The Grandelders of the phoenix the dragon clan stepped forward respectively, smiling at the two youngsters about to get married. They didn’t make many words around the matter. In any case, whether it was the dragons or the phoenixes, when they got to this point, they usually weren’t in the mood to listen to any moving speeches anymore and just wanted to finally get married. Thus, they immediately started the ceremony without a preamble.
“The first step is to honor our ancestors.” Lan Jing motioned toward the statue of the dragon god.
Zhu Hong and Zhen Zhu folded their hands in response and bowed to the statue.
This time, Zhu Hong did not need to guide Zhen Zhu. After having received the memories of the phoenix clan, even though he didn’t know everything, he was absolutely aware of how the wedding ceremony was conducted. Thus, he had no problem following the steps.
Zhu Hong couldn’t help himself and glanced at him when the two of them straightened up again. Zhen Zhu looked elegant no matter what it was that he did. From what he had seen so far, this was something that was inherent to all the phoenixes but he just couldn’t help but feel that he had really been lucky to get Zhen Zhu of all people as his partner. It was hard to say what exactly it was that caused him to feel like this. Actually, Zhen Zhu couldn’t be called mature or poised. Even though he might have hatched and counted as an adult phoenix already, there was an unmistakable youthful charm to him. It was hard to describe. Maybe it was the mixture of that pristine, white hair and the creamy skin with those round apricot-colored eyes but he just was very good to look at.
At the side, one of the dragon Elders couldn’t help but elbow Elder Bi. “The youth you raised can’t take his eyes off his new partner. Worried yet that he’ll stop listening to you after today?”
Elder Bi glanced at him. “We’re in the temple. Cut it out!”
The Elder just snickered but still straightened up again and didn’t say anything else. In any case, they truly were in the temple. Who would dare to misbehave too much under the eyes of the dragon god? It might be alright if it was a sentence or two but after that, it was best not to tempt fate.
In the front, Zhu Hong hurriedly turned back to the statue, feeling awkward after hearing those words. Clearly, he had just been taking a quick glance. Why did it sound as if he was smitten with Zhen Zhu? Even though he was pretty … His thoughts trailed off and he was in a bit of a daze. Well, in his case, wasn’t it good if people thought that he was smitten with him? That way, nobody would doubt their missing connection at all. Yes, this was for the best. He should probably steal a few more glances. In any case, he really liked his partner’s looks. He truly was a lucky man in that regard.
Elder Zise cleared his throat. “Next, it is time to worship the previous generation.”
Zhen Zhu and Zhu Hong turned to the two Grandelders and bowed to them one by one, starting by Elder Zise since he had spoken and then turning to Grandelder Lan Jing. Then, they turned back to the other side, bowing toward Elder Bi who had taken care of Zhu Hong after his parents’ death, and then the empty seat on the side of the phoenix clan.
Since Zhen Zhu’s parents were already gone, the seats had just been left empty. Since the younglings of the phoenixes didn’t need to be raised in the same way that the dragons did, their feelings toward their parents were a little less close anyway. And with his parents who hadn’t been able to come to the mountain to take care of his egg, it was even more so.
To be honest, Zhen Zhu still hadn’t quite understood just why this seat was empty. The memories of the clan weren’t all-encompassing after all. Some things were very vague in his mind and the role of his parents was part of that. This was because it was difficult to pass down memories that varied so much from person to person. With almost all the people in the ceremony being different each time, it couldn’t be shown that directly to the newly hatched phoenixes. Otherwise, it would only confuse them. But because of that, Zhen Zhu hadn’t yet caught on to the fact that his parents were gone just like Zhu Hong’s.
The couple finally turned back to the front, looking up at the statue again, and Zhen Zhu’s thoughts were pulled away from those empty seats already. He remembered the temple quite clearly from the memories of his clan. Looking at the statue, he couldn’t help but blink his apricot-colored eyes though. On the shoulders of the dragon god … why did it look as if there was a phoenix perched? He had never seen this detail before. He couldn’t help but wonder about it and glanced at Zhu Hong, wanting to ask about it. But right now, the ceremony was still ongoing. There really was no way to just casually ask him about things.
Zhu Hong noticed his gaze and glanced at him, smiling faintly. He reached out and patted his hand a little, thinking that maybe he was nervous. Then, he turned back to the front and waited for the Elders to announce the next step.
Grandelder Lan Jing nodded with satisfaction when she saw how the two of them were getting along. “Next, bow to each other.”
The couple turned to the side, looking at each other for a moment. There was a smile hanging on both their lips before they finally bowed.
Looking at it from the outside, nothing seemed different from any other dragon-phoenix wedding that the Elders had witnessed. Nobody would’ve expected that there was a difference in how this couple had found together.
When the two of them straightened up, the two Grandelders nodded and then exchanged a glance as well.
Elder Zise then turned to address the Elders that had followed them. “Now, it is time to offer a sacrifice to the dragon god.”
Two Elders came forward, each of them holding a small box. The dragon Elder held hers in front of Zhu Hong while the phoenix Elder offered hers to Zhen Zhu. The couple took them and inclined their heads before turning back to the statue. They opened the boxes and held them up with both hands.
The Elders continued to stand behind them to introduce the sacrifices. The Elder of the phoenix clan spoke up first.
“The phoenix clan is offering pearls from the midnight sea in the hope that the dragon and phoenix deities will bless the wedding of our youngest member, Zhen Zhu.”
The Elder of the dragon clan spoke up immediately after. “The dragon clan is offering the vermilion scales of the black brier snake, in the hope that the dragon god will bless the marriage of our clan’s member Zhu Hong.”
Zhen Zhu and Zhu Hong put down the baskets when the Elders had finished introducing the sacrifices, bowed, and then got up while the Elders returned to the side.
The two Grandelders bowed to the statue as well and then turned to the couple again, motioning for the member of their clan respectively to follow them.
Zhu Hong reached over and grasped Zhen Zhu’s hand for a moment, squeezing it slightly. “Don’t worry, we will see each other again in a moment.” His voice sounded low in general, pleasing to the ears, and it was especially nice to hear when he showed how much he cared about his partner.
Zhen Zhu smiled and nodded, holding his hand for another moment before he let go and followed Grandelder Lan Jing.
The two of them were led outside through a door on each side of the statue while the other Elders remained in the hall, kneeling down in front of the statue and chanting prayers to continue to ask for blessings.
In the side room, Grandelder Lan Jing turned to Zhen Zhu. “Now, for the next part, things will be just between the two of you. You are supposed to gift him your heart feather. Are you sure you can find it? If you can’t, you can call me back in and I will help you.”
Zhen Zhu nodded. “I should be able to find it. Don’t worry about it.” In any case, the phoenixes were born in their bird form. It shouldn’t be that difficult for him to be able to find one feather that had grown at such a permanent place.
Grandelder Lan Jing nodded and then turned around, returning to the hall, and standing guard in front of the door so nobody would disturb him.
On the other side, Grandelder Zise looked at Zhu Hong earnestly, also reminding him with a few words. “I definitely don’t need to tell you that you are supposed to give your spouse your reverse scale. I’ll return back to the hall before you do. Make sure that nobody else is around before you change and don’t forget to tell him to put it away well. You also can’t be callous with the feather he’s going to give you. These are the things that might cost very well either of your lives. It’s best to be as careful with it as you can. Make sure you hide it in a secret place.”
“Naturally, Grandelder Zise. I will not disappoint you.” He hesitated for a moment and then bowed his head. “Also, this concerns the safety of my partner. Naturally, I will not let any harm come to him. I will make especially sure.”
The Grandelder was satisfied when he heard that and also returned to the hall, coincidentally arriving at the same time as Grandelder Lan Jing. The two of them glanced at each other through the gap behind the statue, and then closed their eyes, silently adding a prayer of their own for the couple.
On the other hand, Zhen Zhu took on his phoenix form. It hadn’t been long since he had transformed out of this form and he had previously been in this one the whole time since his egg had been laid. Naturally, he was infinitely more familiar with it than the one of the youth that he was currently showing. As soon as he transformed, he just needed one look before he found his heart feather between the others. It really wasn’t difficult. Most of the feathers on his body were pearl-white while only the ones on his wings and tail were apricot-colored. His heart-feather was the only exception: It was a mixture of white and apricot, quite eye-catching between the pearl-white expanse around it.
Zhen Zhu felt elated when he found it so easily. He grabbed onto it, hesitated for a moment, and then pulled.
Zhen Zhu yelped and his eyes teared up. Holding onto the feather, he took on his other form again but the pain wouldn’t go away. He wiped at his eyes with his hands, not wanting to ruin the beautiful sleeves, and then went over to the room where he was supposed to wait for Zhu Hong.
At the same time, his husband had also taken on his dragon form. He knew where exactly his reverse scale was. Thus, he raised his claw, grabbed onto the scale, and then slowly slid it out, angling it in a way so that it slowly came undone. Finally, he turned back into his human form and then turned to the last room, stepping inside only to see his husband already waiting there.
He raised his brows in surprise. Zhen Zhu had been quite fast in getting out his heart feather. He really hadn’t expected that. He went over with a smile, only to freeze in shock when he saw his husband’s watery eyes. Not knowing how to react for a moment, he finally cleared his throat and reached out, cupping his cheek with his hand and gently rubbing his skin with his thumb. “What’s the matter? Does it hurt?” Just when he asked the question, it dawned on him what had actually happened. Most likely, this little phoenix had just gone ahead and pulled out his heart feather with raw force. Naturally, it would hurt.
The heart feather of a phoenix was one that extended deeper into their skin than the others did. Legend had it that in some cases, it might literally reach their heart. In any case, it sure came close to that. Pulling it out would naturally hurt.
On the other hand, the reverse scale of the dragons was different. Who knew how it had come to be but this was a scale that had grown the wrong way around. So contrary to the other scales that were deeply embedded into their skin and worked like an almost unbreakable armor, this scale was only wedged against the other scales but not against the skin, making it much easier to take out than the others and also into a dragon’s weak spot. That was why nobody was supposed to see them transform while they took out the scale because it would leave others with the opportunity to injure them gravely afterward. After all, no other scale could be grown there. Even if something regenerated, it would just be another reverse scale but never a normal one.
Zhen Zhu nodded with teary eyes. “It hurts.” Actually saying so, he immediately teared up again.
Zhu Hong couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He didn’t know how much exactly the phoenixes knew from the memories of their clan. Usually, he would’ve thought that this kind of thing was contained in there but probably, it had only been the fact that they were supposed to take out the heart feather, but not the way how it was done. In any case, even if he was careful, it probably wouldn’t be easy to get out.
He stepped forward and gently pulled him into his arms, rubbing his back to soothe him. “It’s no wonder. Well, let’s just stand here for a while. It’ll stop hurting soon. Just give it a bit of time.”
Zhen Zhu raised his hands and clung to Zhu Hong’s robe. Looking at the feather in his fingers, he was a bit upset. Finally, he raised it and waved it in front of Zhu Hong’s eyes. “Do you want it?”
Zhu Hong smiled, finding the situation a little funny. Usually, this should probably be a very solemn situation since they were giving each other their greatest weaknesses and their greatest strength. But now, Zhen Zhu just seemed to want to get rid of this feather.
“It’s a gift from my newly-wedded husband. Of course, I want to have it.” He rubbed his cheek again and then took the feather from Zhen Zhu. He carefully put it away before he offered his reverse scale with both his hands. “This is my reverse scale. You probably know this from the memories of your clan but this is a special scale from my body, marking the place that is my only weakness. I’m giving it to you for safekeeping.”
Zhen Zhu took the scale, fingering it for a moment. “It’s bright red.”
Zhu Hong nodded. “All my scales are.”
Zhen Zhu looked up, smiling faintly. “Just like your hair and your eyes.” He really liked this part of his husband. It made him look a little wild. It made him wonder just what kind of adventures were lying in front of them.
Zhu Hong raised his brows when he was greeted by such a gaze and then reached up, gently rubbing Zhen Zhu’s head. “How do you feel now?”
Zhen Zhu rubbed his chest, his white brows still furrowing together tightly. “Not that good. It still hurts a bit.”
Zhu Hong nodded. “Well, the wedding ceremony is already over with this. We can just excuse ourselves and go home. I have some medicine that I can give you to dull the pain and heal the wound. How about it?”
Zhen Zhu nodded and held the scale in one hand while taking Zhu Hong’s hand with the other. “What do we do with the scale now?”
Zhu Hong raised the hand that Zhen Zhu had just grabbed his with and motioned at the ring that he was wearing. He had known that they would have to do this, so naturally, one of the rings that he had prepared could be used to store a few things inside. “You can store it in there for now. Later, we should find a place where we put the feather and scale to make sure that nothing happens to them.” In fact, this was more important for the feather than it was for the scale. The scale was pretty much useless now that it had come undone. While being on the dragon’s body, it at least looked like a scale so it wouldn’t immediately draw attention to itself. On the other hand, the heart feather of a phoenix did actually store some of their strength. So this kind of thing could not be found by others. That would really make trouble for the phoenix in question.
“Oh, then we’ll do it that way.” Zhen Zhu opened the ring and put the scale inside, conscientiously closing it up afterward. Then, he inched closer to Zhu Hong and followed him outside.
The two of them went back to the hall, nodded at the Grandelders, and then went to the door. They stepped out of the temple together and were immediately encircled by a group of dragons and phoenixes that were holding small baskets in their hands. Zhen Zhu’s eyes widened while Zhu Hong just smiled wryly and then, there was already a rain of petals falling down on them.
Zhen Zhu reached out a hand, catching a pair of petals, his eyes turning even wider. They were a white and a red one, exactly like them. He couldn’t help but think that this really was a beautiful custom. He kept the petals and put them into the ring just like the scale before, and then happily grabbed Zhu Hong’s arm.
His husband smiled at what he did but didn’t say anything. In any case, as long as Zhen Zhu was happy, it was good. He owed his little phoenix too much already. He definitely wouldn’t question any of his choices.
He slowly led him through the crowd, smiling at the other dragons and their partners, and then went toward his house with him. The others followed them for a bit but stopped a respectful distance away from the door, just continuing to throw the petals until the two of them had reached the doorstep and turned around. Zhu Hong inclined his head to them and Zhen Zhu followed suit. The others went away laughing, yelling at them to have fun.
Zhu Hong chuckled at their antics. Previously, he had also made fun of the other dragons that married their spouses like this. He never would have thought to ever be in this kind of situation. When he was young, there just hadn’t been too many thoughts spared on that. And if he thought of his future with somebody living at his side, he had only just imagined the beautiful lives they would have in their own home, not necessarily what others would think of it.
“Well, welcome home.” He opened the door and motioned for Zhen Zhu to step inside.
The little phoenix crossed over the doorstep first and Zhu Hong followed behind him, closing the door.
He reached out and pulled Zhen Zhu back into his arms, a faint smile on his lips. Even though he was not in love with him like other dragons were with their spouses, he still believed that the two of them would have a blissful future. He was sure that he could make it work.