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"Uncle Chen!" she yelled, outraged. "The pearl! The pearl is gone! That lady—that smarmy human lady—what was her name? Cathy the Cutthroat?"
"You mean Catelyn the Blade?"
"Yeah, her! She stole it!"
They rushed back down to the bar, a sickening feeling gnawing in the pit of Li Li's stomach. She and Chen searched the crowd with growing urgency. Li Li understood that the likelihood of Catelyn having remained in the tavern was next to nothing, but she refused to give up and continued to circle the perimeter of the room. On her third pass, the innkeeper, a chubby old green goblin named Skindle, eyed her sidelong as he counted coins under the countertop.
"Whatcha looking for, kid?"
Chen cut in before Li Li could answer.
"Hey," he said. "You see us talking to a lady just now? Brunette, about thirty, calls herself Catelyn the Blade. We need to find her."
Skindle tugged at the lobe of one of his oversized ears, and Chen tossed a couple coins onto the counter. The innkeeper grinned broadly and pocketed them.
"Catelyn's with the Blackwater Raiders, working for the Steamwheedle Cartel. She captains a raider ship, the Neptulon's Bride." Seeing the look on Li Li's face, Skindle added, "Don't go asking for trouble. She's the best knife fighter in Booty Bay. Anyone with half a brain stays on her good side, and I mean anyone."
"Thanks for the advice." Chen threw another coin Skindle's way.
"Hey, no problem." Skindle held the rim of the gold piece against his temple and winked. "Money talks, if you know how to listen."
"Let's go," Chen murmured to Li Li, striding out of the tavern.
They headed straight to the docks. It wasn't hard to find the Neptulon's Bride, and Li Li and Chen were soon approaching a familiar figure, who was directing the loading of cargo onto the deck of the sturdy, wooden-hulled collier. The two pandaren climbed aboard to face Catelyn.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" She wore a self-satisfied smirk as she jauntily rested her hands against her hips, her demeanor a far cry from the disarming friendliness she'd adopted earlier.
"I think you can guess why we've come," Chen said.
"Thieving scumbag!" Li Li snarled. "You stole our pearl!"
"Now, there's no need for name-calling," Catelyn responded, wagging a finger. "You're right. I grabbed it. You should be more careful when you discuss your rare magic artifacts in public, especially in this part of the world.
"I know it wasn't the nicest thing for me to do, but a girl's got bills to pay, and the Steamwheedle Cartel isn't the most forgiving of lenders; get my drift? I'm a sporting type, though, and I liked the looks of you two from the moment I set eyes on you, so I'll tell you what. This ship here?" Catelyn gestured around her. "Your pearl is somewhere on board. If you can find it, you can have it." Her grin widened. "But I'll warn you, my crew has a bit of a violent streak, and they don't take kindly to strangers."
It seemed as if, all at once, Li Li and Chen were surrounded by dangerous smiles, men and women who, a moment before, had been working quite innocently. Suddenly weaponry grew from their fists like claws. Chen grimaced, and Li Li hefted her staff in her hand.
"You're either very courageous or very stupid," Catelyn commented.
"You've never fought pandaren before, have you?" Li Li said.
Catelyn unsheathed her own weapon, a dagger as long as her forearm.
"I doubt you're much different from the rest," she answered.
Li Li lunged at Catelyn, while Chen leaped to stave off the oncoming crew. Catelyn parried Li Li's staff expertly with her dagger, then thrust it at the pandaren's belly. Li Li deflected it with a kick to Catelyn's wrist that sent the dagger spinning out of her hand. Li Li saw Catelyn's eyes momentarily widen in surprise. The pirate captain knew what she was up against now.
Catelyn dove to the deck and somersaulted toward her lost blade. Li Li followed her, flinging a pinch of enchanted dust at another pirate, who had jumped across the dock from the neighboring ship. The dust turned into a small swarm of angry, tiny birds pecking at his eyes, and he swore as he stumbled, catching his shoulder on the rigging.
Chen's staff twirled around him at lightning speed, catching the clumsier sailors unawares and sending them sprawling. One particularly burly orc took a kick straight to the sternum and lost his balance, tumbling over the railing to the dock below. Chen couldn't help but grin. He'd been in worse scrapes during his lifetime.