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"That kind of talk has serious consequences, Chen."
"Hey, look at me! Oh, wait, you can't, because I'm Li Li Stormstout, the magical invisible pandaren!"
"Li Li never would have dreamed up such nonsense on her own," Chon Po continued, "not without—"
"'Nonsense'? What are you talking about? It's not nonsense! There's a whole, huge world out there, and every last stinking pandaren on this floating island is too busy hiding their fat heads under a shell, like Shen-zin Su during a big storm, to care about it!"
"Panhahen 'on't haff shells, Li Li," Shisai mumbled through a mouthful of food.
"It's a metaphor, you half-wit."
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Shisai! And don't call your brother names, Li Li!"
Li Li glanced at her father and brother. "I can't believe you aren't even the least bit curious. About the people in the world? About their cities, their lands?"
"Not really, if it involves nearly getting eaten by an ogre like you said, Li Li." Shisai swallowed noisily. "I mean, Uncle Chen's stories are cool and everything, but—"
"Boy, this fish you made is sure delicious, Po. Thanks a bunch for dinner!" Chen said loudly.
"'Eaten by an ogre'?" Chon Po jumped out of his seat. "Are you making things up to scare your brother?" He leaned forward on his paws, staring intently at his daughter.
"No!" Li Li shouted, indignant. "I'm not making anything up! I mean, well... I was held captive by this ogre, I told you, though maybe 'almost eaten' was a tiny exaggeration—"
"ENOUGH!" Chon Po roared. "Listen to you! Going off in one breath about how 'nothing happened' to you, and then casually reminding us that an ogre held you captive! And you still insist on waxing poetic about the amazing outside world? Didn't you learn anything from Bo's death?"
Everybody, even Shisai, froze. Li Li dropped her head and stared at her plate, squinting up her eyes as a lance of guilt knifed her straight through the heart.
"That wasn't her fault, Po," Chen said quietly.
"No," Chon Po conceded, his gaze fixed on Li Li, "but if she had never run off, it never would have happened."
Tears stung the corners of Li Li's eyes. How many times had she thought that herself? She clenched her teeth in humiliated fury. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not...
"Chon Po, weren't you the one who sent Bo after Li Li?"
"What are you trying to say, Chen?"
Chen sighed. "Only that speculating on what-ifs is a waste of time. Li Li couldn't have predicted the future any more than you."
"Couldn't I?" Chon Po turned his rage upon his brother. "Has anything like that ever happened to us here on Shen-zin Su? Our home is the safest—"
"Yes," Chen interrupted firmly. "To Xiu Li."
At the mention of Li Li and Shisai's mother, the atmosphere around the table grew even more uncomfortable. Chon Po bowed his head, nearly shaking with anger.
"And," Chen went on relentlessly, "Wanyo's been missing for a long time. He too is likely dead."
"What," Chon Po snarled, lifting his head to face Chen, "is the point of this?"
"The fishing boats go out. Not all of them come back. Like Wanyo, like... like your wife, or any number of our fellows, Po. Risks will always exist, no matter where we are. You can't control that."
Slowly, silently, Chon Po sat down in his chair, clearly seething.
"Papa," Li Li ventured, "I want to see the world. I'll be careful—"
"You're a damn fool for even considering it!" Chon Po slammed his fist on the table, rattling the ceramic dishes. "The world is a dangerous place, as your dear uncle Chen just saw fit to remind us. You're a child. Do you want to end up like Bo? Or your mother?"
"Chon Po!" Chen reprimanded him sharply, but by the time the words left his mouth, Li Li had already run from the room, choking back a sob. Up the stairs, they heard a door slam.
Chen gazed evenly at Chon Po across the table, who folded his arms defiantly across his chest. The stubborn set of his jaw practically dared Chen to challenge him.
"A word, dear brother, if you will?" Chen asked as politely as he could muster, gesturing toward the more isolated kitchen.
"Fine." Chon Po stood roughly and marched into the other room, Chen following close behind.
Left alone at the table, Shisai fished a piece of carrot from his soup and slowly chewed. He glanced toward the kitchen, then toward the staircase, and swallowed.
"Well, this is awkward," he announced to the room at large, and helped himself to seconds.