Zhu Hong and Zhen Zhu said goodbye to the others and then left the house together with Yu Sui. They walked down the path to a building that was roughly in the middle of the valley. It was bigger than most of the others, although a few of the surrounding ones were roughly the same size.
Zhen Zhu couldn’t help but be curious and glanced at his husband. Zhu Hong had said before that the bigger a house was, the more family members there were. Now though, weren’t they supposed to go and meet the phoenixes? So why had they come to this kind of big house?
Zhu Hong brushed through his hair again, lightly rubbing the neck that was hidden beneath. Zhen Zhu scrunched up his shoulders but actually leaned a little closer, liking the feeling.
“This isn’t a normal house where people live. It was built for the phoenixes to gather. So most of the days, the phoenix spouses in the valley will stay here to spend a bit of time with each other.”
“Is it something that we have to do?”
Zhu Hong shook his head. “Nobody is going to force you to do anything at all. You can come here whenever you like to but you also don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s all up to you yourself, depending on what you want to do. Neither I nor anybody else is going to tell you what you should do. At most, we’re going to make some suggestions.”
Zhen Zhu nodded but didn’t ask any further. In any case, he didn’t mind taking a look. If he liked it, maybe he would come here more often. “Then, are the dragon spouses ever coming with the phoenixes when they go here?”
Zhu Hong was in a bit of a daze when he heard that question. Were they? He turned to look at Yu Sui for clarification.
She shook her head though. “No, they are not. They will usually come with their spouses to drop them off at the door, but they usually don’t come in. This is a place just for the phoenixes.”
“Oh.” Zhen Zhu looked back up at the house, still surprised at how big it was. But then again, if it was supposed to hold all the different phoenixes, then that was quite a lot. After all, even though the number of phoenixes and dragons had dwindled over the years from what his clan remembered, that still didn’t mean that there were only a handful of members. His clan probably still numbered a few hundred people.
Since they were already in front of the door, Zhu Hong pulled Zhen Zhu into his arms again. “As I said, I’ll go back to Elder Bi’s house to talk with him a bit more. If you want to come back, you can do so at any time. Just tell sister Yu Sui. If you want to stay a little longer, you also can. I’ll probably come here when night falls to check up on you just to make sure that you are still alright.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, thought for a moment, and then tiptoed to give his husband a kiss on the lips. “I love you too.”
Zhu Hong laughed, not quite sure where the ‘too’ had come from. In any case, he just hugged him tighter, wrapping his arms all around him. “I also love you.” He looked up at the house, wondering just how Zhen Zhu would be doing in there. If he could, he really would’ve liked to accompany him. But for one, this wasn’t a place he could just enter, and second, there were a few things he was supposed to ask Elder Bi. “I guess it’s better we say farewell now. Otherwise, I’m afraid that we won’t be able to do so before nightfall.”
“Mn.” Zhen Zhu nodded and then reluctantly stepped away from Zhu Hong, looking at him for a moment longer. He waited for Zhu Hong to go but his husband didn’t. “Didn’t you say that you were going?”
Zhu Hong just smiled. “And I will. As soon as you are inside and I can be sure that nothing will happen to you. This is one of the most secure houses in the valley. As long as you’re in there, I really won’t need to be scared that something might happen to you.”
Zhen Zhu couldn’t help but smile sweetly when he heard that, then rushed back to his husband, fervently kissing his cheek. “Then I will see you later!” He didn’t say anything else and just rushed to Yu Sui’s side, grabbing onto her wide sleeves to signal her that he was ready to go in.
Yu Sui suppressed a laugh and then led Zhen Zhu inside, giving her brother-in-law a nod before she closed the door so he would know not to worry. In any case, she definitely wouldn’t let anybody bully this child.
Zhu Hong did indeed wait for the door to close behind the two of them and only then went back to Elder Bi’s house.
As soon as he stepped through the door, Elder Bi already came rushing over. “Zhu Hong! Back then, I could still understand that you wanted to live alone, being a bachelor and all. But now, you are already married. Shouldn’t you think of your spouse a little bit? Just think of what will happen when you’re not in the valley once. Wouldn’t it be better if Zhen Zhu was living with somebody else then? So why don’t the two of you just move into the house with us?”
Zhu Hong smiled when he heard that, having expected that it would come to this. “Elder Bi, just because Zhen Zhu likes your pastries, you shouldn’t make that much of a fuss. If you give him too many in too short an amount of time, he also won’t be able to eat them anymore. Right now, everything is still a novelty. Just wait for him to taste a few other things.”
Elder Bi pursed his lips, clearly not willing to just give up. “In any case, you should also consider what I’ve been saying. It’s really better for a young phoenix like him to have a few more people around. If something happens, will you really be able to take care of him? What if he gets sick?”
Speaking of that, Zhu Hong’s gaze couldn’t help but dull a little. This was indeed true. Since he didn’t have parents, he hadn’t really been able to talk with anyone about these things. Just look at how he didn’t even know the first thing about phoenixes. If it was something that needed to be dealt with fast, then what if he needed to rush over here first? What if something happened to Zhen Zhu in the meantime? He really wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if it was his negligence that had made Zhen Zhu come to harm. That was something that couldn’t be allowed to happen.
Even though he shook his head and then went over to the living room, where the others were still gathered. They had also been able to figure out what Elder Bi wanted to say, and he had really spoken loud enough that everybody was able to hear it.
His wife waved at Zhu Hong, motioning for him to come and sit down again. “Don’t take it too seriously. In any case, even after hatching, phoenixes aren’t that frail either.”
Zhu Hong smiled wryly. “They might not be that frail but they aren’t that strong either. What your husband said makes sense. I have to make sure that I’m able to take care of Zhen Zhu no matter what happens. As a lone dragon who didn’t even have his parents with him all the time while growing up that really isn’t easy. It might actually be best to take you up on this offer.”
Chengse smiled kindly and reached over to pat his hand. “You know that nobody in this household would have anything against that. More people are always welcome and we already see you as part of our family anyway. You don’t have to worry.”
Zhu Hong nodded. “I guess I’ll think about it. But in any case, I will have to see what Zhen Zhu says and I also think that it wouldn’t be wrong for us to spend a few weeks at least just with the two of us together. After all, we just got married yesterday. And there are many things that Zhen Zhu will still have to learn about this place.”
Elder Bi couldn’t help but look a bit unhappy. “And you think more people trying to teach him would make it more difficult? I really think you have it the wrong way around, Zhu Hong. It would be best for him to do it this way.”
“On the other hand, phoenixes have this need to rely on their spouses especially in the beginning. To have too many people around also might not be good. Or am I wrong about that?” He might don’t know too much but this was something that had been stressed to him beforehand by Grandelder Zise so he was quite clear on it.
Elder Bi also couldn’t argue with it so he just angrily shook his head. “Anyway, he already knows us. And didn’t you also send him to those phoenixes? In that case, it shouldn’t be that much of a problem.”
Chengse looked at him, a little unhappy. “Aiya, stop trying to pressure the boy. The more you do that, the less likely he is going to do it. If you are always going to be this headstrong, can he really bring his partner over without worrying?”
Elder Bi shut up, not daring to say another word when his wife said it like this. In any case, it wasn’t that he wanted to pressure Zhu Hong. He really just thought that it would be better this way for all of them.
Zhu Hong smiled faintly, not that bothered actually. “I will think about it carefully and talk it over with Zhen Zhu. When we made a decision, I’ll tell you. Don’t think too much. In any case …” He turned back to Elder Bi’s wife, looking a little sheepish. “There is a question that I would have right now. I don’t know if you would mind if I asked straightforwardly?”
Chengse nodded, not feeling that it was a problem at all. “Sure, go ahead.” In any case, what could this be about if not about his spouse? Most likely, something about the phoenix clan had astonished him and he just wanted some reassurance or a way to figure it out.
“Well, yesterday, when he was brought over, he was still so small. And then, tonight, he kind of turned back into his phoenix form, but he seems to have grown a bit. He is still only about this big though.” He motioned with his hands, his brows tightly furrowed. “Is that normal? I mean I have seen the phoenix forms of others and even just yesterday when they brought him over. Zhen Zhu is nowhere close to that in terms of size so I couldn’t help but be a little worried.”
Chengse looked slightly surprised, but not actually worried. “Well, there’s only so much place in an egg. So even though we phoenixes are mentally matured when we hatch and we have also received the memories of our clan, our bodies need a bit of time to catch up. It can take a few weeks or a few days, depending on the phoenix. Growing so much in one night is actually not that strange. As for how it will continue, I can’t tell you. It could be that at the end of this week, he will already have reached his full size. But maybe it will also take longer. It will depend on him.”
“But he’s not … too small at this stage, is he?”
Chengse wife shook her head. “No, absolutely not. In any case, even if he was a little smaller, it also wouldn’t be a problem. There isn’t really a size that definitely needs to be reached. In any case, his other form looks quite normal, right?”
Zhu Hong nodded, not worried about that side of the question. It was just that the phoenix form … he really felt that he was holding a little chick. That thought always made him feel a little strange. But, well, that also wasn’t something that he really needed to worry about right now. If Zhen Zhu would really still grow, then soon enough, his size definitely would’ve reached the degree of what he had seen from others. If he was just a bit on the smaller side, he definitely wouldn’t mind though. There was just one other question that bothered him. “The fact that he just changed back like that isn’t a problem either, right?”
Chengse shook her head again, still not looking worried at all. “No, he is changing back so he can grow. It’s not possible while he is in his other form. In fact, if you’re noticing that he is growing very slowly, then it would also help to encourage him to take on his phoenix form a little more often. In any case, since he only just hatched, he will need to get familiar with it. There are some memories pertaining to that that are passed down from the clan but some things just need to be tried. So you should encourage him to do that in case the other phoenixes haven’t done it already.”
Zhu Hong inclined his head, grateful for the advice. “I will definitely do that.” He glanced at the window and noticing that with all the discussion, it had already started to turn dark, he got up. “I guess there’s still a bit of time but I’ll go over already to make sure I’ll be there when Zhen Zhu comes out. I guess it wouldn’t matter if they come back here but I think it will still be a nice surprise if I’m there when they opened the door.”
Chengse nodded while her daughter-in-law got up and nodded toward Zhu Hong. “Since Yu Sui is also there, I’ll accompany you.”
“Thank you, sister Hui Se.”
With that, the two young dragons bid their farewell and left the house again, going over to the building where the phoenixes were gathered.