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It was difficult to kill a stone-skinned Neferset, so the High Council opted to have the prisoners crushed. A complex machine of pulleys and counterweights had been commissioned for the occasion. Several guards would work the levers, and a pile of enormous stone slabs would rise dozens of feet into the air. When the lock was released, the slabs would crash back down to the ground, pulverizing anyone beneath. Li Li could think of few contraptions more brutal.
What seemed like the entire city of Ramkahen crowded the open space by the waterfront where the machine had been erected. Li Li and Chen climbed on top of an awning. They didn't speak as they waited for the spectacle to begin. If they had both been perfectly honest, neither of them really wanted to witness the execution at all, but Chen felt that he should, and Li Li wouldn't leave him.
In the late afternoon, the Ramkahen guards led the prisoners through the streets. The spectators jeered and called, crowing insults at the condemned Neferset. Li Li thought she might be sick.
There was very little decorum involved with the killings. A guard simply detached one Neferset from the line, led him to the designated place, and locked him there. Other guards activated the machine. Li Li tried to make herself watch in a gesture of respect, but she couldn't bear it. She squeezed her eyes shut and judged the events by the noise: the labored squealing of the pulleys as the rocks were lifted, the whoosh of air being displaced as they fell, the grinding crunch of the prisoner being crushed to death, and the clatter of the rubble that remained being swept away to make room for the next in line.
Chen grasped her shoulders tightly, trying to prevent his paws from shaking. He did watch the executions, though he envied Li Li for closing her eyes. He felt riveted, as if some intangible force demanded that he look. As with the speeches, Bathet was fourth in line. He died as unceremoniously as the others. It was over so quickly, and yet it seemed as if a thousand years had passed. Chen knew this day would haunt him forever.
Somehow, Chen recognized that his lungs still breathed, his heart still beat, but every sound and sensation felt miles away from him. The awning could have collapsed beneath him, and he did not think he would have noticed. His thoughts drifted away, and he sat there, trancelike, staring unseeingly across the lake, for a long time.
"Uncle Chen," Li Li called softly.
"Yes, Li Li?" he asked. She looked vaguely ill.
"I... I want to leave as soon as we can. I don't know why the pearl led us here. This place is full of misery."
"Oh." At Li Li's words, he too felt a powerful urge to get out of Ramkahen.
"I don't know exactly where we'll go next," Li Li said, "but as long as it's not here, I don't care."
"I agree," Chen said. "Let's just get some rest and leave in the morning."
They climbed down from the awning and made their way back to the inn. When they got to the door, someone stepped out of the shadows to meet them. It was Menrim.
"What do you want?" Chen asked bluntly.
Menrim hesitated before speaking.
"I wanted to apologize," he said.
Both Chen and Li Li stared at him.
"You were right," Menrim continued. "You were right, and I should have listened to you. I should have done what you said; I should have—"
"It's a little late for this, don't you think?" Chen interrupted. "What are you trying to accomplish?"
"I... I tried to do it. I tried to tell Bathet I was sorry, but... but he just blamed me and I got so angry... and it is not as if everything was entirely my fault, anyway."
"Oh, spare us," Li Li said.
"I wanted to save him!" Menrim yelled. "I wanted to save them all; I asked the High Council for clemency over and over—"
"Of course you wanted to save him," Chen replied flatly, "as long as it didn't involve compromising your own pride, or anything."
Menrim stared at the two pandaren, wide eyed. "I know I failed. I know it... I knew it the moment I saw the stones fall, and my brother... my only brother..." His voice broke, and Menrim began to weep. "My city... my people... my brother... How did it come to this?"
"Shut up." Atropa's eyes blazed murderously, twins of Lintharel's. "The penalty for harming my family is also death."
Pouring rain greeted Baenan and Chen as they finally reached the main deck. Nobody seemed to notice them; everyone was too preoccupied with the battle. Across the water, the Elwynn was burning.
"We got tae get over there," Baenan declared. The pandaren and the dwarf sprinted toward the lifeboats. Chen could see his tol'vir craft among them.
Chen's feet were torn from the solid wood beneath them. The roar and heat of a great explosion engulfed him, throwing him and Baenan across the deck, where they crashed into the lifeboats.
The battle to retain consciousness was one Chen knew he could not afford to lose. Each joint aching, he forced himself onto his knees. A short distance away, Baenan lay face down, his helmet lost in the blast. Chen noticed his own staff rolling a few feet away, and he lunged to grab it, ignoring the pain in his legs. Nothing seemed broken, at least.
"Baenan!" He shook the dwarf sharply. "Now's our chance!"