Quest for Pandaria

Part 4 of 4

"I worked side by side with many members of the Horde in Mount Hyjal," Lintharel said quietly. "Archdruid Hamuul Runetotem is a tauren, and one of the greatest leaders of the Cenarion Circle. You cannot judge an entire people by the actions of a few."

Baenan shook his head. "Lass, I wish I could agree with ye. Th' Cenarion Circle druids can be an exception, as can th' shaman o' th' Earthen Ring. But look at yerself: ye came back from Hyjal an' returned tae servin' th' Alliance. Yer Horde friends have done th' same. They're yer enemies now, and ye are theirs."

Lintharel's hands tightened around her cards. "I serve the Alliance because it is High Priestess Tyrande and Archdruid Malfurion's will, and I am loyal to them." She frowned. "But the divisions between the Horde and Alliance are false ones."

"False divisions enforced with real guns an' blades!" Baenan snorted. "Warchief Hellscream wants nae peace. Look at yer own home in Ashenvale! He's a menace, an' yer druid friends are complicit in his reign." He slapped his cards down on the table; he was the winner this round. "Ain't nothin' an' no one trustworthy in th' Horde, an' ye need tae accept that."

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***

The slant of the light streaming in from the infirmary's porthole told Chen it was late morning. Physically he felt refreshed, but his spirit remained weary. He had lost many loved ones over the years. Some deaths hit harder than others.

Chen had always seen Li Li as the daughter he'd never had, the only other member of his family who was like him. He pressed the heels of his paws into his eyes, tears leaving wet rivulets down the fur of his face.

"Goodness, is there not enough water at sea? Must you feel obliged to create still more of it?"

Chen sat up abruptly. A bored-looking blood elf lounged against the infirmary wall, arms crossed.

Chen had always seen Li Li as the daughter he'd never had, the only other member of his family who was like him. He pressed the heels of his paws into his eyes, tears leaving wet rivulets down the fur of his face.

"This is what I have been reduced to, it seems," the elf lamented. "Babysitting inpatients."

Anger was a safe refuge from sorrow. The tide of rage that swept over Chen propelled him off the cot and across the room. Chen had a lot of experience at being intimidating.

"I would watch my mouth if I were you," he snarled. "I doubt you've ever fought one of my people, and trust me, you don't want to."

Before the elf had a chance to reply, someone else entered the room. It was the shaman, Karrig. He carried a tall staff and thumped it angrily on the floor.

"Talithar!" he yelled. "You can't go two hours without trouble. Get out of here, you wretched elf."

The elf, Talithar, shot Karrig a look of purest loathing, but said nothing and departed the infirmary, handsome head held high.

"Snot-nosed little bastard," Karrig muttered. "A hero of the Horde like you should be treated with respect!" He smiled generously at Chen. "It's certainly an honor to have you aboard."

"Er, thank you," Chen replied, not entirely comfortable with the way Karrig had called him a hero. Chen's own memories of Theramore painted the situation in a more complex light.

"I'm here to collect you," Karrig told him. "Captain Aldrek wants a word."

Chen nodded and followed him back to the captain's quarters, where Aldrek sat on the far side of a rough-hewn desk, steepling his fingers.

"Karrig has spoken much about your exploits at Theramore, all those years ago," Aldrek said. "I am convinced that our interception of you is a sign from the spirits."

"Why?" Chen asked. Something about Aldrek's tone made him uneasy.

"Because I believe that you can help our cause," the orc captain answered. "Once we get rid of the Alliance vessel tailing us..."

"I don't see what I can do about that, Captain," Chen said politely. Aldrek looked surprised.

"Oh no! No, don't worry about them," he said. "We've decided to open communication with them for now." He waved his hand dismissively. "I've got more long-term ideas for you."

"Pardon me?"

Aldrek leaned toward Chen.

"See, our mission here is purely reconnaissance, but—"

"Reconnaissance for what, exactly?" Chen interrupted him. Both Aldrek and Karrig smiled.

"That, I can't tell you. Not yet. But, as a soldier of the Horde in the first battle at Theramore, I imagine you'd be honored to serve in a second as well."

Aldrek sat back and let what he'd said sink in. Chen fought hard to keep his expression neutral.

"That… that would be quite an experience indeed," he said. "Is that what you're planning?"

Aldrek tapped the side of his nose and grinned slyly. "No. We're purely reconnaissance, right?"

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