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"There was no message about that," Heller finally replied, "but you are welcome to ask the Horde diplomat yourself, when they have arrived."
"Thank you, Captain," Li Li said. She nodded at Baenan. "Good luck," she told him. He nodded back, his face set in determination, and then fell into stride beside Heller. The two of them disappeared belowdecks along with a few guards.
The rest of the crew began to disperse, and Li Li glimpsed Trialin not far away. The dwarf lifted her chin with pride for her brother, but her cheeks were very pale. Lintharel stood next to Li Li, the night elf's jaw clenched and face pinched. The druid looked toward the sky, then closed her silvery, ethereal eyes.
"Can you feel the change in the air?" she asked. "It will storm again tonight."
"You're certain you wish to risk it?" Aldrek evaluated his volunteer diplomat, none other than the druid Nita.
"I've worked with members of the Alliance as part of the Cenarion Circle," Nita replied. "That history will put them at ease."
Aldrek rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Fine. Can you row yourself over?"
Nita could have taken the shape of a bird and flown herself over, but the Alliance was sending a boat, so it was better to reciprocate in kind.
"Yes," she answered.
Chen had been awarded a place of pride, standing close to Karrig and Captain Aldrek, and he'd watched as Nita had calmly stepped forward to offer herself as a messenger to the Alliance. He thought of her earlier words: We are all children of the Earth Mother. There was no better candidate for a mission to defuse the tension between the ships.
As Nita prepared her small boat, Aldrek guided the great warship toward the Alliance vessel. For the messengers to easily cross the gap, both vessels would have to pull quite close together—well within firing range. Chen shifted nervously and tried not to be negative, but he couldn't help but remember what Aldrek had implied about Theramore. What was the Horde planning? How much did the Alliance know? Was this situation truly a result of a chance meeting at sea, or had the Alliance tracked them down? Or had the Horde lured them somehow?
The Warchief's Fist drew parallel to the Elwynn. Two sailors helped Nita lower her boat into the sea, and she set off, oars steadily rising and falling with each pull of her arms.
The messengers passed each other somewhere in the middle of the space between the ships. Baenan spared a glance at the broad-shouldered tauren as he glided by her, noting her dress as typical of a druid. His heart lifted. Tauren tended to be more sensible than orcs, and druids often worked cross-faction. Perhaps there was hope for this mission.
When he reached his destination, Horde sailors stood ready to receive him. As they raised his boat from the water, he gazed back toward the Elwynn, elegantly outlined in orange-gold by the sinking afternoon sun. He sent a prayer to the Light that he would return there safely.
Li Li waited at the front of the crew, determined to be among the first to greet the diplomat so she could ask after her uncle. As the great tauren climbed onto the deck, Li Li took a few eager steps forward.
"Welcome aboard!" Captain Heller stated enthusiastically, extending his hand. Nita shook it warmly, and the gathered sailors inclined their heads in acknowledgement.
"Thank you, Captain," she replied. "I hope that we can reach a mutually satisfying agreement." She scanned the crowd, and as her eyes fell on Li Li, the tauren's brows shot upward.
Li Li couldn't help herself. "You recognize me!" she cried happily. "Er, I mean, my kind! My uncle Chen—you've seen him?"
"Yes, we picked him up in his boat the morning after the storm," Nita said. She smiled. "He'll be overjoyed to learn you are safe."
"Thank you, thank you so much," Li Li said, her throat constricting with emotion. She hadn't realized how worried she'd been until she had confirmation of Chen's safety. She and her uncle would soon be reunited.
"Come this way." Captain Heller stepped in front of Li Li. He pointed toward the captain's quarters. "We shall discuss our goals to reach a compromise."
Nita followed Captain Heller courteously, her powerful hooves ringing against the wooden deck with each step. As they passed Li Li, the captain shot her an unkind glare. Li Li watched the two disappear belowdecks, then glanced over toward the Horde ship, noting that Baenan's craft had already been pulled aboard. The discussions were underway.