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"I… haven't seen him among the other boats," Nita said. Baenan shook his head.
"Ye won't." He closed his fist around the twin rings. "'Twas he that caused th' explosion on th' Fist, tae help me an' th' pandaren escape. He's dead."
"What are we goin' tae tell Vyrin?" said Trialin.
"That her husband died a hero." Baenan looked up fiercely. "Which way's fastest tae land? I got a message tae deliver."
"Head north and west," Nita said. "You're not far from Tanaris. I will return as soon as possible to aid you, if you need it. May the Earth Mother be with you all."
"And Elune with you," Atropa replied.
Nita spread her arms and became a bird, wheeling into the sky.
Once again, the tol'vir sailboat bobbed beneath a sky strewn with stars. Chen clutched Li Li close to him. "I thought I had lost you, Li Li," he whispered. "I thought you were dead."
Li Li buried her face in her uncle's shoulder. "I thought I was too, actually," she replied, smiling weakly. Chen laughed a little, though it came out more like a cough.
Everything had been fire and chaos aboard the Elwynn. He and Baenan had instantly been separated. Chen's memories were a blur. He had called Li Li's name frantically, over and over, and then, like magic, there she had been, running from the flames, blood streaked across her face. They had jumped ship, back into their own sailboat, with only minutes to spare. As Chen and Li Li had rowed away, they had witnessed the last moments of both the Warchief's Fist and the Elwynn, their burning wreckages lighting the ocean with an orange glow.
The pandaren slept fitfully for the rest of the night. All the stress had caught up with them, and they lost track of time, passing in and out of consciousness.
Li Li didn't know how many days had passed. Two? Three? They'd been plagued by thick cloud cover, which made it impossible to tell morning from evening. Only when the sky darkened for hours would it be certain that another day had ended. Uncle Chen lounged under the sail, asleep. He'd been injured in the explosion on the Horde ship, and would take days to heal.
Li Li rested her head against the mast. The sail hung limply in its rigging, but she couldn't bring herself to take it in. Everything—absolutely everything—had gone completely wrong. She kept reliving the moment of being washed overboard, or Captain Heller's sword sliding through Lintharel's body, or the warm splash of Heller's blood against her face as Atropa slit his throat. Li Li shuddered. Such awful memories, such horrible sights to have seen.
The crinkle of paper in the wind caught Li Li's attention, and she glanced up to find an elegantly folded albatross fluttering above her. She extended a palm, and the bird alighted upon it and immediately stilled, the magic that fueled its journey expended. Curious, Li Li undid the folds, smoothing the creases as best she could. Two letters had composed the albatross, one addressed to her, the other to Uncle Chen. With a start, Li Li realized that they were both from her father.
Not wanting to invade her uncle's privacy, Li Li refolded his letter and tucked it into his haversack. Her own missive, however, she read.
My dear Li Li,
I have never been very good with words. Every time I try to speak with you, it seems nothing comes out the way that I wish, and we never understand each other or find common ground.
You are like your mother, and my brother, more than you are like me. You have your uncle's sense of wonder and your mother's fearlessness. That was one of the things I loved the most about her, though as someone who does not share that trait, it was terrifying for me to watch her walk straight into situations that I would have avoided at all costs. It is equally terrifying for me to watch you make similar decisions. I have, in the past, let that fear manifest as anger, which I now realize was wrong.
You are destined to make different choices in your life from the ones I have made in mine. It is high time I came to terms with this. No matter what happens, you will always be my daughter, and I will always be proud of you.
Li Li read the letter twice, three times, letting the words sink into her memory. She remembered wondering in Gadgetzan if she could ever be both true to herself and good enough for her father. Chen had assured her that she could, and he had been right. Li Li's eyes clouded with tears, and she blinked, but couldn't clear her blurry vision. She suddenly missed her father with a ferocity she never would have anticipated.
"Oh, Uncle Chen," she said miserably, "why did the pearl send me on this stupid journey? Let's go home. I just want to go home."
Chen sighed in his sleep. A tear slid down Li Li's cheek, already damp from the misty air. She closed her eyes and hugged her knees to her chest.