Quest for Pandaria

Part 1 of 4

"I know you don't see things like I do, Li Li. You're still young—"

"Ugh, now you really do sound like Papa. Since when did the great adventurer Chen Stormstout get so boring?" She flung the last word at him like an accusation.

"Things change, Li Li." Everything about his demeanor oozed an infuriatingly calm patience. "I've done my traveling. I'm ready for something different."

"Well, I haven't done mine," she shot back, "and if you and Papa have your way, I never will! I'll just grow old and decrepit and spend all day making tea and commenting on the weather, and my life will be a waste!"

"Li Li, you know that's not true."

"Don't talk to me. You're on his side!" Li Li jumped up from the table and stormed out of the house. Chen leaned his cheek against the heel of his paw, half-smiling, as he watched her go.

"We Stormstouts," he said to himself, "we're a hardheaded bunch."

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***

Plunk. The stone hit the ocean's surface with a hefty splash. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. She hurled more of them into the water, but the satisfaction they brought was fleeting. Defeated, she sat down in a huff.

This was one of her favorite spots on all of Shen-zin Su. Right at the front of his shell, Li Li could dangle her legs above the place where the wide stretch of his neck disappeared into the water, and look out toward the distant blue-gray line of the horizon, where the sea blurred into the sky. Once upon a time, famed traveler Liu Lang had founded the settlement on Shen-zin Su to carry the bravest and most daring of the pandaren across Azeroth as they sought adventure and knowledge. But curiosity had long since turned to complacency, leaving those days lost to the annals of history.

"I hate this," Li Li announced. "When I was traveling, before Bo and I ran into trouble, it just felt right. I can't accomplish anything, stuck here. Er, no offense, of course, Shen-zin Su." Li Li patted the edge of the turtle's shell comfortingly. "But there's so much more out there!

"Seeing Stormwind and Ironforge—I'd never have been able to imagine them, not with all the maps or letters in the world. King Magni was so kind to me! He showed me his home. I wish I had something to show him in return, but I don't. Chen's decided this is home. Good for him. Sorry, Shen-zin Su. I love you, but this has never really felt like home. Is there a place somewhere that I could ever call home?"

Li Li didn't particularly expect an answer to her question, so when she heard the Great Turtle rumble, blowing bubbles out into the ocean ahead of her, she was momentarily taken aback. She wondered briefly if Shen-zin Su's noisemaking had been an actual attempt at communication, before deciding that it had simply been a coincidence.

"I do wish I could talk to you." Li Li sighed. "You'd probably be more help than my family." Dejected, she dropped her chin to her chest and folded her paws in her lap.

The ground beneath her shifted violently, throwing her onto her side and bruising her shoulder. Startled, Li Li tried to sit up, but the Great Turtle shuddered anew and tossed her onto her back. Li Li pressed herself into the ground, heart racing, as Shen-zin Su pitched and heaved like a boat in a storm. She was catapulted forward onto the lip of the shell, and she grabbed wildly for a handhold, scrambling for stability. Below her the water slowly parted, falling in cascades away from Shen-zin Su's mighty neck as the turtle raised his enormous head.

The ground beneath her shifted violently, throwing her onto her side and bruising her shoulder. Startled, Li Li tried to sit up, but the Great Turtle shuddered anew and tossed her onto her back. Li Li pressed herself into the ground, heart racing, as Shen-zin Su pitched and heaved like a boat in a storm.

Beneath her, Li Li felt the turtle collect himself like a yak about to jump a fence. A great rumbling began deep in the back of his throat; she could feel it more than she could hear it, rattling her eardrums. With a great surge of force, Shen-zin Su... coughed.

Li Li could have sworn that was exactly what happened. The Great Turtle made a sound like a low, deep foghorn, and the sudden movement slammed her once more into the shell. Stars exploded across her vision as her head cracked against the ground. Clutching her temples, she at last managed to roll away from the edge. The shaking began to abate, mellowing into an exaggerated rocking, and eventually, Shen-zin Su stilled.

Cautiously, Li Li pushed herself up on her arms, bracing for another anticipated quake. She pressed one paw against the sore spot where she'd hit her head. It throbbed painfully against her palm, and she knew she'd have a lump there by the end of the day. Grimacing, she wondered what could possibly have triggered the turtle's bizarre episode. Had Shen-zin Su accidentally swallowed a whale?

She stared out toward the water, gently massaging her head. Swirling, white-capped eddies lapped all around Shen-zin Su, evidence at least that she hadn't imagined everything. Carefully, she stood, her vision still swimming.

Li Li blinked, distrusting her eyes. Out to sea, a particular patch of white differed from the rest. It was too regular to be the foaming tip of a wave, but instead looked rather like the sail of a small fishing junk. Li Li squinted, trying to get a better view. She had not been deceived. The boat bobbed as it rode the surf, pandaren markings clearly visible on the prow.

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