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"This is your fault."
Chon Po brandished Li Li's letter in front of Chen's face like a dagger, eyes red with fury. Chen shifted from foot to foot.
"All her life, it's been 'Uncle Chen' this and 'Uncle Chen' that and 'Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful to see the world with Uncle Chen?'" Chon Po paced the floorboards, rage pouring out of his very posture. "And nothing could sway her delusion. Oh no, Li Li only ever saw the romance. Thanks in no small part to your letters, Brother."
Chen took a deep breath. Chon Po was beyond reason, so Chen silently let him rant with complete abandon, wondering how much of the tirade was meant for his daughter, and how much was meant for his brother.
"… irresponsibly filling her head with false hopes. What does she possibly think she can find out there that we don't already have here?"
Decent brewing seasonings, for one, Chen found himself thinking, staring off at the far wall above his brother's head. He nearly cracked a grin. Suddenly Chon Po's furious face filled his vision, startling him.
"Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"
"Chon Po, I'm not sure what I can say. I didn't tell Li Li to go off anywhere."
"You may as well have!" Chon Po shouted. "You've been telling her just as much for years and years, if not in person! She idolizes you, and now she's gone on this damn foolhardy quest for whatever 'great mystery' she was talking about. It's your responsibility to bring her back from this"—he checked Li Li's letter again—"this Ironforge place."
Truth be told, Chen indeed worried for his niece. She was awfully young to be out on her own, and if his memory served, this "great mystery" they had once discussed was to find Pandaria itself, something he wasn't even sure was possible. Furthermore, she had taken the pearl, and a naga had already tried to hunt her down for that very item. The danger did seem palpable. Also, Stormwind pumpkins made for a fantastic ale.
"All right, Po, I'll go find her," Chen agreed. "But she's her own person. I'm not going to force her to come back."
Chon Po snorted. "She's a child, Chen."
Chen shook his head.
"Less so every day, Po. I'll be on my way as soon as possible."
"The quicker, the better." Chon Po crossed his arms. "Who knows what kind of trouble she's getting herself into this time?"
"I have no doubt about it at all," Chen said.
Tears spilled down Li Li's face as Chen hugged her close, leaving wet rivulets in the fur on her cheeks.
"Thanks, Uncle Chen," she whispered.
"Your father loves you like nothing else," Chen said. "I would bet my life on it."
Li Li nodded and buried her face in her uncle's shoulder as night fell softly across Gadgetzan and the desert of Tanaris.
Menrim didn't come back until long after sundown. Chen and Li Li had felt uncomfortable staying in his home without him there, so they had propped their haversacks and staves against the jetty's retaining wall and sat waiting by the water.
Li Li had fallen asleep against Chen's shoulder by the time Menrim returned, walking slowly through the street. Chen waved to catch Menrim's attention, but the tol'vir did not answer his greeting. Menrim turned his head deliberately, looked him right in the eye, and continued on.
Chen lowered his arm. "I was afraid of that," he said. Gently he shook Li Li awake.
"Oh, whaddaya want, Chen?" she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.
"Looks like we're not welcome back in Menrim's place tonight," he said. "Come on; let's go find an inn."
"At least there's a chance of a bed and not the floor," Li Li muttered, grabbing her things.
"The glass is half full, huh?" Chen said. For a moment he fiercely wished that he and Li Li had followed the dwarves straight out of their confrontation with King Phaoris, and that he had never seen Menrim at all. The pandaren would be staying with the caravan, wherever it was, laughing and enjoying themselves.
Once they at last found lodging, they were so exhausted that they slept well into the morning. When they awoke, the clamor of hundreds of voices drove them from their beds to dress hurriedly and find out what was going on.
Outside, the residents of Ramkahen clogged the streets, pressing their way to the center square, looking expectantly toward the building that housed the king and High Council.
"What's happening?" Chen asked. Li Li was ready with the answer.
"Time's up," she said quietly. "The High Council is about to announce its decision."
Chen's heart hammered in his throat. Li Li looked at her uncle.
"We need a better view."
They pushed and wormed their way through the crowd until they managed to get next to the giant sundial in the southwestern part of the square. A pile of crates teetered nearby, too narrow for tol'vir but just large enough for a couple of pandaren to sit on. Chen and Li Li scrambled to the top, where they could see the front of the grand hall with ease.
After a few moments a cadre of Ramkahen guards led out the five Neferset prisoners. They were chained together at the necks, wrists, and ankles, the clanking of the heavy links lost among the roaring jeers of the crowd. Chen recognized Bathet, and he swallowed nervously.
King Phaoris stepped around the prisoners to the front and raised his arms. The crowd quieted.
"Citizens of Ramkahen!" he boomed. "The High Council has reached a decision. Before it is announced, however, we have decided to let each prisoner speak for himself before the public, so you too are able to understand why we have come to the conclusion that we have. May you all stand in solidarity with those of us who have deliberated long and hard as to the most just verdict."