The week went by in a flash. Soon enough, the people of the phoenix clan crowded around the main building in the middle of the forest, waiting for their newest member to hatch. Grandelder Lan Jing and the other Elders were standing in front of the compartment, looking on with smiles on their lips.
Finally, there was a faint sound from inside the egg. Everyone fell quiet and watched on with bated breath, their gazes trained on the pearl-white shell.
The same sound rang out once again and then once more, and finally, a faint crack appeared on top of the egg. The room fell quiet for a moment and then, there was once again the sound of a beak hitting the shell, and the crack in the already punctured shell enlarged. The egg cracked down the middle and finally, a fluffy head pressed against it, already exposing a few whites feathers.
The smiles on the Elders’ faces brightened and they couldn’t help but step a little closer, not wanting to miss even the smallest detail.
The little phoenix pressed its head harder against the shell, hitting it a few times in an attempt to get out. Unfortunately for the little one, it wouldn’t budge. It stemmed its whole body against the shell once more but the crack didn’t seem to want to budge. The little head was retracted and for a moment, nothing happened.
One of the Elders couldn’t help but inch closer to Grandelder Lan Jing and lowered his voice. “What’s this? Did they give up?”
The Grandelder shook her head. “They are probably just a bit tired. Have you already forgotten how it is to come out of your shell? It’s hard work.”
The little phoenix indeed rested for a while before finally using its beak again to hack at the shell. This time, a few more cracks appeared, and finally, when it pressed its head against the shell once again, putting its whole weight into the movement, the egg finally cracked open.
Some of the Elders laughed while the little phoenix tried to poke its head out. Well, halfway through, it got stuck. It made a distressed sound and then wriggled around, messing up the white feathers on its head.
Grandelder Lan Jing raised her hand, covering her mouth to try and stifle a laugh. The other Elders weren’t as polite and just laughed outright. There were always a few phoenixes who would manage to do something like this but they hadn’t seen it happen for quite some time. And a phoenix that was able to hatch after just seven days … they had probably expected something slightly different.
The chick finally managed to retract its head and then carefully picked at the shell again, making it crack on the other side as well. Finally, a chunk of the shell fell down, opening up like a door. The chick made a happy sound and then tried to rush out, only for one of its wings to be stuck at the side. It stumbled down, halfway landing in the nest while the rest of its body was still stuck in the egg.
This time, even Grandelder Lan Jing couldn’t help but chuckle. She really would’ve liked to go forward and help a bit but this was something that a freshly-hatched chick needed to do on their own. There was no help allowed.
The little chick tugged and tugged and finally, the wing came undone. The chick stumbled down and fell into the nest while one feather remained behind, stuck to the edge of the egg.
“Aiya!” Grandelder Lan Jing and the other Elders couldn’t help but feel distressed for the little one. To rip a feather out like this on the day you were hatching definitely wasn’t a good feeling.
The little chick shook itself, fluffing up its feathers before getting to its feet. It curiously looked around and jumped onto the rim of the nest. Then, it fluttered its little wings a few times and jumped down, its form glimmering in the air.
“Oh, no!” Grandelder Lan Jing hurriedly reached out and grabbed it, catching the little chick between her fingers and making sure not to let go. “Little one, you’re a bit too early for that. Wait until we’re in the valley of the dragons. You can take on your other form as soon as we’re at your husband’s place.”
The chick looked up and called out in distress, clearly not happy with this treatment.
Grandelder Lan Jing could only sigh. “Looks like this is a naughty one.” She shook her head and then motioned for the Elders to go to the door. In any case, it was best not to keep the little phoenix in this form for too long. Who knew when it would get any ideas?
The Elders left the building, changed their forms, and then soared into the sky. They flew over to the valley of the dragons as fast as they could. The sooner they arrived, the better. Freshly-hatched phoenixes could be quite difficult to handle so it was best to hand this one over to their future husband as soon as they could. That way, nothing would go wrong. After all, while the dragons were able to choose their partner when they were still in the form of an egg, things were different for the phoenixes. They would need to choose their partner after they had hatched and took on their other form for the first time. So at that moment, there better shouldn’t be anyone else around.
Soon enough, the phoenixes could see the valley of the dragons in the distance. Grandelder Lan Jing looked over at the mountain where the eggs were kept and motioned over for the little phoenix to take a look. “That is where you were being kept when you were still an egg. It’s the place where your husband went to find you. You’re really lucky. It seems your egg was lost before but he still managed to find you despite that. It shows that the fate that the two of you have is quite good. You’re one lucky little phoenix.”
The little chick turned to look at the mountain as well and tried to flutter its wings. Unfortunately, despite having changed form herself, the Grandelder was still holding onto it tightly. The little phoenix dejectedly hung its head and looked down instead, trying to find something interesting to see.
Soon enough, it spotted the valley. The chick blinked its eyes and then chirped, looking up at the Grandelder. It was clearly asking just what it was that could be seen down there.
Grandelder Lan Jing chuckled and then circled above the valley once, slowly descending. “That’s the valley of the dragons where your future husband lives. You’ll be able to take a look around with him tomorrow. Today, we are going to hold the wedding ceremony for the two of you.”
The chick happily chirped once again, looking forward to the ceremony. In any case, the valley looked quite interesting and now that they were getting closer, it was able to see more. The little phoenix looked from side to side, spotting many houses and a lot of people that were standing in the middle of the valley.
The phoenixes finally made their way down and flapped their wings once again to steady themselves in the air for a moment before they changed back into their other form. Grandelder Lan Jing hurriedly made sure that she had still clasped the little chick tightly so it couldn’t change form in front of all of the dragons.
The Grandelder of the dragons, Zise, stepped forward, followed by Elder Bi and Zhu Hong. He inclined his head, a faint smile on his lips. “Greetings, Lan Jing. I hope your flight here was pleasant.”
Lan Jing inclined her head as well and then motioned over at the little chick. “The flight wasn’t that much for us but I guess the little one is being quite curious about everything that is going on. I’m afraid it’s a little naughty so you probably shouldn’t wait too long.” She turned to glance at Zhu Hong, giving him a smile. “Well, how about you come here and take them over?”
Zhu Hong nodded and stepped forward, gingerly reaching out. Before Grandelder Lan Jing could hand him the little phoenix, he took his hands back though. “That … I don’t know how to hold them.”
The Grandelder chuckled and just motioned at her own hands. “Just like this. It’s actually not that complicated. You might be messing up the feathers a little but that doesn’t matter much. They’ll fluff up again on their own later on. Just make sure that you hold the wings down slightly. Otherwise, they’ll escape immediately and then we’ll be on a merry chase around the valley. And if they actually transform in front of somebody else, you’ll be in trouble.”
These words didn’t help much in calming Zhu Hong down. Instead, he felt even more worried about it.
The dragons behind him laughed and Elder Bi knocked on his shoulder. “Child, there is really no need to be like this. We’ve all carried our future spouse like this once. Nothing has ever happened.”
Grandelder Zise rubbed his chin and squinted his eyes that Elder Bi. “Bi, why do I remember that a certain someone of our race let their spouse escape that day and we actually all had to leave so they could go and search through the whole valley on their own?”
Elder Bi’s face instantly turned red. “That … Grandelder Zise, you must remember wrong. I’m sure nothing of the like ever happened.”
Some of the dragons behind them murmured, still remembering such a story as well.
Elder Bi cleared his throat and then motioned over to Zhu Hong. “In any case, nothing is going to happen if you don’t take them over. Just give it a try.”
Zhu Hong gave a nod. In any case, if even Elder Bi had experienced something like this, then he definitely didn’t need to worry. Even if something would go wrong when he did this, there would be a way to deal with it. Thinking like that, he stepped a little closer to Grandelder Lan Jing and then reached out again, his fingertips finally touching the soft feathers of the little phoenix.
Grandelder Lan Jing’s smile brightened and she finally let go, only keeping her hands close in case the little chick tried to escape. To her surprise, that wasn’t necessary at all.
The little chick looked at the big hands that were getting close and then up at the person that the hands belonged to. It blinked its eyes, and then, it was already in Zhu Hong’s hands. It really looked docile at this moment.
Zhu Hong held it carefully, afraid to hurt it. A phoenix egg was one thing. They were sturdy and couldn’t be damaged easily, even when he had taken on his dragon form. But such a little chick was a different thing altogether. Contrary to the eggs, they were small and soft creatures that would be easily wounded if you didn’t pay attention. While this form of his wasn’t nearly as ferocious as the other one, he still couldn’t help but worry that maybe it would be too much for the little chick.
Grandelder Lan Jing nodded though. “Very good. You can bring them back home like this.”
Zhu Hong nodded and then glanced at Elder Bi who just shooed him in the direction of his house.
“Go on! What are you waiting for? That is your future spouse. Go bring them home and let them take on their other form. After that, the two of you have to come to the temple. Don’t let us wait forever.”
Zhu Hong nodded again and then turned away, slowly walking toward his house.
Grandelder Zise a fist to his lips and coughed. “Why does he look like he’s walking on eggshells?”
Grandelder Lan Jing just laughed at him. “Well, contrary to somebody who almost broke their spouse’s wings, he is probably just careful with the little one. It can’t hurt. In any case, the little one will be growing a bit more after they’ve taken on their other form for the first time. By then, he won’t need to worry as much. In any case, I think these two are a good fit. I’m not worried about their future.”
Grandelder Zise also watched Zhu Hong’s receding figure nodded. “Yes, it seems like they will really get along well. That little phoenix of yours seems to like him quite a lot. It actually calmed down just like that when he reached out.”
The phoenixes refrained from commenting on that. In any case, they could imagine that there was something more at play there. Such a little phoenix was usually not quite aware of their surroundings yet. Even though they had already matured inside the egg and could actually be considered an adult, it was still their first time outside.
All they knew were the memories of their race that they inherited from the mother tree. So everything they saw was a first. A person not from their race that looked a bit different was definitely something that could make a little chick quite curious. Naturally, it would show this kind of reaction.
But that wasn’t something that they needed to tell the dragons. It was better if they believed that this was already a sign of just how well the two of them would get along. In any case, the connection between the people of the phoenix and the dragon race was destined. Since Zhu Hong had felt a connection, it was clear that Zhen Zhu would also feel it. Thus, they weren’t worried at all.
Had the phoenixes and dragons known that all of this was actually just based on a lie in this case, they might have worried more. But in any case, things had already progressed to this point. There was no way to change what was already long underway. As soon as the little phoenix took on its other form, their fate would be sealed and they would have to master the future together, no matter whether it was fate and not.
Grandelder Zise motioned for the phoenixes to follow them to the temple. “I guess it will not take that long. Let’s go over already. Soon enough, the wedding will be held.”
The phoenixes nodded and the Elders all went toward the temple with the other people of the dragon race who had already been gathered.
When they reached the door, Grandelder Zise couldn’t help but look at the phoenixes and examined the people that were among the group. “What about the little chick’s parents?” He knew all the Elders of the phoenix clan and neither of them seemed to have a child this young. But he also hadn’t heard that any couple in their valley had been notified. It was quite strange.
The Grandelder could only sigh at that. “This egg had been lost for quite some time. I’m afraid since the time this happened, his parents have already fallen. You can probably still remember them. They were Tian Lan from your dragon clan and our Hong Shanhu.”
Grandelder Zise furrowed his brows. “Ah, so it was these two. Well, I was wondering when their child would appear. I had actually worried that it might’ve come to harm already.”
He indeed remembered Tian Lan. He had been a proud dragon. Unfortunately, fate had not been kind to him. Shortly after marrying his wife, he had lost his life outside of the valley and only his remains had been brought back. As for his wife, she had held on for some time, finally returning to the phoenix clan because she couldn’t take it any longer to stay at the place where she had originally lived with her husband. She still placed the egg that she had laid after he left on the mountain, contrary to customs putting it there alone. In any case, what had she been supposed to do? Now, that egg had finally reappeared. Even though both parents were already dead. Zise was happy to hear that at least their little one had survived.
Grandelder Lan Jing reached over and patted his shoulder. “We all miss them, as we miss all the ones that have fallen. But today is a joyous occasion. And who knows? Soon enough, we might be welcoming yet another member of either of our two races. Let’s just look forward to that. The matters of the past … we can remember them fondly but they should not overshadow what is happening in the here and now.”
Grandelder Zise nodded, feeling that she was right. “Yes, let’s do that.” With that, the majority of the dragons and phoenixes spread out to the two sides of the path in front of the temple while the two Grandelders and the Elders went inside.