I didn't even know Candace had a brother."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Tormano groaned, frustrated.


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