Quest for Pandaria

Part 4 of 4

"Right," Chen replied, remembering to wink at the captain. "Just… scouting."

Aldrek nodded. "Scouting, yes. We intend to help the Alliance ship understand that."

"As you know," Karrig cut in, "the acquisition of resources has been a struggle ever since the Horde arrived in Kalimdor. It's not easy to support a major city in the middle of the desert."

"I am aware of some of Orgrimmar's troubles," Chen said.

"Then you understand our imperative!" Aldrek slammed his fist into the palm of his other hand. "We must secure adequate resources for our families, for our children. Orgrimmar can never be jeopardized."

Chen decided not to say anything further. What Aldrek and Karrig were telling him was unnerving, as was the fervent gleam in their eyes when they spoke of Orgrimmar and its future.

Taking his silence for assent, Captain Aldrek relaxed in his chair. "I am deeply honored to have you aboard my ship, Chen Stormstout," he said. "I am certain that you will prove a valuable ally to the Horde. You have my full permission to go anywhere on this ship. You are dismissed."

"Thank you, Captain," Chen said, and saluted.

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***

Chen made his way to the galley, wanting a stiff drink and a hot meal. He was fairly certain that Aldrek and Karrig had revealed the Horde's intent to invade Theramore. He had no desire to think about it. The food on the ship was decent, at least.

He looked up as someone joined him at his table, sitting on the bench across from him. It was Nita, the tauren who had taken care of him the night before. She smiled, thick braids framing her kind face. She folded her great three-fingered hands in front of her on the table.

"How are you feeling today, Chen Stormstout?" she asked.

"Quite well, thanks to your skills," he told her. "You are a very talented druid."

She beamed at him. "Thank you," she said. "I am sorry I could not be there for you this morning. Unfortunately I had other duties to tend. Did Talithar direct you here for a meal?"

"Er, no," Chen said. "He, ah, he wasn't all that polite, really."

Nita looked chagrined. "I apologize for him," she said. "He's one of the ship's magi, and a troubled soul. He's made enemies out of most of the crew." She sighed heavily. "I asked him to aid you because I thought a little interaction with someone from outside our ship might be good for him. I suppose I was wrong."

"It's not your fault he can't behave himself," Chen told her. "But it's nice of you to be concerned about him."

"It's my duty to concern myself about others," she said, smiling again. "I am a healer, for one, and for another, we are all children of the Earth Mother. We are stronger united than divided." She paused, her brows furrowing. "I think our captain forgets that, sometimes."

"I am a healer, for one, and for another, we are all children of the Earth Mother. We are stronger united than divided." She paused, her brows furrowing. "I think our captain forgets that, sometimes."

***

Aboard the Elwynn, Captain Heller had called for an all-hands meeting on deck. The captain faced the gathered personnel from atop the bridge.

"As many of you know," he announced, "I have been in contact with the leadership of the Horde vessel."

Li Li's heart leaped. If Heller was speaking with the Horde ship, she could ask him about Chen.

"Their presence here is worrying," the captain continued, "and we cannot leave them unmonitored. To my surprise, they say they understand and would like to work with us to reach a peaceful resolution."

The crowd murmured, many neighbors whispering to each other.

"Their captain has agreed to send a diplomatic messenger to us, on the condition that we send one as well. I support this course of action, and thus I require a volunteer. This individual must be brave and ready to speak on behalf of the Alliance. I shouldn't need to tell you that it could be dangerous. Still, if we can convince them to return to Durotar, it will be a victory for the Alliance indeed! Who will serve this cause?"

A number of hands rose with a smattering of affirmative cries, but one figure strode forth fearlessly, climbing halfway up the stairs to where the captain stood, and proudly drawing himself to his full, four-foot height. It was Baenan the dwarf. Li Li heard Lintharel's sharp intake of breath next to her.

"I will go! As a paladin o' th' Light, I gladly offer me service tae th' cause o' th' Alliance!"

Captain Heller nodded. "Very well. I will let them know that we have selected a messenger, and arrange the trade."

The captain signaled to a draenei mage standing near him, who sent a series of colored bolts of magic into the air, spelling out runes in a shower of light. After a long pause, Li Li could see a similar display originating from the Horde warship's deck.

"The exchange will take place in half an hour!" Captain Heller declared. He turned to Baenan. "Come with me. I will brief you on your assignment."

Baenan saluted fiercely. Li Li pushed forward through the crowd. Catching sight of her, Heller paused.

"Yes?" he asked brusquely.

"Um, I have a question, sir," Li Li said as politely as she could muster. "I've been trying to find out if anyone has seen my uncle since the storm. I was wondering if the Horde ship had mentioned anything about another pandaren. Or a small boat nearby."

Captain Heller narrowed his eyes, but Li Li stood firm. Her request was entirely innocent.

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