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"Stand down, night elf! That is an order!"
"Or did you also intend to detain the Horde messenger," Lintharel continued, lifting her chin, "equally condemning Baenan to death?"
"Shut your mouth!" Heller roared. The tip of his sword quivered inches from her throat. "You owe the Alliance a debt of service. To disobey me is treason."
"To betray a friend is an equal sin," she said. "To which do I owe the greater debt, Captain: a political allegiance, or a personal one?"
The question lingered like the note of a gong. Li Li's heart was in her mouth. The entire crew watched, still as death. No one even dared to breathe. Every sound was magnified: the waves slapping the wooden hull, the rigging jostling in a gust of wind. The gathering clouds had thickened, tingeing the dusk an eerie green.
All the fur on Li Li's neck and arms stood straight on end. The very air was charged, tensed to some intangible limit.
And Li Li understood.
Lintharel, standing between Nita and those who would harm her, was not as vulnerable as she seemed. She had been stalling, buying time.
Casting a spell.
The first of the raindrops fell from the sky.
"Lintharel," Captain Heller said in a voice deathly calm, "this is your last warning."
Li Li grabbed Trialin's wrist and took a step backward, away from the crowd. The dwarf, sensing Li Li's urgency, followed her lead and did not make a sound.
"I will not stand down," Lintharel said. Above her, the sky rumbled.
"So be it! Kill—"
The last half of Heller's command was lost in a roar of wind gusting ferociously from behind Lintharel, sending everyone who faced her stumbling backward. In the same instant a bolt of lightning seared the sky, hitting the Elwynn's main mast like a bomb, igniting the topsail in fireworks of sparks. Splinters of wood the size of daggers rained upon the deck. Li Li and Trialin dove behind a secured crate, the night illuminated in flames.
Lintharel stepped into the now-cleared space before her, open arms no longer a gesture of sacrifice, but of power. Her eyes glowed like stars, white as the summoned lightning. The impossible wind swirled around her, tossing her hair, pulling at her leather kilt, but she was otherwise impervious to it. Li Li watched in awe. Lintharel looked like a goddess.
Free her," she commanded a sailor cowering on the deck. He nodded, eyes wide with fear, and began to crawl toward Nita.
Another explosion rocked the entire ship. Everyone stumbled. Somewhere, people were screaming, calling for water, for healers.
The Warchief's Fist had opened fire.
All descended into chaos. Rain poured from the clouds. Some of the crew lunged to attack Lintharel and Nita, while others rushed to defend the ship. Above it all Captain Heller shouted orders, desperately attempting to regain control.
A volley of cannon shot replied to the Horde ship's blast, a few of the balls striking home. Li Li leaped from behind her hiding place, eyes fixed on the small crowd that battled the night elf and the tauren.
"Where are ye goin'?" Trialin called out.
"What they did to Nita is wrong," Li Li said defiantly. "I'm going to help her and Lintharel."
Li Li had feared that Trialin's rage for her brother would make her side with the other crew, but to her relief, the dwarf nodded.
"Aye," she said. "It's th' height o' cowardice tae attack a diplomat." She pulled a shortsword from her belt and tossed it to Li Li. "Ye'll need a weapon."
"Thanks," Li Li said. With a cry, the two threw themselves into the fray.
Chen and Baenan rushed through the lower decks, trying to maintain as low a profile as possible. Baenan stuffed his beard into his shirt and used a helmet to cover his face in a shoddy attempt to disguise himself. The roughly sketched escape plan was to get to the tol'vir boat, launch it, and jump down. It was a long shot, but sticking around wasn't an option.
The ship shuddered, Alliance cannons hitting true. Chen found the ladder he sought, the one closest to the lifeboats, and shoved Baenan forward, scrambling up after him.
"That's the prisoner!" a voice yelled behind them. Chen recognized it as Karrig's. "You filthy traitor!" he screamed at Chen. "We trusted you! Kill them both!"
Chen risked a glance back down. He counted six crew, including Karrig. The pandaren swore. Fighting them would waste a lot of time.
"Go!" called another voice. Talithar came running into view and threw himself before the foot of the ladder below. "I will hold them off!"
The two fugitives didn't hesitate. Mouthing silent words of gratitude, Chen hauled himself up the rest of the ladder, and he and Baenan ran.