Quest for Pandaria

Part 2 of 4

"Let me get this straight. You're telling me that I can't speak to King Magni because he's turned into a rock?"

Standing before the Council of Three Hammers in the throne room of the sprawling, subterranean dwarven city of Ironforge, Li Li Stormstout drew herself up as tall as she could, gripped her staff tightly, and jutted out her chin in her best attempt at an outraged expression.

"Boulder-dash," she said.

"It's th' truth!" the dwarf at the center of the stage answered her. "Ye can go down tae Old Ironforge an' see fer yerself! Me brother performed a ritual tae commune with th' earth nae long afore th' Cataclysm." Muradin Bronzebeard balled his fingers into a fist. "An' that was th' result."

"You're rather brazen to call the Council of Three Hammers liars," Moira Thaurissan added in a deliberately silky voice. "If your behavior is indicative of your people, well, I can't say I'm disappointed that I haven't met them before now."

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"The feeling's mutual, lady," Li Li muttered under her breath. Audibly, she addressed all three members of the council. "What I'm hearing is that you can't help me."

Muradin shook his head. "I'm afraid we canna. Whatever Magni may have once promised ye, he canna confirm it, an' th' council is divided about ye."

"All right, then. I guess I'll be going now." Li Li turned to leave.

"Manners, manners, young lady," Moira reminded her. Li Li paused a moment, then, in one smooth motion, whirled around, folding one arm across her belly and pitching forward in an exaggerated bow.

"O great Council of Three Hammers, your maneuvering is deserving of the highest acclaim! You have proven to be no less than the proverbial hard place to King Magni's literal rock, and I do feel so honored to find myself in between the two."

Moira's cry of indignation was partially drowned by Falstad Wildhammer's roar of appreciative laughter, and by the time Muradin managed to shout them both down from bickering, Li Li had long since left the room.

***

The Stonefire Tavern better exemplified the dwarves' anticipated hospitality than the throne room had. Cheerfully chattering patrons filled the tables, laughing and sharing drinks. Nonetheless, Li Li preferred to sit alone in the back. Though she was somewhat of a curiosity, the others left her to sulk into her pint of ale.

"Guess it was dumb of me to send the Crane off on his merry way before I talked to the council," she muttered. "Though I wasn't exactly expecting the king of Ironforge to have turned into a rock."

She slurped her beer, nodding approvingly, and leaned onto her elbow, absently tracing patterns on the hardwood table. Lost in her own thoughts, she didn't hear the steps approaching from behind until a shadow fell across her.

Li Li didn't look up. "Scram, will you? I'm busy."

A familiar chuckle responded to her. "Too busy to share a drink with your uncle? That's a shame."

Li Li jumped up and spun on her heel. Chen stood in front of her, a rucksack across his back and his staff in hand.

"Uncle Chen!" She threw her arms around him. "Er, sorry about being rude."

Chen laughed, giving her an affectionate squeeze, and took a seat across from her. "No problem. I bet you can guess why I'm here."

Li Li sighed and sat down. "Papa sent you to bring me home."

She slurped her beer, nodding approvingly, and leaned onto her elbow, absently tracing patterns on the hardwood table. Lost in her own thoughts, she didn't hear the steps approaching from behind until a shadow fell across her.

"He did, but I'm not going to. I read your letter, and it has also been noted that the pearl Wanyo brought back is missing."

Li Li tried, and failed, to control the sheepish look on her face. Chen raised an eyebrow.

"Well?"

Knowing she was caught, Li Li took a deep breath and explained what she had seen in the pearl before she left on her journey to Ironforge.

Chen sipped his drink thoughtfully. "I was pretty sure you had decided to try to find Pandaria, considering that we once spoke about it. This pearl thing actually granted you a vision?"

Li Li nodded enthusiastically. "That's why I took it. It wouldn't have shown me the vision for no reason!"

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