Quest for Pandaria

Part 1 of 4

"… And just as the tram started up an incline, that ugly green goblin jumped at me!" Li Li Stormstout curled her fingers near her face in her best, most exaggerated impression of a snarling goblin. She leaned in toward the group of other young pandaren splayed along the hillside, keen for their attention.

One youngster rolled onto her back, snoring loudly. Drool dribbled out of the corner of her mouth, matting the white fur on her cheek. Another lifted his head, the black rings around his eyes briefly appearing over the top of his book before dropping out of sight again. Somebody else yawned conspicuously. All around Li Li, boredom shone in the expression of every pandaren cub near enough to hear her. Even her own brother, Shisai, was determinedly ignoring her, picking stalks of grass and tying them in knots.

"—But I kicked that goblin straight in the chest, so he flew out of the car, right into a wall. And he exploded! Kaboom!"

Someone coughed.

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"Okay, his potion exploded," Li Li amended, raising her voice, "but it was really exciting!"

"Yeah, we know, Li Li," said a cub absently drawing curlicues along the ground with his finger. "You've told us a bazillion times."

"Chen, why don't you tell us a story?" another cub begged.

"Hmm?" Chen looked up from where he sat organizing a set of earthenware mugs on a blanket beneath the boughs of a large magnolia tree. Its branches filtered the afternoon light into golden splotches that dappled a large gathering of picnicking pandaren. On this warm, perfect day, nearly everyone had decided to pass the time by climbing to the top slope of Shen-zin Su's mighty shell and basking in the sun's glory.

"I want to hear about the time you got into a drinking contest with four dwarves at Aerie Peak!"

"Hey, I was talking to all you!" Li Li interjected, clearly annoyed. "When I was in Ironforge, I got to meet King Magni, and—"

The cub rolled his eyes. "Li Li, you never shut up about King Magni! We're asking Chen!"

Li Li huffed, glaring, and opened her mouth to retort.

"Hey, now, Li Li has plenty of good stories of her own," Chen called. "You got one thing wrong, though, little Pandowan." He gave them all a conspiratorial wink. "It wasn't four dwarves. It was five." The other cubs laughed appreciatively, but Li Li scowled. Chen didn't seem to notice, for he continued, "And speaking of drinking, you're completely distracting me from my manners.

"I'm really very sorry that the beer isn't better," Chen apologized to a group of adult pandaren as he filled the mugs. "Unfortunately there isn't a diversity of brewing ingredients on the Great Turtle."

"I'm sure it's still delicious, Chen," answered one of the Elders, graciously accepting her drink. "It's been wonderful to have our foremost brewmaster back! We've all missed you."

"You're too kind," he said, grinning.

"Chen, come on, tell us a story!" a cub cried.

"In a minute. Let me finish serving your parents, first. Then I'll get you kids some tea and we can talk stories."

"I was almost eaten by an ogre once," Li Li said. "That was pretty scary."

"We know, Li Li! Will you be quiet already?" another cub yelled. "Chen's got lots of stories we haven't heard."

She continued to trudge along, venting her frustration by kicking loose pebbles on the path and following them as they bounced down the slope in front of her. Ever since she had returned from her travels with Strongbo, life had become increasingly dull.

"Well, all right, then!" Li Li threw up her arms. "Keep bugging my uncle, I guess." She looked toward Chen expectantly, hoping he would defer to her storytelling, but he had moved off to a different part of the hill, absorbed in a conversation. She changed tactics. "Or, maybe you can tell me some of your stories. You know, about your days spent picking flowers on the hill and flunking calligraphy class? I can't imagine anything more exciting!"

Several of the cubs protested angrily and opened their mouths to escalate the bickering.

"Hey, cubs!" came Chen's timely interruption. "Who wants tea?"

A chorus of "Me, me!" rang at him in response, and Li Li found herself ignored as Chen's offer drew the others' attention away from her. She took the opportunity to abandon the hillside. Once out of sight from the picnickers, she exhaled and looked up at the sky. Puffy white clouds stole lazily across it, periodically blocking the sun and revealing it again to flood the landscape with light.

She continued to trudge along, venting her frustration by kicking loose pebbles on the path and following them as they bounced down the slope in front of her. Ever since she had returned from her travels with Strongbo, life had become increasingly dull. Her father, Chon Po, had been alternately relieved and furious to see her again, and the extremes of that particular emotional seesaw had only been exacerbated once Chen had explained the full details of Bo's fate.

Li Li's heart weighed heavily in her chest at any thought of Bo. Chen repeatedly assured her that Bo's death was not her fault, and on a purely intellectual level Li Li understood that. But the cruel, quiet voice at the back of her mind never truly let her forget that had she never decided to leave the Great Turtle, Shen-zin Su, Bo would likely still be alive.

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