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Chen almost pushed Chon Po out the back door, onto the covered porch behind the house. "You are being entirely unfair to Li Li," he said. "It's not evil for her to want to travel."
"It's dangerous!" Chon Po snapped. "More dangerous than staying here, regardless of what you say! Xiu Li and Wanyo may be gone, but those were accidents. Bo was killed outright! Do you want Li Li to get killed too?"
"Stop bringing that up like it's an inevitability! It was nothing she could have foreseen! The attackers were searching for that Pearl of Pandaria, or whatever it was they thought Wanyo had found, and they assumed Li Li would know where it was simply because she was pandaren! As for the orc, it was me he was after, and if I'd found Bo and Li Li sooner..."
"All your story proves is that, to our enemies, any pandaren is fair game." Chon Po paced back and forth under the outdoor lanterns, their orange light exaggerating the infuriated expression on his face. "Li Li is safer here than anywhere else!"
Chen shook his head.
"You can't force her to stay if she doesn't want to; she's already proven that once. You can't protect her forever, and trying to do so will only sabotage your cause."
"Well, I suppose you know how to raise my children better than I do!" Chon Po mocked.
"No, Chon Po, I'm just saying I know how she feels. Nothing our parents could have said or done when I was her age would have changed my mind, so what makes you think that anything you can do will change hers? She'll make her own choices."
"Her own, bad choices. Recklessly running off into danger, abandoning her family, shirking all her responsibilities..." Chon Po began ticking off the litany of Li Li's wrongdoings on his fingers, one by one. "Forcing us to rely on sporadic letters just to know whether she's alive or dead—"
Chen furrowed his eyebrows.
"Never settling down with a proper family of her own—"
"Po, how do you know she won't do that someday?" Chen asked, mystified.
Chon Po seemed not to have heard him.
"Not bothering to come to her own brother's wedding—"
"Who is Shisai marrying? You aren't making any sense..." Chen trailed off, mid-sentence, as the realization hit him. He stared over the porch railing, off into the night, mind suddenly blank as a number of things clicked into place. Oblivious, Chon Po kept listing Li Li's perceived transgressions.
"This is about me," Chen said softly. "Isn't it, Chon Po?"
Chon Po abruptly became silent, frozen in place, and would not meet Chen's eyes. Moments ticked agonizingly by as Chen steeled himself for a verbal barrage that his brother had likely been stewing on for years.
"This conversation is over."
Chon Po stomped back into the house and slammed the door shut behind him.
Sleep did not come easily to Li Li that night. She tossed and turned, each of her father's barbed words tugging relentlessly on her consciousness. Finally, as the lightening sky announced the dawn's approach, she gave up, climbed out of bed, and dressed.
On her dresser sat a small clay pot similar to the kind Bo had once filled with water and hung from the ends of the training staves that she used for practicing her balance and stances. She turned it over in her paws, feeling its familiar weight, and tucked it into her sash as she crept out of the house.
At this hour, Shen-zin Su was so still Li Li thought she could hear the dewdrops splash beneath her feet. In the dim light, spider webs stretched between the tree branches like brittle, shining lace. As Li Li walked she bent to pluck little clumps of colorful flowers from the cracks in the paving stones, gathering the blossoms into two ragged bouquets.
At the end of the trail, protected by walls and the proud lion Guardian, the glorious Wood of Staves spread out before her. Any pandaren who wished to enter the beautiful copse had to best the Guardian in single combat, something Li Li had achieved years ago. The Guardian inclined his head to her, and she bowed respectfully back as he stepped aside to let her pass. Li Li hadn't been to the wood in a long time, but it was as pristine as ever, meticulously tended by a small army of gardeners. Shortly after sunrise they would arrive to sweep away any debris that had strayed across the shrines during the night, but for now she was alone, and glad of it.
Xiu Li, Li Li and Shisai's mother, had drowned in a fishing accident when they were barely more than newborns. Li Li didn't have many memories of her mother, and though she rarely felt the loss directly, at times the lack ached keenly in her heart. She knelt in front of the Stormstout family shrine, laying one of the small bouquets across the altar.
"Mama, I miss you so much." Li Li's breath puffed in the morning air. "Papa doesn't understand; he never will. And Uncle Chen doesn't want to make Papa angry." She hesitated, almost afraid to speak aloud, though the wood was quite deserted. "You'd understand, wouldn't you, Mama? I can't stay here forever. I just can't."