Quest for Pandaria

Part 4 of 4

"I know why you're questioning me. I am not an Alliance spy. I fought alongside Thrall, Cairne, and Vol'jin against Grand Admiral Proudmoore at Theramore, years ago. If you have anyone on board who participated in that battle, they may be able to corroborate me."

"One of our shaman, Karrig, fought at Theramore," Aldrek said. He nodded toward one of his guards. "Fetch him so we can hear what he has to say."

Aldrek leveled his gaze at Chen for a while before speaking again.

"I'll say this for you: if you're a spy, you've done a mighty fine job preparing yourself to look like an overextended sailor halfway to madness from exhaustion." He grinned widely, showing off his impressive tusks.

The guard returned, accompanied by a hunched, middle-aged orc whose long black hair was tied up in a braided topknot.

"Ah, Karrig!" Aldrek clapped his hands together. "This individual claims to have fought at Theramore against Grand Admiral Proudmoore. Do you recognize him?"

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"There was a pandaren who joined us for that battle," Karrig said. "Name was Stormshout or something."

"Stormstout," Chen corrected. He glanced at Captain Aldrek, who laughed.

"Seems like you're off the hook," the captain said. "The Horde owes you a debt of friendship!" Aldrek snapped his fingers at the guard.

"Send for Nita," Aldrek told him. Turning back to Chen, he added, "She's a druid. Big tauren lady. She'll fix you up in no time. Welcome aboard the Warchief's Fist!" Aldrek slapped Chen on the back, but the pandaren barely responded. All he could think of was Li Li, his whole body numb to everything around him.

Aldrek leveled his gaze at Chen for a while before speaking again. "I'll say this for you: if you're a spy, you've done a mighty fine job preparing yourself to look like an overextended sailor halfway to madness from exhaustion."

***

Once she felt well enough to walk around, Li Li set about asking everyone aboard the Alliance ship Elwynn if they had seen the tol'vir boat. Nobody had. Dejected, she leaned against a railing on the deck and stared at the great Horde warship sailing ahead of them off the starboard bow. She wondered if there was any way for her to make contact with that vessel, to see if anyone had spotted Chen, though attempting to communicate with the Horde wouldn't do much to disprove Captain Heller's initial suspicion that she was a spy. She frowned. Unless she and Chen had been blown very far off course, the ships were in waters off the coast of Tanaris, which were neutral. Both the Horde and Alliance should be able to sail through without incident. What had the captain so on edge?

Li Li racked her brain, trying to concoct a plan that would allow her to get a message to the Horde ship without being thrown overboard. No strokes of brilliance were forthcoming, so she gave up and descended belowdecks, where she found a few of the crew seated around a table, playing cards. Among them she recognized the night elf twins Lintharel and Atropa. Li Li grabbed an empty chair and plunked down with them.

"Deal me in," Li Li announced. Atropa side-eyed her, but Lintharel laughed and obliged.

"It is easiest to learn as you go," she said. She nodded to the other players, a pair of dwarves.

"This is Li Li, the unexpected passenger we picked up the other night."

"Aye, th' not-spy!" One of the dwarves smiled. "I'm Trialin," she said, "an' this is me brother, Baenan."

"Yer big brother!" Baenan amended. "And th' ship's foremost paladin o' th' Light, at yer service!" He puffed out his chest with pride.

"Ah, stuff it, ye braggart," Trialin told him, rolling her eyes.

"I'm stuck at the sibling table," Li Li joked, "without my own brother. The one time he'd be useful, too…" She felt a sharp pang in her heart when she thought of Shisai. She wondered how he was getting along back home on Shen-zin Su. Does he miss me?

"Not a sibling table," Lintharel said, smiling. She indicated Atropa and herself. "We are not sisters."

"Oh." That took Li Li by surprise.

"But they sure look alike," Trialin reassured the pandaren. "Most folks make that mistake."

"Tharel is the closest thing to family I have left, anyway," Atropa said. Lintharel's smile turned wistful.

"Are we playin' cards or what?" Baenan thumped his fist on the table, which snapped both kaldorei out of their melancholy. Li Li squinted at her hand, pretending she knew what she was doing. Lintharel explained the rules as they went, and though Li Li wasn't very good, after a few rounds she was no longer losing every single time.

"So," Li Li said, trying to sound nonchalant. "Uh, what's with that Horde ship? I thought the waters near Tanaris were neutral. Why is it such a big deal that it's here?"

Li Li's companions glanced at one another, and she realized she'd asked a loaded question. She had hoped to bring up the possibility of contacting the Horde ship for information on Chen. Clearly, that would be a poor idea. Eventually Atropa filled the silence.

"Technically, you are correct," she said, plucking a card from her hand and discarding it.

"But…?" Li Li pressed her.

"But recent events have given us reason to be suspicious of any Horde presence outside their own territory," Atropa replied.

"They're too bloody close tae Theramore," Baenan muttered. "If they want us tae leave them alone, they need tae go back where they belong. None o' them can be trusted."

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