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The craft pulled slowly nearer. Its mast was broken, one side of the sail trailing uselessly, so the skipper doggedly paddled his limping vessel forward with an oar. A dozen yards or so from landfall he straightened, pushing his frayed straw hat from his forehead. He waved enthusiastically, calling out to Li Li across the water.
"Well, hello there! Strange to say, but it's been a long time since I last had a good look at the sun. The sky sure is blue! And everything smells so fresh, not like fish at all!"
The bizarre statement robbed Li Li of words. She furrowed her brows, perplexed, and watched silently as the boat glided the last few feet to shore and ran aground with a soft crunch. The fisherman leaped lightly over the gunwale and waved again, grinning widely. Li Li's jaw fell open in shock. She even momentarily forgot the thumping pain on the side of her head.
Wanyo, the long-lost fisherman, had returned.
"So, you've actually been inside of Shen-zin Su this whole time?"
"Yup!" Wanyo answered cheerily. "I got swallowed up. Never really felt the need to leave."
Li Li pressed her ear firmly against the side of the door—a little too firmly—and she winced at the fresh pain that blossomed from the tender spot on her head. Reluctantly, she backed off a bit. She wouldn't be able to hear as much of the Elders' conversation with Wanyo, but it was better than giving herself a worse headache. Through the wooden door slats, Li Li heard someone make a clucking noise, and she could just imagine the stodgy old pandaren shaking their heads. She stifled a giggle.
"Well, regardless of that"—Li Li recognized her grandmother Mei's distinctive voice—"there is the question of what to do with this thing you've brought back."
"I dunno, really." Li Li could practically hear Wanyo shrug. "Maybe it's some sort of crystal ball. Always just showed me where to find the best fishing, which turns out was right where I was at, in the turtle!" He guffawed.
Someone else muttered something Li Li couldn't quite make out, but she thought it must have been snide, judging from the snorts and snickers that followed.
"It doesn't look anything like a crystal ball, or any other magic artifact I've ever seen." This voice belonged to Chon Po, and Li Li stiffened a bit, her heart suddenly hammering against her ribs. He'd be furious if he caught her eavesdropping on the meeting.
Chen spoke up next.
"If anything, it looks like a giant pearl." There was an edge to his words, and Li Li was certain she knew what was on her uncle's mind—the so-called Pearl of Pandaria, the item the naga siren Zhahara had once insisted was in Wanyo's possession. Had she been right?
"Got it off a murloc, would you believe?" Wanyo laughed again. "If it's a pearl, it's a magic pearl for sure, 'cause I ain't ever seen a pearl before that knows where the best fishing's at." He paused. "And, I mean, why else would that crazy naga lady've shown up soon as I had it?"
Li Li's eyes widened. That had to have been Zhahara.
"'Crazy naga lady'?" Chon Po asked. "Li Li did mention something along these lines to me once. Would you elaborate, Wanyo?"
"I was out at night, caught the murloc with the pearl in my fishing net. Little guy was on his last legs; he gave me the thing. As soon as I took it, the naga popped out of the water and called a lightning bolt down on me—broke my mast! I wasn't about to stick around, and I got some ocean friends of my own. Big fish helped me escape. Must have been one of the little ones I threw back years ago, returning the favor!"
"And that's when you got swallowed by Shen-zin Su?" Chen's voice that time.
"Yeah. I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going, just hoping to leave that scaly witch behind, and before I knew it, the fish ducked away and I found myself face to face with the Great Turtle, who didn't stop a minute but swallowed me right up."
"I have one more question for you, Wanyo," Chon Po said. "Why did you decide to leave your, uh, fishing spot today, after so long there?"
"Pearl thing told me to."
"I looked into it this morning when I got up, just like I always did. Instead of showing me fishing, it showed me sailing back into town. Figured it was time to go, so I hopped into my boat, and Shen-zin Su spit me out."
Chon Po sighed so heavily Li Li could hear it clearly through the door. "All right, then, Wanyo. That's that, I suppose. We'll have to figure out what this thing really is at some point. For now I say we keep it in the Great Library. Do you all agree?"