As soon as they were through the door, Zhen Zhu’s eyes went wide. “Look at this!” With that, he already rushed off to the other side of the establishment.
The waiter that was standing next to the door almost wanted to follow him and even called out to make him stop.
Zhu Hong cleared his throat, getting the man’s attention, and then motioned into the restaurant. “Please don’t mind him. He hasn’t hatched too long ago so everything he sees is still pretty exciting. He will come back as soon as he knows whatever caught his attention is about. In any case, do you still have an empty table for the two of us?”
The waiter was still weirded out but it wasn’t like this kind of thing couldn’t be seen every now and then in the city. Thus, he just nodded and then motioned for Zhu Hong to follow him. Leading him over to a table, he hurriedly looked around to figure out where Zhen Zhu was.
Zhu Hong didn’t do him the favor of telling him but he took a quick glance himself to make sure that his husband was alright.
Zhen Zhu was definitely more than alright. On the other side of the restaurant was a big tank that took up almost half of the wall. There was sand at the bottom that a couple of plants grew out of, stones and shells also lay on top as if this was truly the ground of the sea. The rest of the tank was naturally filled with water but the top was open and a long table had been added to the side toward the room they were in. At that table, several merpeople were lined up, happily eating while their tails were swishing from side to side below in the water.
Zhen Zhu was standing right in front of the tank and stared up at them with sparkling eyes. He looked as if he wanted to glue himself to the tank to get a better look at them. Unfortunately for him, the tank was pretty high so he only reached up to the tips of those beautiful, multi-colored tails and couldn’t actually speak to the merpeople. Zhen Zhu felt that it was a pity. He had never seen something this beautiful. If he could, he really would’ve liked to go over and have a chat while he took a closer look.
Zhu Hong realized what was going on and then looked at the merpeople that were leaning over the table, looking at his little spouse and laughing quite happily. The merpeople were definitely a tribe that was used to having all eyes on them. To see a little cutie staring at them with such fervor was definitely something they would like.
He told the waiter what he would like and then indicated that he would go and get his husband. The man was incredibly relieved when he heard that and immediately rushed off to get their order.
Meanwhile, Zhu Hong walked over and pulled Zhen Zhu into his arms, while taking a glance at the merpeople. “What’s the matter?”
Zhen Zhu still looked at those tails, watching as they were swishing from side to side. “They’re so beautiful!”
Zhu Hong brushed through his white hair and then kissed his cheek. “You’re beautiful. Do you want to talk to them?”
Zhen Zhu immediately turned to him, his eyes sparkling even more. “Can I?”
Zhu Hong’s gaze turned indulgent. “Well, at the very least, you can ask if they want to talk to you. Come on.” He grabbed his hand and then led him to the side of the room where an unassuming staircase was leading up.
Zhen Zhu followed his husband up the steps, not quite sure where they were going. Finally, they reached a small platform that was about as high as halfway up the tank. Zhu Hong led him around the corner and they found themselves on the other side of the tank. The merpeople had already expected them. They had already swum to this side and were now crowding around to take a look at Zhen Zhu.
The people on land usually felt that the merpeople were beautiful but the merpeople also had their own standards of beauty. And funnily enough, Zhen Zhu was precisely the type that they liked the most. In fact, one of the younger merpeople couldn’t help but raise her hand and poke his cheek. Then, she giggled.
Zhu Hong barely held back a laugh when his little spouse suddenly went rigid and his expression blanked. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you want to talk to the merpeople? Look at that, they seem to like you, so you should give it a try.”
The merpeople just laughed even more when they saw this and some more hands stretched out to touch Zhen Zhu, one of them twirling his white hair around his hand while another was tugging at his clothes, feeling up the fabric of the sleeve.
Zhu Hong just held back again, not saying anything unless his husband indicated that he didn’t like this. If that was the case, he would naturally save him from that. But so far, Zhen Zhu just looked really stunned.
After a moment, the little phoenix caught himself though and even inched closer to the tank, curiously looking at the merpeople.
From down there, he hadn’t been able to see that much so he hadn’t even known how their faces would look. Now, he actually saw that they were relatively similar to him and Zhu Hong. They had brightly colored hair that seemed to fit their tails, some of them even with strands in different colors.
Their eyes were different though. They were smaller and there didn’t seem to be any white in there, just a pair of big pupils with an iris that was shimmering in bright colors as well. Looking into them was a little unnerving at first but the more he looked, the more he felt that it was beautiful.
He dared to go a little closer, much to the delight of the merpeople in the tank.
The one that had nudged his cheek before couldn’t help but lean closer, her face only an inch from Zhen Zhu’s. “Which tribe are you from?”
“The phoenix tribe.” He looked at them, wondering if he could also ask what tribe they were from but he wasn’t too sure if that would be alright. In any case, it was probably pretty obvious with them, right? Also, hadn’t Zhu Hong just told him? What had he called them? Merpeople? Well, that actually didn’t tell him much. And maybe there were actually different tribes among these merpeople. It could be.
Zhen Zhu had the type of face that people could read every thought on so the merpeople couldn’t help but giggle again. One of them leaned closer as well, his amethyst-colored eyes glinting with amusement. “What do you want to know, little phoenix?”
Since they had already asked him, Zhen Zhu didn’t hold back now. “My husband said that you are merpeople. What are those?”
The merpeople exchanged a glance, clearly a little surprised that he didn’t even know that. The one that had poked him turned back and nudged his cheek again. “Well, we are people that come from the sea. We are living down in the depth of the water. Have you never seen a mermaid or a merman before?”
Zhen Zhu immediately shook his head and then couldn’t help but ask further. “Then, if you’re living in the sea, how did you get into the city?” In any case, Zhu Hong had flown them over here, and it definitely wouldn’t be a problem to walk inside either but he didn’t quite understand how things would work for the merpeople.
They exchanged another glance and then one of them motioned over to a small gate underwater, that seemed to lead out of the restaurant. “There’s a pass through the water. We can’t go to every place in the city but most of them are connected to the river that flows through here. When we come from the sea, we just need to swim up here.”
“Ah.” Zhen Zhu’s eyes went wide. Clearly, this was a completely new concept to him. To be honest, he was really intrigued. If he could, he would want to take a closer look.
At that point, Zhu Hong couldn’t help but reach out and rub his back again, turning to the merpeople. “He didn’t have the chance yet to see the sea. So I’m afraid this is all new to him.”
The merpeople nodded, having expected this but they were still happy that Zhu Hong made sure that they knew for sure. Sometimes, people were a little strange about them. They probably felt that since they were born under the sea, they didn’t belong on the land. But then again, someone like a little phoenix who should probably belong in the air likely wouldn’t have that kind of hang-up. In any case, he seemed quite open-minded.
The merman that had spoken before couldn’t help but motion over to the table. “Why don’t you sit with us?”
Zhu Hong looked over and then glanced over the other side of the tank, seeing that the waiter had returned and was now looking around in a frenzy. He chuckled and then motioned over. “If Zhen Zhu wants to, then I won’t mind but I’m afraid I’ll have to tell the waiter that we are going up. It seems we are already freaking the poor man out.”
The merpeople looked over their shoulders and couldn’t help but laugh as well. They were definitely a party that had a big sense of humor.
“Better go and tell him fast! You can leave the little cutie with us for the time being.”
Zhu Hong inclined his head but still turned back to Zhen Zhu. “Do you want to stay here for a while?”
Zhen Zhu immediately nodded wildly, feeling that this was really too interesting a chance to pass up. He wanted to know much more about the merpeople. And he also wanted to know how it was to live under the water.
Zhu Hong was satisfied when he saw that and then pushed him toward the table, indicating that he would go and talk with the waiter in the meantime. Then, he rushed off, wanting to make sure that he would be back as soon as possible.
While he wasn’t worried about Zhen Zhu getting along with these merpeople, he still didn’t want to leave him out of his eyes for too long. With how everything was new here, he might actually rush off and then he’d have trouble finding him again. That definitely wasn’t something that he wanted to risk. No, with his little husband, it was much better to always have him in his sight.
When he finally reached the table where they originally should have been seated, the waited was about to run off.
Zhu Hong cleared his throat and stepped in his path, making sure that he couldn’t leave. “I’m sorry for suddenly vanishing. I went to go and see where my husband was and it took a bit longer. In any case, it seems that he struck up a friendship with the merpeople over there. Would you mind bringing our food over there?”
The waiter looked to where Zhu Hong pointed and then was relieved when he saw that Zhen Zhu was sitting there quietly with the merpeople crowded around him, chattering happily. As it seemed, striking up a friendship was really how one could call this. Thus, he nodded, just hoping that this guest wouldn’t make any more trouble. Constantly having to search for them definitely wasn’t something that he wanted to do. Thus, he just hoped that the merpeople would be able to keep them in one place.
Having taken care of that, Zhu Hong rushed back up and sat down next to his husband. As it turned out, Zhen Zhu was already deep into his conversation with the merpeople, having them explain how there were actually different tribes in the sea and how it was at the place where they specifically lived.
Judging from the way that Zhen Zhu looked, he very much wanted to go take a look at that. Unfortunately, the merpeople were just laughing at him when he finally said so out loud, clearly indicating that he wouldn’t be in luck when it came to that.
Zhen Zhu was quite down when he realized that this dream wouldn’t be able to come true.
One of the merpeople wasn’t able to take his sad expression and reached over, rubbing his head. “Don’t worry! Even if you can’t stay long enough underwater to be able to see our cities, there are a few on the shore of the sea that are quite similar. It’s not exactly the same but you could go there and have a look.”
When he heard that, Zhen Zhu’s expression immediately got brighter and he turned to his husband to silently ask him whether they could really do that.
Zhu Hong nodded and rubbed his back again. “Of course, we can.” In any case, just as he had promised, he had already brought him to this city. And he knew that this would definitely not be their only journey. So in the future, why not go to one of those cities? In any case, he was slowly making true on one promise after the other so it shouldn’t be a problem to finally give a new one.
Zhen Zhu was happy when he got his husband’s word and he turned back to the merpeople, wanting to know some more about those cities.
When it came to the one they were currently in, Zhu Hong actually hadn’t told him that much before so he had gone in and been surprised by everything he saw from the buildings to the people, just everything. Even though Zhu Hong had warned him beforehand that there would be many different things to see, it just hadn’t been enough.
His husband didn’t seem to be too detailed in recounting this kind of thing. The merpeople were different in that regard. No matter which of them it was, they were able to paint a very vivid picture of the places they talked about.
Zhen Zhu felt as if he could see the small turrets, the bridges spanning from one building to the other, creating streets on more than just one level beneath the sea. And he could even imagine the many different kinds of tribes that came together in the bigger cities, creating a sea of color down where things seemed to be the darkest.
Even though he had originally been a little afraid of the sea after what Zhu Hong had told him when they were outside and diving into the river, he had to say that after what the merpeople told him, he wasn’t quite sure if that was really something he should believe.
These places sounded so fantastical, so beautiful, he just felt that they couldn’t be that same dark and dangerous place that Zhu Hong was talking about it. In fact, he really, really would have liked to see the real cities down there and not just some kind of replica erected outside of the water. But since he couldn’t do that, he’d have to do with what was possible. Just the fact that Zhu Hong was willing to take him there meant a lot to him.
They all continued to eat together until, finally, it was time for the merpeople to leave. Zhen Zhu watched as they leaped out of the tank and down into what seemed like a street of water, swimming out of the restaurant and into the city out there.
Zhen Zhu sighed with longing and leaned against his husband. “Actually, maybe being a phoenix isn’t that great. It sounds really nice being able to live in the water.”
His husband smiled and rubbed his back. “It’s probably not bad. But it also means that there are a lot of places that they can’t see. Look: Because you’re not of the merpeople, you aren’t able to see what is deep down there. But on the other hand, because they are merpeople, they can only go where there are lakes and rivers or the sea. They won’t be able to see the dragons’ valley or the forest of the phoenixes. If they want to explore those places, it is impossible for them. So there are advantages and disadvantages to being from any tribe. But I still think that being a phoenix isn’t that bad. In any case, isn’t it nice in our dragons’ valley?”
When mentioning the dragons’ valley, Zhen Zhu was naturally reminded of the fact that this was where he was living with his husband. He didn’t know how exactly other tribes found their partners, but he was definitely very happy with Zhu Hong. So, he didn’t have many regrets.
He lowered his head and smiled faintly before he snuggled up closer to his husband. “Anyway, I am happy. Even though I would like to see the cities down there. But if it’s not possible, then I also understand that. In any case, we’ll go visit the ones that are on the shore of the sea. That’s already quite good. Not quite the real deal but it’s the best we can get. Now, since we’ve eaten, can we look around the city some more?”
Zhu Hong laughed at that. “Sure we can. We should also try and get a room while it’s still early. Then we can spend the night here and look around some more tomorrow. What do you say?”
Zhen Zhu nodded eagerly even though his expression said that he figured his husband should do that while he went off to amuse himself.
Zhu Hong wasn’t surprised at all. When the two of them finally left the restaurant, just let his spouse play around while he stayed on the lookout for a place where they could spend the night. When he finally found one, he just told Zhen Zhu to stay where he could see him, and then went inside to get a room before he joined him again on the streets.
In any case, the city was big and there were many things to see. One day alone would never be enough. Even two might be a stretch. But at the very least, it was long enough to allow Zhen Zhu to get a better feeling for how big the world really was and let him make some new experiences. And right now, that was all that they wanted. Everything else would come later. There was no need to rush into anything.
With that thought, the two of them continued to explore until the sun already vanished behind the wall surrounding the city, tinging everything orange.
Zhu Hong glanced up and there was a mysterious smile playing around his lips when he hugged Zhen Zhu to his chest again. “I think I know exactly the right place to go. Do you want to give it a try?”
Zhen Zhu had no idea what this was about but just seeing how his husband seemed especially happy with his suggestion, he was naturally convinced. If Zhu Hong thought it was a good idea, then it had to be. He would always trust him. Thus, he immediately nodded.